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Sister city program connecting Burlington, Bethlehem and Arad calls for Israel-Hamas cease-fire

A photo of people outside brick buildings at night holding American and Palestinian flags, and a sign reading cease fire now in the colors black, red and green.
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
The Burlington-Bethlehem-Arad Sister City Program is calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, more than five months after war broke out on Oct. 7. There have been demonstrations around the war across the world, including in Burlington.

The Vermont group that oversees the sister city program between Burlington and two Middle Eastern cities is calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

The Burlington-Bethlehem-Arad Sister City Program connects Burlingtonians with people in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank, and Arad, in Israel. It started in the early 1990s and has sponsored people-to-people exchanges, cultural and educational events, and fundraising efforts for people in the three sister cities. The Burlington-based committee meets monthly.

More from Brave Little State: ‘A tale of three cities: Burlington and her sisters, Bethlehem and Arad’

But since the Hamas attack against Israel on Oct. 7, and Israel’s ensuing bombardment on Gaza, the group has not been able to reach a consensus on releasing a cease-fire statement — until this month.

Mousa Ishaq of Essex Junction is one of the founding members of the sister city committee, and is from the West Bank. He said the committee agreed to revisit the issue since the crisis in Gaza is getting worse.

“Our hope is that our country, the U.S., would exert pressure — because that’s the only way it’s going to happen — on Israel to stop the, what I call, a genocide,” Ishaq said. “And reverse track and not push the Palestinians out. That’s my biggest fear.”

Israel's military response to the Oct. 7 attacks has killed at least 31,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. Most of Gaza’s population is also displaced.

The group’s statement calls for a cease-fire to “avoid additional civilian casualties,” including in the West Bank, where one of the sister cities is located. It also calls for Hamas to release Israeli hostages. During the October attack, Hamas killed approximately 1,200 people and kidnapped 240, according to Israeli officials.

Ishaq said nearly all of the Burlington sister city group’s roughly 16 members agreed to release the statement.

“We know we are little fish in the ocean of things, here,” he said. “You know, we hope that it affects people around us.”

Two older people sit in a room full of trees and ornaments.
Sabine Poux
Vermont Public
Mousa Ishaq and Kristin Peterson-Ishaq have been going to Burlington-Bethlehem-Arad sister city meetings each month since 1991. Mousa is Palestinian, and helped start the sister cities program, in part to teach his neighbors about what it was like back home in the occupied West Bank.

Last month, a group of 67 Vermont lawmakers signed a letter urging President Joe Biden to call for a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

On Town Meeting Day, a handful of Vermont towns passed cease-fire resolutions. The city of Burlington — where the sister city program is based — rejected a cease-fire resolution late last year.

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Sabine Poux is a reporter/producer with Brave Little State. She comes to Vermont by way of Kenai, Alaska, where she was a reporter, news director, and on-air host for almost three years. Her reporting on commercial fishing and energy has been syndicated across Alaska and on NPR.
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