The Nablus Society in Stavanger * was established in 1984 by solidarity activists and trade unionists in an attempt to involve ordinary people in the solidarity work for Palestine. The idea was to establish a grassroots movement that would increase knowledge, contact, and friendship between people in Norway and Palestine. Now we look back to reflect on the result of many years of twinning between Nablus and Stavanger.
In 1984, Bassam Shakaa supported the idea to initiate grassroots twinning, hoping that official city twinning could expand in the future. We started with kindergartens and trade unions and gradually expanded to schools, the cultural sector, the business community, and universities. In 1995, following the signing of the Oslo Accords, the time had come to further expand the twinning relationship. Leif Sevland, the mayor of Stavanger, and Ghassan Shaka’a, mayor of Nablus (and a nephew of Bassam), signed the agreement in Nablus in February 1996. Since then, efforts have been made to strengthen and empower the intentions of the agreement in coordination with Nablus Municipality by following up on cooperation in the fields listed in the city agreement.
Friendship and solidarity between Nablus, Palestine, and Stavanger, Norway, have been ongoing for almost 39 years. And today, the relations are stronger than ever. We have good reasons to continue our efforts, despite the fact that the occupation of Nablus and Palestine has not ended.
A demonstration to commemorate Al-Nakba, May 2023.
From the start, Nablus Society was convinced that a long-lasting and committed twinning is best served by following a double track: grassroots activities combined with official relations. This model has proved to be sustainable and has been copied more or less by five other Norwegian municipalities that have twinned with Bethlehem, Jericho, Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Ramallah.
Grassroots twinning does not start with political slogans. It starts with the exchange of people. Over the years, almost 90 Nabulsis have visited Stavanger, while several hundred Stavangers have visited Nablus. We want people to meet to relate to each other, make friends, ask questions, and interact with one another. And to learn.
People from Stavanger who visit Nablus and Palestine for the first time are shocked to witness the hardships and sufferings that people in Palestine endure at the hands of the Israeli army and the growing number of illegal settlers. They bring back the message, and many join solidarity movements when they come home.
Participants in the chef training project 2018 to 2022.
The occupation must end. Occupation is evil and destructive. The closures, the illegal presence of both military and settler activities, the refusal of the return of the refugees, the unemployment, and the imprisonment for no other reason than being a Palestinian – all the consequences of the occupation are understood by more and more people. We are simply committed to supporting our friends. That is why the friendship between our two peoples and our two cities will develop in the decades to come. We will meet one day in a free Nablus and a free Palestine – inshallah.
All in all, thousands of people have been involved during these 39 years. The human contact, relations, and friendships that have developed through kindergartens, trade unions, scouts, schools, or football teams have changed us. The traditional political solidarity movement that concentrated on necessary political analysis has been enhanced by perspectives beyond politics. And this has created a renewed interest also in the political aspects of the lives and hardships of our Palestinian friends.