Reversing 2013 decision, Boulder makes Nablus a sister city

Boulder City Council members vote 7-2 in favor of sister city proposal

Alex Burness, DailyCamera Boulder News, 12/13/2016

Tom Hovestol, right, and Sid Fox listen to a speaker during a Boulder City Council meeting regarding the proposed sister city of Nablus, Palestine, onTom Hovestol, right, and Sid Fox listen to a speaker during a Boulder City Council meeting regarding the proposed sister city of Nablus, Palestine, on Tuesday at the Boulder Municipal Building. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

The West Bank city of Nablus in Palestine will become Boulder’s eighth international sister city, following a 7-2 City Council vote that reversed a previous council decision and capped a multi-year drama that was one of the city’s most heated in recent memory.

The action came more than three years after Boulder first denied the controversial proposal, by a 6-3 vote.

It also followed a 78-person public hearing Tuesday night on the sister city project, which followed a deluge of nearly 1,000 emails from the public to the council since May. That followed a 70-person public hearing in 2013.

Even by Boulder’s standards, this was a contentious matter.

Supporters maintained that making Nablus a sister city would create a non-partisan, enriching cultural exchange with a city not unlike Boulder in many ways.

“I think we are best choosing friendship over fear every time,” Drew Kelner said during the public-comment segment.

“It’s a time now when we need not to build walls separating communities, but to build bridges,” David Barsamian added.

Of course, making a Palestinian town in the West Bank a sister city is political, opponents argued. Approval will fuel anti-Israeli sentiment and present just one narrative of the Israeli-Palestinean conflict, they said.

“Who gets to decide what’s political? And how is it decided?” Mimi Ito said.


Ken Toltz, a longtime opponent of the proposal, called the 3.5-year Nablus project a failed “experiment” successful only in highlighting existing divisions.

“How can it not be political?” Tara Winer asked. “I don’t think that a sister city is a venue for giving your side of the story, especially on this very complicated issue.”

These were the same general sentiments voiced by many when the proposal first came before the council three-plus years ago. But this time around, the council, two-thirds of which was not in office the last time the matter was voted on, was much more receptive.

“I can find no reason to vote against this,” Councilman Bob Yates said.

Sam Weaver and Aaron Brockett, who both voted yes, said they supported the plan and hoped that Boulder can consider adding an Israeli sister city in the future. Councilwoman Lisa Morzel said she was “proud” to vote for it.

“Being divisive is a choice. It’s a choice we can avoid,” Morzel said.

Councilman Matt Appelbaum, who in 2013 voted against a proposal to make Nablus, Palestine, Boulder’s eighth international sister city, changed his mind on Tuesday night.

He said he was sympathetic to the argument many have made that the Boulder-Nablus Sister City Project cannot control all anti-Israeli or otherwise one-sided narratives that may crop up or grow stronger as a result of Tuesday’s decision.

To some, he said, “the fact that they can’t control all of that is sufficient to turn down the sister city proposal.

“I get that,” Appelbaum added. “It’s not sufficient for me.”

Council members Andrew Shoemaker and Jan Burton voted against the proposal.

“It’s just outside of Boulder’s expertise and it’s outside the scope of our city’s obligation to its taxpayers,” Shoemaker said. “Our city wants to go in and chime in on every national and international issue … but we’ve got a lot of problems at home, and I think we should focus on those issues.”

Boulder joins just a handful of American cities with sister relationships in Palestine, including Gainesville, Fla; Mobile, Ala.; Sacramento, Calif.; Burlington, Vt.; and Muscatine, Iowa.

By contrast, more than 50 American cities, including Denver, have sister cities in Israel.

And Nablus joins Boulder’s seven other sister cities, which are Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Jalapa, Nicaragua; Kisumu, Kenya; Lhasa, Tibet;Mante, Mexico; Yamagata, Japan; and Yateras, Cuba.

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, or