Twinning network Conference in Al Bireh, Palestine 4th May 2013

Twinning network Conference in Al Bireh, Palestine 4th May 2013

Report by Andree Ryan (Chair of the Britain Palestine Twinning Network)

This is as accurate as possible; apologies if I forgot anyone or anything (please let me know)


About 45 people gathered in the Al Bireh Municipality to attend the above.

Al Bireh is just on the outskirts of Ramallah and the Mayor kindly offered the venue for this year’s conference.


There were 19 Palestinian groups represented:


Al Bireh  (Northampton)

Abu Dis   (Camden)

Arura (Faringdon)

Assawiya (Llandiloes)

Azzoun (Knighton)

Bili’n (Liverpool)

Beit Leed (Pendle)

Batir (Luton)

Jenin (Tower Hamlet, London)

Kobar (Walsall)

Husan (St Albans)

Nablus (Dundee)

Oxford (Brimingham)

Ramallah (Oxford)

Ramallah (Birmingham)

Sabastiya (Hanwell, West London)

Salfeet (Watford)

Yanoun (international Network)

Yatma (Hastings)


Unfortunately not many of their UK counterparts attended as the conference date was announced at a short notice. Delegates from Hanwell, Watford, Oxford, Yanoun International Network, and Hastings were present as well as young volunteers from CADFA.

Three members of the UK committee: Andree Ryan, Chair, Jean Fitzpatrick, Treasurer and Gill Knight, Secretary, were also present


The conference was opened by Mohammad Aruri, Chair of the Palestinian Network, who welcomed everyone and introduced the formal speakers. Below I have resumed the speeches:


1)    The mayor of Al Bireh, Mr Fawzi spoke briefly:  he expressed the hope that all these twinning and friendship links will put pressure on the UK politicians to push for a Palestinian State. The main aim of twinning is not to provide resources but to help us achieve this goal


2)    The Chair of the Britain Palestine twinning Network, Andree Ryan: she spoke in Arabic and thanked Nandita the outgoing chair for creating this network; she also thanked the Al Bireh Municipality and all those who came from all over the West Bank. She listed all the 27 members of the network. She clarified the difference between official twinning and friendship links; most members belong to the latest category and are very active. She listed the three main aims of the UK network for this year:

  • Develop the network with new links; each group can start another one nearby.
  • Improve communications between our two committees and between our twins, we hope that both committees will help each other in sorting out failing communications.
  •  Cooperation:  between twins, the stronger ones helping the weaker ones in the same region and the development of joint initiatives regionally or nationally


3)    Youssef Awad, secretary of the Palestinian Network: he thanked the Al Bireh Municipality and the attendees. The main goal of a friendship link is human relations that will help develop awareness among British people. Awareness at different levels: social, economical and political. Twinning work transcends factionalism and creates unity. He would like to see twins publish their activities in a monthly newsletter, a better website, the network to have an official status (registered charity), better communication all round and Palestinians meeting during the year and not just at the conference. Finally he asks all of us to develop different campaigns to support Palestine (eg prisoners)


4)    Gill Knight Secretary of the UK Network: Twinning gives a positive message about Palestine. Friendship breaks barriers and promotes understanding, all this takes effort and time, and we have to raise our profile here and in the UK. 3 main points: team work, better communication, strong active committees. Finally she read a support message from Liverpool.


The Governor of Al Bireh and the British Consul were invited but could not make it


The floor was then open to all groups to talk about what they have been doing. The activities ranged from supporting local non violent actions to sending volunteer teachers, experts and students, building classrooms, campaign on issues in the UK, visits, planting trees, helping in the harvest, importing goods, developing tourism by bringing groups, dialogues between schools, women visits, advocacy in UK….


After a light lunch we were split in three groups to discuss three topics, feedback is below


  • The aims of twinning:

1)    Create awareness and understanding in UK to support Palestinian rights by reaching all the British communities through developing friendship and human relations outside politics.

2)     Friendship is a key word. We must involve as many people as possible.

3)    Put pressure on UK government

4)    Develop tourism, tours must be educational

5)    Any project must be of development

6)    Focus more on schools and universities to put the Palestine issue on the map


  • How to make the links active:


  1. Establishing a web page for the network in which all news of the twinning groups can publish their activities
  2. Organising other committee which can specialise in a specific responsibility inside the network e.g sports, environment issues
  3. Organising training building capacity workshops for members of the network
  4. Visits between the UK and Palestine so that they can share experiences and build the relationship, organise trips etc
  5. Organise an annual summer camp for Palestine and the UK
  6. Organise an annual mutual sport activity eg football match between UK and Palestinians teams



  • Action plan

This group felt they could not put together an action plan without knowing the aims/priorities of the twinning network. Any action plan (for ideas/projects) needs people to be actively involved. Talking is helpful but needs to lead somewhere. The new committee should identify

a) What are their priorities?

b) Who will take each idea forward?, how? and by when?

c) Progress needs to be monitored and followed … and not just left to chance, or to some other meeting.

d) Individuals need to step forward and volunteer to take on tasks.

