COUNCILLORS in Pendle have voted to twin the borough with the West Bank in Palestine – but not without protests.
Supporters of the move claim it will allow the authority to show solidarity with the victims on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But critics have complained that councillors should be more concerned, amid funding cuts and reduced services, about troubles closer to home.
Coun Mohammed Iqbal, the Labour group leader, said that the move had been proposed in the wake of a successful ‘Pray for Gaza’ event in Nelson.
Around 350 people held a peaceful protest in the town’s Market Square after violence broke out between Israel and Palestine last month.
In response to repeated rocket attacks on southern Israel, an airstrike was ordered by Tel Aviv which killed the Hamas military leader Ahmad Jabari.
This triggered days of bloodshed between the two sides, with heavy Hamas and civilian casualties suffered in Gaza and the first air-raid sirens being sounded in Jerusalem for more than 30 years.
Coun Iqbal said: “Let us build on this and show solidarity with the people of Palestine and Israel who are suffering.”
And Coun David Whipp, a Liberal Democrat cabinet member, said that while he was not in favour of money being spent on ‘junketing’, the plight of the Palestinian people had persuaded him to support the plans.
“If by our actions we can make one child’s life, on either side, a little bit better than I am prepared to support this.”
An informal arrangement has existed between Beit Lid and Pendle for several years, with cultural exchanges taking place.
But under the new proposals the link will be formalised – with Beit Lid joining Marl, in north-western Germany, and Creil, just to the north of Paris, as Pendle’s official twins.
Council leader Coun Joe Cooney said that he had long supported the work of Pendle’s Palestine twinning group but he did not believe the council was the right forum to debate the issued And Coun Graham Waugh added: “It is necessary or appropriate to waste the time of this council discussing peace in the Middle East when there are so many local issues that need our attention. This is a matter for the British government and diplomats to resolve.”
Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson was part of a parliamentary delegation to Palestine last May, which met with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah to discuss the peace process.
He added: “I applaud those across East Lancashire who have sought to highlight the suffering caused by this recent wave of violence “However I am sceptical of what tangible difference a twinning arrangement will make. I will continue to keep up pressure to press for the Middle East peace process to get back underway.”
Simon Yaffe, of the Jewish Telegraph, said: “There should be no formalisation of twinning until the Palestinians stop aiming rockets at towns in Israel and sending suicide bombers into Israel to kill and maim innocent civilians.
“Time and time again, the Palestinians have rejected Israel’s attempt to bring about peace.
“Leaders in Pendle should research the facts on how the Palestinians really feel about Israel before going ahead with this decision.”
How they compare
- It is a small town, west of Nablus, in the north-east of the West Bank
- Population is just under 5,000 people and it is mainly agricultural
- It is also known as Bayt Lid or Bayt Leed
- Olives, almonds, figs, grapes and grains are among their principal crops
- While there are several friendship groups in Lancaster and West Lancashire, the proposed Pendle arrangement is thought to be the first official ‘twinning’ in the county
- Pendle has a population, according to the 2011 census, of 89,500
- The original idea for twinning has been credited to Richard MacSween, of Pendle for Palestine
- Mr MacSween accompanied Palestinian’s Wasfia Ibraheem Othman and Najat Abu Rahma on a visit to Burnley and Pendle Faith Centre in 2009
- In the north, Kendal is twinned with Aqbat Jabar, near Jericho, Hebden Bridge with Beit Sahour and Keighley with Jerusalem’s Old City
- Pendle’s link with its French twin Criel dates back to 1973 – and exchanges with Marl have been ongoing since 1994