The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Karen Shevet Dinah’s letter to Isthmus

Karen R Shevet Dinah
351 West Wilson Street, No 1
Madison WI 53703-3676

06 May 2004

Dear Editor

With reference to the Isthmus report by “Watchdog” Mayor Spurns Sister (4/30/04):

After reading the criticisms of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project (, I thought some opinion from Israel might be insightful. Since Israelis live closer to Rafah than Madisonians they’re likely to be more knowledgeable about how dangerous Rafah is and whether what claims to be a Palestinian humanitarian organization (al Mezan) is really an integral part of radical terrorist organizations. So a friend and I e-mailed and phoned Israelis we know. We described the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and asked specifically what they knew about al Mezan. Four people responded. A summary of their responses follows:

One woman wrote, “I would like to tell you how much I appreciate your courageous action. . . . El Mezan is an NGO founded in 1999 by a member of The Palestinian Council. The activists are all volunteers . . . .They are not affiliated to any of the political groups; they focus on human rights, and because of the difficulties many people face in the Gaza Strip, they also do a lot of welfare work. . . . Gook luck with your project . . . if I have helped the people of Rafah even just a tiny bit through you, I shall be so very pleased and happy.”

Zvi Shulman of B’Tselem, The Israeli Center for Human Rights wrote, “Al Mezan is not linked with Hamas, and it is a legitimate human rights organization.”

Gila Svirsky of the Coalition of Women for Peace in Jerusalem wrote, “You’ll have to work hard to get information about al-Mezan, since Gaza is closed to all Israelis (except settlers, of course!) . . . . You certainly can use an endorsement from me. Good Luck with this!”

By phone Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Executive Director of Rabbis for Human Rights, also based in Jerusalem, had a positive reaction to the sister city relationship with Rafah and “was also happy to hear that adopting an Israeli community was also being considered.”

Like most Jews I have a deep love for Israel and am strongly committed to the survival of Israel as a Jewish state. However, the policies of the Israeli government towards the Palestinian people have often been and continue to be despicable. These policies haven’t been good for Israelis or diaspora Jews either.

I’ve always believed grass roots, people-to-people relationships were important additions to official international policies. Given the general tenor of the larger Middle East area and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular, locally-centered, city-to-city relationships such as the Madison-Rafah project are an obvious necessity, perhaps even a replacement for continually unsuccessful governmental strategies.

Madison is a wonderful place because people here understand the complex inter-relatedness of international, national and local issues. Many of us work to make our immediate community and the wider world better and more humane. We understand that in today’s small world, humanitarian efforts which reach, seemingly far beyond our city limits, benefit us. In today’s tiny world one could easily consider Rafah our next-door neighbor. Relating to one’s next door neighbor in a kind way is basic common sense.


Karen Shevet Dinah