They felt strongly that the network needs urgently a good website and two people volunteered to take this forward: Arafat Abu Rass and Mohammed Hanini

We discussed the possibility of having one website for the two networks (UK and Palestine)


Finally a new committee was chosen:


Marwan Weshahee from Jenin

Youssef Awad from Jenin

Ahmad Kayed from Sabastiya

Arafat Abu Ras from Assawiya

Mohamad Aruri from Ramallah

Shada Zaydiyeh from Salfeet

Fateeyeh from Abu Dis

Group Photo!

Group Photo!

Hanwell Friends of Sebastiya – Bulletin 7 Summer 2013

Winter was eventful for the people of Sabastiya. They had to pull together and, with our support, build a campaign to stop the neighbouring illegal Israeli settlement of Shaveh Shomron from discharging its sewage onto Sabastiya’s farm land.  A campaign that was successful, today the land is back to normal. Come and hear all about it at our summer social 29th June (see below).


News from Sabastiya – Spring Tour

Eight of us joined the third HAFSA tour to the West Bank. We spent four nights in Sabastiya and as usual the hospitality was overwhelming. Much time was spent in the central café, sipping mint tea under pine trees. A circular café that was built by the British! And a strategic place to meet and greet all of Sabastiya. You can see photos on our website and read Gillian’s thoughts at the end of this bulletin


Projects Update

500 olive trees project: We saw some of the 500 trees that we bought, they are still small, but growing at a healthy pace! Planting olive saplings is vital in this area; already 2,500 olive trees have been uprooted by settlers in the first 10 days of June in the Nablus Governorate, which is where Sabastiya is. Since 1967, 800,000 trees were destroyed

Al Kayed Palace Guest House:





We met with the Sabastiya Women Association that run this palace and we got to know them better. We heard of all the good work they do in the community and beyond: vocational classes for women and the young, educational classes, a shop that sells local goods and craft. We brought some produce back for you to buy; this will be on sale at the Hanwell Carnival and the social. We gave them £1000 to buy eight beds and bedding for their guest house project. It will open this summer and accommodate 18 guests. We hope to use it for our next tour. The guest house is already providing work for the locals; women are making quilts and curtains and all other items to decorate the room in true Palestinian style   One room will be named HAFSA!

Jean ran “English to help you run the guesthouse and shop” with the women (photo)






Thank you to all that contributed to these two projects.


Sabastiya’s Mayor We met with Dr Nael Shaer, a dentist by profession, and a dedicated Mayor. He thanked us for our help in their campaign against the settlement and for the strong friendship link we have created with his village. One message he has for us?  Tell the people of Britain that Palestinians are not terrorists but a people, like most people, longing for peace.


Twinning conference: Andree (Chair of HAFSA and of the Britain Palestine Twinning Network-BPTN) and jean (Vice Chair of HAFSA and Treasurer of the BPTN) attended this conference in Al Bireh together with Abu Yasser and a member of the Sabastiya Municipality. 50 people attended and there were 17 delegates representing their friendship links with the UK. You can read the report on our website. Abu Yasser is now on the committee of the Palestinian Twinning Network and we hope that we will strengthen the friendship links between the UK and Palestinians and forward joint projects and visits.


Visit Palestine: We hope to run another spring tour next year, meanwhile if you want to go this autumn, Zaytoun runs a tour and Andree is the guide, email me if you want more details or go to


We now have a face book group:



Future events:


Two HAFSA events coming your way!  Please advertise far and wide!


Hanwell Carnival: Saturday 15th June, Elthorne Park, Boston Road, W7


We will have stall to promote ourselves and sell Palestinian produce. We will also sell homemade cup cakes, interesting books, and good bric a brac; If you have any of those please bring on the day or take to Lynn: 54 Windermere Road W13, mobile: 0784 0400 429


We will be setting up at 10am and stay until around 5pm

If you can help just turn up, but turn up anyway to visit our stall!


Summer Social: Saturday 29th June, 7pm, at 109 Southdown Avenue W7 2AE- £10 at the door

This is our annual fund raising social event


Food, wine, beer, entertainment and raffle, the party starts at 7pm but for those who are interested, an illustrated talk by Colin entitled: SABASTIYA a SUCCESSFUL PROTEST will be delivered at 6pm, before the party.


Please bring friends and family, phone/text Jean on 07739 429 754 so that we have an idea of numbers for catering purpose


And finally

Brentford Festival Sunday 1st September we will have a stall there, more details later, it will be in Blondin Park



Membership Subs

We usually ask you to renew your £ 5 membership at the AGM. If you have joined at the end of 2012 you do not need to pay again.  If you have not renewed yet, please send a £5 cheque made to HAFSA and send it to: HAFSA Treasurer 9 Cardiff Road, Hanwell London W7 2BW or you can pay by bank transfer, thank you.


