Hounslow-Ramallah Twinning Association is pleased to report that a 12-strong self-funded delegation, organised by HRTA, headed by the Mayor of Hounslow, and hosted by Ramallah Municipality, visited Ramallah and the West Bank from 20th to 24th March 2016. The visit reciprocated the Mayor of Ramallah’s visit of September 2013, and came many years after the first official exchange visits of 1988 and 1989.
The current delegation included LB Hounslow Mayor Cllr Nisar Malik plus four family members and four associates; LBH Spatial Information Services Manager Vinesh Govind; and HRTA Secretary Aun Qurashi with 15-year-old daughter Noor.
The Municipality had prepared a full schedule of interesting meetings and fascinating trips, interspersed with traditional lunches and dinners, all taking careful consideration of the specialisations and interests of delegation members, as summarised below.
- Introductory meeting between RM officials and LBH delegates – including speeches, signing of a memorandum of understanding, and ceremonial gift-exchange by the two Mayors.
- Visit to Yasser Arafat’s tomb, Ramallah Recreational Complex, and the Mahmoud Darweesh Museum.
- Meeting with a politician/Director of the Institute for Palestinian Economic Policy.
- Meetings with the Ramallah Scout Group and the Youth Council.
- Visit to the Ramallah Cultural Palace for a folk-dancing and singing performance.
- Presentations by RM Directors and officers on Ramallah as a ‘smart’ city and a ‘resilient’ city.
- Visit to the Annahda Association – a centre and school for children with special educational needs – potential for a link-up with a Hounslow SEN school.
- Visit to the al-Am’ari Refugee Camp – a densely populated refugee camp in Ramallah-al-Bireh established in 1949 for refugees from the West Bank – and a meeting with the camp’s governors – potential for a link-up with the camp’s schools and league-winning football team.
- Visit to the al-Qattan Foundation – a cultural and arts charity – and meeting with the Director.
- Meeting with RM’s Culture & Social Affairs Director to discuss potential for an arts residency project.
- Meeting with RM’s Director and Head of Geographic Information Systems.
- Visit to east Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives.
- Meeting with Ramallah Municipality Buildings & Urban Planning officers.
Ramallah came across as a very well functioning city – clean, efficient, organised, progressive, sophisticated and well-to-do. Its smooth-running belies the reality of the restrictions under which Palestinians generally have to live. Restrictions were only experienced by the delegation in a relatively minor way in the form of delays due to excessive checking when arriving at and travelling back to the airport, at check-points and on transport between towns/cities, through the sight of the infamous separation wall and settlements, and by having to accept that Palestinian colleagues were prohibited from travelling with the delegation to occupied Jerusalem.
After the departure of the majority of the group for London, Aun and Noor Qurashi stayed in the West Bank for a further three days, until 27th March. Additional places visited included Jericho and its ancient ruins; the Dead Sea (to which access is controlled by the occupying state); Bethlehem and Dheisheh Refugee Camp; bus to Jerusalem to see the historic sights and an overnight stay (Western Wall, Dome of the Rock & Masjid al-Aqsa, Via Dolorosa & Church of the Holy Sepulchre); public transport via al-Bireh and Nablus to stay two nights in Sabastiya; seeing the local sights and Roman ruins; Nablus city; and a farm in the village of Marda on the final day en route to the airport. The additional days gave a broader perspective of the West Bank beyond the image and experience of Ramallah.
The visit is an important affirmation of the work carried out by the Twinning Association over the last six years, and the contacts made present numerous opportunities to be followed up to help further progress the aims of the Association.