WHILE travel between Oxford and its latest twin town is still tricky, friendship links between our city and the Palestinian capital Ramallah are being strengthened with an online arts festival.

The Artivism Festival, which runs until Wednesday, is being organised by East Oxford’s Mandala Theatre Company in collaboration with Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah in the West Bank, close to Jerusalem.

Organisers hope the event, which tomorrow sees a live screened launch event with introductions by civic leaders from the two cities, will act as an official launch of twinning links between the two cities.

It will begin with introductions from the Lord Mayor of Oxford, Mark Lygo; Mayor of Ramallah, Musa Hadid; and the artistic directors of Mandala and Ashtar theatres.

This will be followed by screenings of Mandala Theatre Company’s production of Blood Oil, written by Sean Burn and directed by Yasmin Sidhwa; and Ashtar Theatre’s The Brainwashers Conference, an adaptation of Turandot by Bertolt Brecht, which is in Arabic with English subtitles. There will then be a question and answer session with members of each cast.

Oxford Mail: Ramallah, Palestine. Picture by Tim Hughes

Downtown Ramallah. Picture: Tim Hughes

The event is being held is association with the city councils of Oxford and Ramallah, Oxford Ramallah Friendship Association, East Oxford’s Ultimate Picture Palace Cinema and Activate Learning.

The link between Oxford and Ramallah was forged with a twinning agreement at Oxford Town Hall in March 2019 and follows links with seven other cities: Bonn in Germany, Grenoble in France, Leiden in The Netherlands, Padua in Italy, Wrocław in Poland, Perm in Russia and León in Nicaragua.

Mr Lygo, said: “The Artivism Festival is a celebration of cultures and community – the very essence of what the twinning is designed to nurture. The links between the cities of Ramallah and Oxford started before the twinning, and it was these links that led to the cementing of our relationship by officially having Ramallah twinned with Oxford.

“The last 15 months have been incredibly difficult for the world with the pandemic but this has not stopped the exchanges between our cities. Virtual events have taken place and three schools have been twinned. This demonstrates that despite restrictions the will of the people of both cities to interact and create ever stronger bonds is undaunted.”

Oxford Mail: Ramallah, Palestine. Picture by Tim Hughes

Ramallah Martyrs' Memorial. Picture: Tim Hughes

Speaking from the Palestinian West Bank, Mr Hadid, said: “Our relationship with Oxford is a special one since it’s based on our communities. This festival is a celebration of the ongoing connection that, although only dates back a short period, is already very dense.

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“Together with the city of Oxford, we have managed to link our schools to enable students to exchange their experiences. We have also, despite a worldwide pandemic, succeeded in collaborating in many virtual festivals. This shows how human bonds are stronger than any obstacle – be it viral or Israeli occupation. Our exchanges reflect the quality of ties that bond both cities, demonstrating a human solidarity that exceeds borders.”

The event runs from 7.30-10.30pm tomorrow. See mandalatheatre.co.uk/artivism