The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Issam Younis, Director of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

Dear Michael Mylrea 1,

Reference is made to your two emails requesting Al Mezan Center for Human
Rights’ comment on the Rafah-Madison Sister City Project (RMSCP). I would
like to present our comments on your both queries in this paper.

Al Mezan has been supportive of the MRSCP since its early beginning. So, we
will be happy if the adoption takes place and the project turns into a more
formal relationship between Rafah and Madison cities. Mezan considers this
project as a means towards deepening human understanding through cultural
exchange and cooperation. The first ideas we heard about before the project
comes to life were of people meeting people from a different culture, which
would lead to better understanding and appreciation of diversity and the
notion of the universality of human rights.

This project started when people from both cities met, and not a Mezan’s
project. It happened that people from both of the cities met and came out
with the idea of cooperation on longer-term. Al Mezan decided to take part
in mediating the project and linking individuals and institutions within the
two communities. The project is important for the same reasons why any other
sister-city project in the world can be important and useful; human cultural
exchange and understanding, as mentioned above. The two cities have a
history in similar relations with numerous cities in the world. This kind of
relation proved to provide for better understanding, education and

Regarding your question, which was also raised by the Jewish Community
Council in Madison, we can say that we are sure that the Municipality of
Rafah and the other civil society organizations that received, or may
receive, funds from Madison are highly transparent institutions. The
Municipality of Rafah is known as a non-partisan institution that is
dedicated to the service of Rafah community. The fact is that this
municipality can hardly provide for its public service projects, and
utilizes any resources for this purpose. It has no political affiliation
with any of the factions or political parties in the occupied territories,
or persons who took part in hostilities against the occupation forces or

The proposed relation between the two cities bears aims farther than a
donor-recipient one. It has its cultural, educational and human aims. In
case that donation is considered, however, there are existing accountability
mechanisms, and donors can always ask for more. What we know about the
donations made by Madison community were used for specific activities, such
as: rebuilding a water well destroyed by Israeli forces, helping three
organizations working with the handicapped, women and children. All of these
organizations are transparent and receive regular funding from international
funders who request effective accountability measures and a high degree of
transparency. Even the small donations made by Madison appear in their
accounts and are accounted for. We don’t see any chance for donations to be
used by any purpose other than what they are meant to.

People who lead the initiative since its early beginning are citizens from
Rafah and Madison. Again, Al Mezan has mediated the relation providing
logistics (place for meetings, contact, visits to Rafah) and helped them
exchange contact information. From the side of Rafah, the leading names are
Mr. Said Zoroub, mayor of Rafah, Dr. Imad Shaath, deputy mayor, Dr. Ali
Barhoum, Municipality director, Manal Awwad, director of Women Support and
Rehabilitation Project in Gaza Community Mental Health Program, and Mahmud
Abu Rahma, from Al Mezan. From the Madison side, there are Jennifer
Loewenstein, Instructor at the University of Madison, Benjamin Granby,
George Arida, Cisco Bradley and others. It is important to note here that we
were informed that more than half of the Madison City Council support the
project and the resolution regarding adopting Rafah.

As for the USAID funding, Al Mezan has never received nor has applied for
any funding from the USAID. By saying this, we mean there is no case to
answer. The statement that we have refused to sign the terrorism
certificate. The Palestinian NGO’s network (PNGO) in the west bank an Gaza
Strip, however, which is an umbrella for more than 90 Palestinian NGO’s, and
one of them is Al Mezan, welcome American funding for the Occupied
Territories especially for NGO’s sector in principle. The PNGOs Network
however criticized the USAID’s terrorism certification because of many
reasons they announced in several press releases.

As mentioned above, Al Mezan dedicates its work for the respect of human
rights in the Occupied Territories on the basis of the internationally
accepted standards. As a professional human rights organization it works on
the basis of credible, reliable and well-documented evidences. In this
contexts, being critical of the Israeli Occupation Forces violations of
human rights has been considered by many pro-Israel entities as
anti-Semitism. Using the term IOF instead of IDF is an anti-Semitic, hostile
act, the NGO Monitor said. Describing the extra-judicial killings,
demolition of houses, severe restrictions on the movement of individuals and
goods as war crimes by al Mezan is anti-Semitic. Well, it is not Al Mezan,
but the International Humanitarian Law, namely the Fourth Geneva Convention,
which defines these acts as grave breaches and crimes of war; this is the
view of rules of international law.

Regarding the Al Mezan’s participation in the Durban anti-racism conference,
the Center participated in the Conference. It was represented by its
director. However, it was not part of any activities there. The meeting came
only a few months after the establishment of the center, when it was not
member of any regional or international networks. Al Mezan was one of
thousands of NGO’s that participated in the overall conference. Although we
do not claim the right to judge other organizations’ activity, we can
confidently say that it did not take part in any of the activities or
seminars of what was described late as anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli

We are disturbed by the accusation of the Center as being anti-Semitic. In
fact, many of the Center’s friends and volunteers are Jews, and have worked
with Al Mezan. We still keep and develop very good contacts and relations
with Jewish groups and individuals, as well as working jointly with several
Israeli groups, human rights organizations and Journalists.

We affirm that Al Mezan is not a political organization and will continue to
seek justice and respect for human rights in Palestine, Israel and
everywhere in the world for every human being regardless of sex, religion,
color or any other grounds. Trying to view Al Mezan as anti-Semitic is an
attempt to undermine its professional work and efforts to put an end for the
IOF’s continuous violations of human rights.

In addition, importantly, Al Mezan has a highly respected
reputation for being a transparent, professional organization. All of its
activities, goals, donors, staff and all relevant matters are published on
its website, and formal and informal entities are invited to look
through its resources, activities and accounting details.

Al Mezan Center for Human Rights has been disturbed by the means used in
opposing this project. While the Center understand that opposition is right
in principle, we believe it is not right to put charges against honorable
individuals and organizations without proof. The Mayor of Rafah, who is
known as a secular person, was accused of affiliation with Hamas, an
organization that is banned in the U.S. Al Mezan was also accused of being
anti-Semitic, while it hosted Jewish activists and is working on enhancing
diversity and tolerance in the Palestinian community. These false charges
are still being raised even though precise information refuting them were
provided to the Madison Jewish Community Council and to the media in the
U.S. Al Mezan will continue its work on behalf of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories and will oppose any violations of human rights according to the provisions of international law and international humanitarian law.

Issam Younis

Director of Al Mezan Center for Human Rights

1 Jerusalem Post journalist