By Labour city councillors Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini and Martyn Rush

FIFTEEN years ago, the Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association (ORFA) was founded, to build links between Oxford and the Palestinian city of Ramallah. It is an exemplary grassroots campaign of friendship providing a model of how to build links between communities and across international borders.

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ORFA have worked to build social, cultural and educational links - not only have trade unionists, citizens and students been exchanged between our cities, but also art exhibitions - last year several Oxford schools were treated to a full exhibition of Dabke dancing. It has been an inspiring story of solidarity. This is exactly exactly what twinning is about - meaningful, grassroots, long-term work.

We therefore thought as councillors that now was the time to make it official. A formal twinning assists ORFA’s work and helps them expand. The support from across Oxford was overwhelming - as well as hundreds of signatures on our petition, we received support from the BMW factory’s Unite branch, and the Oxford Trades Council, as well as the local Labour Party.

Both our city’s MPs endorsed the move, with Layla Moran even moving a motion in Parliament of support.

From the University, we received support from the likes of Avi Shlaim, Eugene Rogan and Baroness Helena Kennedy.

There was also support from faith groups like the Oxford University Islamic Society and activist groups like Oxford Migrant Solidarity, Refugee Resource and the Network of Oxford Women. This was a true coalition of Oxford’s civil society.

Ramallah is Palestine’s de facto capital as East Jerusalem is currently occupied, and contains several NGOs and embassies.

It is multicultural and cosmopolitan, with a thriving nightlife and with a new museum. It will be a wonderful place to visit for Oxford’s citizens and those keen to build links with our latest twin.

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Palestine needs our solidarity more than ever. And our two cities are well matched to continue this. Ramallah is a city that, like us, has walls. In Oxford, ours are ancient, ceremonial. In Ramallah, they are recent, and designed to wall the residents in, and cut them off from Jerusalem.

Ramallah has refugee camps, like al-‘Amari, where Palestinian families, expelled from their homes in 1948, grow up with the keys to their old houses still hanging in their front rooms.

It is ringed by illegal Israeli settlements, like Psagot, which dominate the heights and overlook the town.

Oxford Mail:

Martyn Rush

Like Oxford, Ramallah is a university town, and Bir Zeit students have connections with Oxford students through the Friends of Bir Zeit University association.

Since 2012, medics in Oxford’s University Hospitals have forged teaching exchanges and knowledge sharing with physicians in Palestine, in an initiative known as Oxpal.

A tapestry which one day may hang in Palestine’s Parliament was stitched in North Oxford. We hope exchanges such as this will deepen and extend.

Oxford Mail:

Hosnieh Djafari-Marbini

Not only then, is twinning with Ramallah the natural conclusion to fifteen years of hard work from ORFA, but it is also the opportunity to embed and enlarge this work.

We hope that formal twinning is only just the beginning of the relationship between our cities.

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