Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tramway that's not on the "Road Map"


WHILE the Israeli military keeps Gaza under siege and carries out raids in the West Bank, Israel's backers in the West pretend to be supporting something called "the peace process". Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert meanwhile has made clear his government will continue building settlements on occupied land in and around Jerusalem.

Having unilaterally annexed the Jerusalem area and expanded it, the Zionist state is effectively bisecting the West Bank territory and precluding any negotiation on the status of East Jerusalem, by ringing the rightful capital of a Palestinian state with a cordon of settlements. And Western companies are up to their neck in the scheme.

The French engineering and consulting company Egis Rail recently joined Veolia Transport and Alstom in their project, building a tramway on Palestinian land to link illegal Jewish settlements. Alstom won the construction contract in 2000 and two years later Veolia Transport obtained operating rights.

On 13 February this year the French-Israeli Chamber of Commerce reported that Egis Rail won a 11.9 million euro contract with Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan (JTMP), a public body, managed and funded in cooperation with the Israeli Ministry of Transport and the Jerusalem municipality. Egis Rail will assist in the project management of the construction of three tramway lines. The contract includes support to a seven-kilometer extension to the north and the south of a line that is already under construction, and a branch of one and a half kilometers towards the Old City. A team of six Egis Rail specialists is currently based in Jerusalem to manage the project.

In August 2007 the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq wrote to the presidents of Veolia and Alstom to inform them that the construction of the tramway in East Jerusalem is in violation of international law. According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, an occupying power is forbidden from transferring its population to the territory it occupies. The organization explained that under international law this is considered a war crime. The Jerusalem tramway strengthens the infrastructure of the Israeli occupation and is therefore an obstacle for the indigenous Palestinian people to exercise their right to self-determination.

According to the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, almost 250,000 Israeli citizens have already been transferred to the settlements in East Jerusalem.

Companies involved in this project are coming in for some smart action. At the end of October 2007, Veolia Transport and Alstom were taken to court by Association France Palestine Solidarite (AFPS) because of their involvement in the Israeli tramway project. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) has joined AFPS in the legal action against the two companies, inovoking French Civil Code which states in its Articles 6, 1131 and 1133 that any agreement can be discharged of its powers when its aim is in contradiction with the public order or good morals. As they are in violation of international law, the contracts of Alstom and Veolia Transport are therefore also illegal under French law. The legal action undertaken by AFPS is based on this, and seeks the cancellation of the contracts.

In early January 2008 the court in Nanterre ordered Veolia and Alstom to provide the tramway contract with the city of Jerusalem and the Israeli government. Until then the companies argued they were not involved in the City Pass contract, and had refused to submit the contract. Reluctantly, they handed over the contract to the Nanterre court the end of February 2008. The contract is under the study of the court at present.
European Jews for Just Peace(EJJP), founded in Amsterdam four years ago, believes that Israel's preferential trade treatment in the European Union is undeserved and ignores human rights requireents. The blockade against the people of Gaza has made this issue more glaring. EJJP also believes that companies participating and profiting from Israeli expansion and land-grabbing are partners in oppression and in blocking the way to peace. In November 2006, Dan Judelson of EJJP was pleased to report to a House of Commons meeting that the Dutch-owned ASN bank had decided to drop Veolia Environment from its investmnent portfolio. Now the parent bank SNS which has been under pressure may decide at the end of this month to follow up with its own divestment.

It was also reported from Dublin, where Veolia also operates, that Irish workers were refusing to allow Israeli drivers to be trained on their system.

On 11 March this year campaigners approached the Swiss bank Sarasin to ask about its investment in Veolia, because of the company's complicity in violations of international law. One week later the bank's assistant vice-president of sustainability research responded by email, stating: "We agree that the issue is controversial. As you probably know, the court of Nanterrre will soon decide whether it will start a court case. We will await this decision and then decide on the further rating implications of this issue."

In these days when companies are concerned about their public image, and may depend on public contracts and subsidies as well as institutional investment, it may be possible for well-informed and targetted campaigns to make them take notice. It may not be as effective as industrial action, but the latter option is not always available, and in Britain it is practically outlawed. There's more than one way of hitting the spot and we might as well use all of them.

According to human rights advocate and consultant Adri Nieuwhof, Veolia likes to be seen as meeting the needs of people and sustainable development. The East Jerusalem tramway project does not meet the needs of the Palestinian people for their freedom and development. The company states on its website, "We are aware of the impact our everyday actions have in improving the living conditions of people worldwide. We never forget how our business affects our employees and society as a whole and base our actions on our understanding of the general public interest."

As Niewhof says, "Being Israel's partner in crime, however, reveals a completely different image of Veolia". If the company finds its involvment damages both its image and investment then it may be forced to reconsider. The same applies to others.

Pressure mounts on companies involved with illegal tramway Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 3 April 2008

War on Want on Corporate Complicity:

EJJP website

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home