‘Twinning must end’: Campaigners call on Hackney to cut ties with Israeli city

The city of Haifa in Israel. Photograph: Wikicommons

Pro-Palestinian campaigners have urged Hackney to end its twinning arrangement with the Israeli city of Haifa.

The borough’s link to Haifa was formed in 1968 and it is the borough’s oldest twinning agreement, but the outbreak of violence in the Middle East has led to increased scrutiny.

Sussan Rassoulie, a representative of the Hackney Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said: “This twinning must come to an end because Israel is an apartheid state and because Haifa was a major site of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians during the Nakba of 1947-49.”

“Palestinians have never had equal access to healthcare in Israel,” Rassoulie continued.

“Even when in labour, or dying of cancer, they must undergo time-consuming checks by Israeli officials.”

She continued: “Hackney has a proud history of fighting global injustice. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it was at the forefront of the fight against South African apartheid.

“The people of Hackney today are equally united in their opposition to Israeli apartheid, as testified by the numbers pouring onto the streets of Hackney week after week to show their solidarity with the Palestinians and to express their revulsion about the complicity of our government, national and local.”

The organisation that runs exchanges between Hackney and Haifa defended the relationship.

Martin Sugarman, chair of Hackney Anglo Israel Friendship Association (HAIFA), says the agreement has evolved over the years.

The focus now is on “work and skills, rather than holiday junkets which most twinning in the UK used to do or still does”, he explained.

HAIFA has run an exchange programme between Homerton Hospital and the Rambam Healthcare Campus in Haifa since 1995.

The programme has been on hold since Covid, and the pause has continued amid the ongoing violence.

Sugarman said no financial assistance is given to HAIFA by Hackney Council, and that the council has “never actually participated except to give strong moral support to the twinning and to host well-attended welcome receptions for guests from Haifa, and bon voyage teas for our groups going to Israel”.

He added: “Local dignitaries like the Lord Lieutenant, religious and political leaders, and headteachers would meet and greet our guests in the Speaker’s parlour, with snacks provided for one and all.”

Sugarman said the exchange programme between Rambam and Homerton hospitals will resume “once things get back to normal”.

He added that the hospitals were “brought together and agreed to carry out multi-ethnic medical team exchanges involving work shadowing and training, and providing mutual hospitality”.

“Participants come from across the religious and ethnic spectrum of both ‘cities’,” he said.

“We have also been supported by local religious and educational leaders, and just ordinary people who have been to, worked or lived in Israel.

“This is aside from those in Hackney who have relatives, friends, and other ties to Israel – religious, emotional, and historic.”

Hackney is also twinned with Suresnes in France and St George’s in Grenada.

The council was approached for comment about the continuation of the relationship with Haifa and did not respond.

Homerton Hospital is yet to respond to a request for comment.

Update: this article was amended on 15 April to correct the surname of Sussan Rassoulie. It is not Nazar, as previously stated.