The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Kavanah Responses

Unfortunately the referenced Kavanah letter published by Madison Newspapers on May 23, 2004 is no longer available online.

26 May 2004

Dear Mayor Cieslewicz and Alderpersons,

You may have recently received a letter from a group I am a part of called Kavanah: Progressive Jewish Voice. The letter, which I did not draft but did sign, recommended that the City Council and Mayor vote against the proposed Madison-Rafah sister city relationship because of the controversial nature of Rafah. Instead, we supported finding an alternative, compromise proposal such as a different Palestinian city in tandem with an Israeli one.

While I still wish that such an alternate resolution could be agreed upon by all the various parties involved in the debate in Madison, I am writing now because it appears that that will not be the case and the council will vote on the original proposal. As that as that is the case, I urge you to VOTE YES to establish Madison and Rafah sister cities. Let me explain why.

My initial opposition to the Rafah resolution was based mostly on the fact that it sided totally with the Palestinian side and ignored the suffering of Israelis caused by the conflict. This is why I originally wanted an Israeli sister city to be part of the proposal. What I¹ve since realized is that, in order to sister with a Palestinian city, although it¹d be preferable to sister also with an Israeli city, it is not necessary to do so.

Most Americans recognize and sympathize with the pain and fear ­ and hopes ­ the Israelis feel. Most Americans, however, do not recognize and sympathize with the pain, fear, and hopes the Palestinians feel. Ordinary Americans should understand and care about ordinary Palestinians. That is why we should have this sister city: to break down the stereotypical images of “the Palestinians” and begin to see Palestinians as individuals who the same dignity that we do.

Furthermore, Israel already is a sister STATE with the entire U.S. We give Israel more economic, military, and diplomatic aid than almost any other country in the world. In this context, Madison ­ or any other U.S. city ­does not need to reaffirm our support for Israel. But, given the vehement anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab rhetoric expressed by our federal government and media, we do need to affirm our support for the Palestinians.

My support of a Madison-Rafah sister city relationship does mean I endorse 100% everything about Rafah or the organizations based there. But I do support the innocent people of Rafah with whom forming a sister city relationship we should our empathy and solidarity.

Again, this is my personal opinion, not the official one of Kavanah. Let me close, however, by borrowing the last line from the original Kavanah letter, because I believe it best represents my views as well as the views of most Madisonians:

    “Supporting Palestinians and Israelis in their journey towards
    justice and peace is a noble goal which we all share…Let us
    look together for a path we can all tread, together.”

Josh Healey

26 May 2004

Dear Editor:

As members of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project we would like to respond to serious charges made by the group Kavanah (editorial page, Sun. 5-23-04).

First, Kavanah repeats the charge that Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, which has facilitated our contacts with Rafah, is somehow “anti-semitic” because it’s director participated in the Durban conference on racism.

Tens of thousands of people and organizations from nearly every country in the world participated in the Durban conference. The conference never “dissolved into anti-Israel hatred”. Rather, the U.S. and Israel (only) withdrew to avoid criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. Ever since, Israel has slandered the conference as “anti-semitic”, equating those who legitimately ask if Israeli policies resemble South African apartheid with the small number of individuals who distributed truly anti-semitic materials there.

Israeli human rights groups like Brit Tzedek, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights, and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, as well as other prominent Israelis, consider Al Mezan a well-respected organization that documents human rights abuses in the Gaza Strip. Jewish people we know who have worked with them for extended periods detected no anti-semitism on their part.

Second, money that we raise goes through the Rafah municipality directly to humanitarian projects run by respected NGO’s. The Rafah municipality receives and channels hundreds of thousands of dollars from groups like Norwegian Aid. All funds can and must be accounted for. Kavanah states that this money MIGHT be “embezzled” by “terrorist groups” without the slightest shred of evidence. This is cruel and irresponsible at a time when thousands in Rafah are without adequate food, water or shelter and desperately need our assistance.

Over a year and a half ago we decided, after careful consideration, to adopt Rafah as our sister city. If Kavanah sincerely wants to pursue other ideas to benefit Palestinians and/or Israelis, let them do that instead of attacking our efforts.

Tsela Barr
Barb Olson

26 May 2004

Dear editor,

I am writing in response to the letter you published last Sunday, May 23, from seven members of Kavanah. Their letter begins by repeating charges the Madison Jewish Community Council made in a letter to the mayor on April 20. The Madison Rafah Sister City Project (MRSCP) has refuted these charges. For the full text of the MJCC letter and our refutation please visit our website at I want to emphasize that the routes through which we channel aid to Rafah are legitimate, and that we have instituted a system of double checks that insures that the money we send both reaches the designated agency to whom it was sent and is used for the purposes it was intended.

However, I also want to reply to is the suggestion that there are other Palestinian and Israeli cities that they consider to be more deserving of support. We chose Rafah as the city we would sister with in Palestine after very careful consideration and we believe that Rafah is the best Palestinian partner for the kind of project we envision.

The Palestinians in Rafah are just as human as those in the Village Kaffin or in the northern Gaza Strip. They are suffering at the hands of the Israeli army, a fact that until recently has hardly received any media attention in the United States. The recent destruction in Rafah carried out by the IOF in “Operation Rainbow” has finally warranted media attention here and anyone who follows the news is aware of the deaths of Palestinian children and destruction of homes in Rafah in the last two weeks. But most people are unaware that more than 70 other children in Rafah have died at the hands of the IOF and that over 12,600 people in Rafah have been made homeless by house demolitions within the last four years. Oppression, isolation, and economic deprivation are also forms of violence, and Rafah and the surrounding area is poorer, more isolated, and more depressed than any other region in Palestine. Rafah does not have peace-loving Israeli neighbors willing to reach out and form partnerships with them as does Village Kaffin. Efforts to make bridges to Palestinians who do not already have progressive Israelis reaching out to them is critical. We have chosen Rafah precisely because it suffers from so much violence, is so isolated, and is so much in need of an organized bridge to the rest of the world. We believe Rafah is a great place to work on ending misconceptions about Palestinians, as well as the situation in the Occupied Territories, and the hatred and violence it spawns.

We hope the people who are so willing to suggest projects that they deem more worthy than ours will reconsider their positions. We invite them to initiate their own projects and we are willing to cooperate with them in suitable activities that they may wish to have us cosponsor. But we believe that MRSCP is a worthwhile project that can stand on its own and we hope that those that desire a peaceful solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict will support us, whether or not another such project is formed.

Kathy Walsh