The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, The Capital Times, July 5, 2004
In 1999, the municipality of Rafah held 25 community meetings of more
than 500 people to develop a long-term plan called “Rafah 2015.”
Neighborhood committees, students, teachers, government officials,
professional associations, women’s organizations, youth groups and
individuals participated. The result was “Strategies for Rafah: A
Vision for the Future of the Municipality of Rafah” by the Rafah
Municipal Council, which included plans for economic development,
social services, health, education, greenspace and recreational
areas, and controlling urban growth and preserving agricultural land.
Mayor Saied Fathi Zouroub, an engineer, wrote, “This vision and these
strategic directions are the result of an open, transparent and
participatory process. They are owned by all the citizens of Rafah.”
It was a process and a document that we would recognize here in
Madison and Dane County.
Since then, of course, Rafah has been ravaged by military occupation
and conflict. The city struggles daily to provide thousands with the
bare essentials of life – food, shelter, clothing, medical care,
clean water – in the face of a seemingly indifferent world.
We mention this document because it shows that there are many
visionary people in Rafah who, in spite of the horrendous conditions
that now prevail there, seek to create a better future for their
A year and a half ago the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, inspired
by direct personal connections, launched its own vision: creating a
sister city relationship between Madison and Rafah. Since then, the
group has established relationships with Rafah’s municipal officials
and with community service agencies like Human Appeal, the Al Amal
Rehabilitation Society, Gaza Community Mental Health Center and the
Popular Refugees Committees. We have sent our first delegation to
Rafah. Scores of people have joined our project, thousands have
attended our events, and we have raised more than $18,000 for basic
human needs in Rafah.
The remarkable interest shown by the Madison community in this
project demonstrates the potential for people-to-people relations
between our two communities.
Nonetheless, the executive board of the Madison Jewish Community
Council continues to oppose an official sister city relationship with
Rafah for reasons related to the larger political struggle between
Palestinians and Israelis. The Jewish Council’s polarization of the
issue caused Madison City Council members to request that the sister
city group and the Jewish Council discuss, face-to-face, the
possibility of compromise. This we have now done on two occasions,
each time asking the Jewish Council for factual evidence to back up
its objections and public charges.
Sadly, such evidence has been lacking. Instead, we have had to
repeatedly refute unfounded, defamatory accusations about Rafah, its
officials, our project, and people involved in it. For example, the
Jewish Council has tried to connect the mayor of Rafah to Hamas. We
have presented irrefutable, documented proof to the contrary. The
Jewish Council has irresponsibly raised the charge of
“anti-Semitism.” Not only unfounded, this charge has been especially
insulting and defamatory to the many Jewish members and supporters of
the sister city project.
Stereotypes and negative labels like these serve only to derail
substantive discussion and chill public discourse. In the end the
Jewish Council gave us no reason to abandon Rafah beyond the fact
that it simply objected to it.
There are many, many connections between the United States and Israel
and between Madison and Israel. What is so threatening about Madison
having one official tie with Palestinians? Why should the civilians
of Rafah be singled out as undeserving of the hand of sisterhood?
Rafah has existed for thousands of years. War and peace and many
civilizations have come and gone. Some day the present occupation,
too, will pass, and Rafah will be able to resume the path begun in
1999. In light of the great interest shown by Madisonians in building
bridges to the people of Rafah, we urge the City Council and Mayor
Dave Cieslewicz to reject the politics of fear and support an
official sister city relationship between Madison and Rafah.
The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project’s Web site is