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Image of Palestine On The Pier: 1066 Drone Photography

Twinning towns with Al Mawasi, Gaza

Following up on a proposal by Hastings Friends of Al Mawasi (HFAM) that our coastal town be twinned with the coastal town of Al Mawasi in Gaza, HOT’s Zelly Restorick met up with ex-mayor, Cllr Nigel Sinden, and Laurie Holden, one of the main members of HFAM to discover what needs to be done to make this vision a reality.

This is about building a connection between two coastal fishing towns: one here in Hastings and one in Gaza. Separated by 3,000 miles as the crow flies, but with many similarities. The twinning towns idea is a simple vision motivated by a sense of cross-cultural connection, compassion. and interest. Peace not war. Connection rather than separation. In the spirit of international understanding, which is exactly what twinning towns is all about.

Here is a link to the petition stating that you like the idea of Hastings twinning with Al Mawasi in Gaza. Please consider sharing and signing! The more signatures, the more likely it is for this vision to become reality.

To find out more about towns already twinned with Hastings, go to Hastings Association of Twin Towns.

To find out more about twinning towns with Gaza, go to British Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network (BPFTN). 

The next Friends of Al Mawasi meeting is at 6pm at White Rock Theatre on Monday 18 July. All welcome!

Al Mawasi Photo by Naheel

One huge difference is obviously that here in Hastings and St Leonards-on-Sea, we are not living under siege nor in fear of coming home to a bombed house; if we see a drone, we don’t think it might kill us or our family or friends or destroy our homes, our electricity plants, our sewage works, our libraries, our schools or our warehouses.

Comparatively, we live in a country of relative safety and freedom: we are not as yet subject to permits as to where we can travel and what we can do – nor blockades impacting every aspect of our lives from trade and employment to basic services such as electricity and healthcare.

Al Mawasi Photo by Naheel

In the English lessons organised by Hastings Friends of Al Mawasi, it is clear that people in Al Mawasi – albeit in differences circumstances – are just doing the same sorts of things: learning (many Palestinians are highly educated and entrepreneurial: Laurie told us about one woman who has discovered a way to produce bricks from the rubble – with concrete, building materials and bricks being on the list of hard-to-import items), fishing, playing cards, eating, sleeping, connecting, talking, earning a living as best they can in the circumstances.

Al Mawasi Photo by Naheel

Community centre built

The Committee for Enhancement of Community Resilience in Al Mawasi – despite constant repression – have built a community centre to run educational, training and medical services. Now they need a doctor and a nurse.

In March, the Hastings Friends of Al Mawasi organised a fundraising walk and cycle from Bexhill to Hastings, stopping many times along the way to speak to people and raising funds and awareness. They raised £1,500 for the community centre, which the local people have used to purchase computer equipment and install an internet connection.

“Today when one talks of Palestine,” says Laurie, who spends time on the Friends of Al Mawasi stall in the town centre, “people are generally more open, more caring and compassionate – and even those who start out from a less than positive perspective are more likely to change following real heartfelt discussion about the current situation.”

Learning to write your name in Arabic at Goat Ledge Does Gaza

What’s twinning all about?

After World War II, twinning towns was a vision of bringing people together – and “a serious contribution to international understanding and world peace”. Twinning is all inclusive, with 99% involving citizens from all walks of life, of all ages, learning about each other’s culture and staying in each other’s homes. Often, twinners travel in groups and meet people with similar hobbies and interests – on a school exchange, say, on a football tournament, around a chess-board or at a combined musical event.

Who is Hastings currently twinned with?

We’re twinned with four towns on the near Continent – Béthune (France), Oudenaarde (Belgium), Dordrecht (The Netherlands) and Schwerte (Germany). In addition, we’re now twinned with Hastings in Sierra Leone, West Africa, though that’s a different sort of link.

Nigel Sinden at Goat Ledge Does Gaza

Positive experience

Cllr Nigel Sinden, ex-mayor, 10 years a councillor and member of the local Twin Towns Association and the local InterFaith Forum, welcomes wholeheartedly this twinning vision and offered valuable and thoughtful advice and suggestions as to how to make it a reality. Talking with him, I discovered that he worked as an engineer in Palestine in the late the 70s and early 80s.

“I was working from Amman in Jordan, although we had an office on the border. We had many Palestinian building trades working with us that had left Israel to survive and be able to send money back to their families. I would often deliver their mail to a group in West Jerusalem for delivery as the post from Jordan was slow and often lost.

“The housing units were close to the Syrian border being built by Jordan and [the then] World Bank to support refugees from both Syria and Palestine. As an engineer, I was partly responsible for the internal plumbing and inter-lot water and sewage pipework. I had crews of Palestinian plumbers and labourers working with me on this.”

Nigel spoke very positively about his experiences: “In my time out there, I found Palestinian people to be amongst the easiest of people to get along with.” Adding: “It is always good to talk about a time when Gaza was a capital and not a prison.”

I asked both Nigel and Laurie why they thought the twinning was a good idea. Nigel began by saying: “Twinning towns opens our horizons, shows we’re not narrow, we’re open as a town. One Hastings : Many Voices. It shows we’re welcoming.”

Laurie added: “There are over 40 twinning groups in Britain, connected with the occupied territories. This town has been under siege for nearly 15 years. Crying out: hear us, listen to us, we want our voices to be heard.

“Ultimately we want to make Palestine mainstream, no longer associated with terrorism in the media and false propaganda. We need a change of perspective.”

Deputy mayor Cllr Margi O’Callaghan

At the recent Goat Ledge event – Goat Ledge Does Gaza – celebrating the connection with Al Mazwasi specifically, people were asked how they felt about twinning the towns.

Deputy mayor Cllr Margi O’Callaghan attended and was very impressed by the work so far to make links between people in Hastings and Al-Mawasi. Discussing the appalling conditions for people living in Gaza, she said it was “very important to reach out” to people there. And the benefit of twinning “goes both ways,” she added, “We can gain a lot from it too. I can see that fishing is an important link we share”.

Henna designs at Goat Ledge Does Gaza

At the event, Cllr Nigel Sinden said: “I was in Palestine many years ago, maybe 30 years ago, and friends and people I met there will always be in my mind and I will always support them. I see no reason why we shouldn’t support them.

“These are people who don’t need our help, just our support.

“People here in Hastings would very much like to be twinned with a town across in the Gaza Strip, in Palestine. It might take some time. It took many years to get Sierra Leone twinned with Hastings. And we will slowly but surely attempt to get Al-Mawasi as part of a twin town with Hastings. I would like to see that.”

Other councillors who attended on the day included the deputy leader, Maya Evans, who congratulated Nic Carter, manager at the Goat Ledge, for hosting the event.

The next meeting of Friends of Al Mawasi is on Monday 18 July at 6pm at The White Rock Hotel. All welcome.

Al Mawasi Photo by Naheel

Here is a link to the petition stating that you like the idea of Hastings twinning with Al Mawasi in Gaza. Please consider sharing and signing!

To find out more about towns already twinned with Hastings, go to Hastings Association of Twin Towns.

To find out more about twinning towns with Gaza, go to British Palestine Friendship and Twinning Network (BPFTN). 

 

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Posted 11:03 Saturday, Jul 16, 2022 In: Campaigns

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