The Cooperative Bank, Ealing Branch

Sort code: 08 92 99

Account number: 65449004



Andree Ryan (Chair) moc.o1585820248ohay@1585820248elrut1585820248tropy1585820248at1585820248, 0776 1104 609

Jean Fitzpatrick (vice chair) ku.oc1585820248.liam1585820248toh@n1585820248irrep1585820248ztifn1585820248aej1585820248, 0773 942 9754

Marjorie Kelly (secretary) ku.oc1585820248.ooha1585820248y@605158582024813yll1585820248ekjm1585820248



Gillian’s thoughts


Palestine has been in my consciousness since I was a teenager (I’m now 67) and learned of the inequity of the consequences of the Balfour Declaration. I joined the HAFSA tour this spring.


Passport control was not as bad as I had feared.  I didn’t have to lie about anything (much).  The land itself was as I imagined but the first reminder of what has occurred on it came immediately we left the airport – the partial wrecks of several aeroplanes.


We went on an ICAD tour (Israeli committee Against House Demolition): our guide, a young Israeli woman originally from the UK (mother Israeli Jew, father non-Jewish British) who was brought to Israel as a teenager, was passionate and intelligent, putting much of her energy into fighting for the rights of Palestinians.  She showed us a Palestinian home demolished by the Israeli government and told us that government expect the family to pay for clearing the wreckage of their own home.  She showed us the immaculate, lush and plant-filled settlements in which the Israelis live that exude a sense of pristine unreality, settlements, which contrast so vividly with the towns and villages of the Palestinians that are mainly run-down and neglected and have little greenery.


Yussef who lives in Burkin, a village near Jenin, took us to his office to explain his work with the Jenin Cultural Centre, and to his home to meet his wife and three children. I have never met anyone with a face so haunted as Yussef.  Jenin suffered intensive bombing by Israel in 2002. In all the hours we spent with him, there were only rare moments when Yussef’s face relaxed. I bought and began reading the book “Mornings in Jenin” but it remains unfinished because I knew I couldn’t bear to read of the suffering it contains.


The time we spent visiting Wi’am (a peace and reconciliation centre, in Bethlehem typifies the contrasts and courage one sees and experiences in Palestine. The warmth and human understanding of Zoughbi and Usama who have created a peaceful garden in which we sat listening to them talk about their work helping resolve conflicts. A garden, that is literally in the shadow of a hideous wall, the ultimate symbol of the inhumanity of the Zionists.


Abu Yasser, our HAFSA man on the ground, and his delightful family.  With two disabled sons, how does he find the time and the energy – physical and emotional – to work to improve the lives of the people of Sabastiya?  What leadership and courage and intelligence he showed in organising a peaceful protest against the occupiers of a nearby illegal settlement who were discharging sewage and chemicals onto the land belonging to a local farmer.


Then there was the young man in Hebron who identified himself as an official guide and insisted on giving us a political tour of his town, detailing the ghastly conditions under which they live.  He brooked no discussion.  He was like a robot with a single tape that played over and over for the few visitors.  It seemed to me that he was managing to maintain some semblance of sanity by putting an energy that he should be spending playing football, lazing around, flirting, and just enjoying life into ensuring that overseas visitors know what it is to live in Hebron, a town that caused a feeling of unease, a town it was necessary to visit but which I was keen to leave.  And I could leave but he could not.


In this land that has suffered, and continues to suffer so much, it was with a sort of guilty relief that one found pockets of wonderful peace – the garden of the Augusta Victoria Guest House where we stayed in Jerusalem; the village of Sabastiya and the surrounding area; a delightful few hours in the company of a farmer and his family, sitting on the terrace of their home with the sunshine dappling through the fruit trees enjoying homemade cakes and the fresh lemonade made from their own lemon trees. It was lovely to watch the love between the farmer’s wife and her granddaughter.


I have no particular desire to visit America (apart from the wilderness areas) but I feel that I should since that country holds such power over much of the world.  I would encourage people to visit Palestine to see first-hand the consequences of failure of action by America but also to enjoy the countryside and the wildlife, the architecture and the archaeology (particularly, of course, the extensive Roman remains in Sabastiya), and to be reminded that, as the Mayor of Sabastiya told us, “We are people like you.”  Last year at The Globe a Palestinian production of Richard II was followed by a Q&A session with the actors and directors.  They were overwhelmed to have been invited to the UK, to have been remembered, to have been thought worthy.  Go and meet these people in their land – they will warm you with their friendliness and hospitality and inspire you with their courage.


Sebastiya's - town centre Cafe

Sebastiya’s – town centre Cafe