Encouraged by the Greek government, state-owned public transport firm STASY is bidding for a role in the Jerusalem light rail, which links Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
This would make the firms – and the Greek state – complicit in Israel’s illegal colonization.
Greek and Israeli transport ministers signed an agreement to cooperate in transport sectors in 2017.
This came after a summit between the leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus aimed at drawing the countries closer together.
Lawmakers in Greece’s nominally left-wing ruling party Syriza are demanding to know why the government is supporting a Greek role in Israel’s colonial expansion.
Metro workers union SELMA has also denounced STASY for its plan to bid for a role in the construction, operation and maintenance of the Israeli project.
The light rail’s Green Line, which the Greek firm wants to be involved in, begins and ends in the occupied West Bank, SELMA stated last month. “This means that the Greek companies are directly engaged in supporting illegal Israeli settlements.”
The union added that it is “completely against the participation in any illegal business activity of STASY, especially when it is about the violation of human rights and the just struggle of a people about its national existence and independence.”
The union noted that the companies participating in the project face being included in the database mandated by the UN Human Rights Council of firms doing business in or with Israeli settlements in occupied territory.
This could have “legal and judicial consequences,” the union warned.
The Jerusalem light rail network connects Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank with Jerusalem.
Some 200,000 of the 600,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank live in and around East Jerusalem.
The transfer of Israel’s civilian population to the settlements is a war crime under international law.
Israel’s colonization of the land around Jerusalem aims to isolate the city’s Palestinian population from their kin in the rest of the West Bank, and splits the West Bank north from south eliminating the possibility of a contiguous Palestinian state.
When Christos Spirtzis, Greece’s transport minister, signed the agreement with Israel in July 2017, Georgios Thomopoulos, CEO of state-owned STASY, was also in Israel leading a delegation that visited sections of the Jerusalem light rail network.
STASY quickly joined a consortium of companies planning to bid for the extension of the existing Red Line and the development of the new Green Line.
The consortium, led by Israeli-based Pangea Israel Projects, includes American company IDT Telecom as the main financier, while state-owned China Railway Engineering Group would provide rolling stock.
Privately owned Greek construction company GEK Terna is also a member of the consortium.
The extension of the Red Line will connect the settlements of Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov, which are part of the ring of Israeli colonies around Jerusalem.
The second line will run from Mount Scopus in occupied East Jerusalem to the settlement of Gilo, southwest of Jerusalem.
STASY president Stavros Stefopoulos saw the move as the first step in a “more general national goal” of opening markets outside Greece for Greek public enterprises.
This means that Greece in effect is trying to solve its chronic economic and debt problems at the expense of Palestinians and their rights.
STASY’s parent company OASA, which organizes transport for Athens, approved the step.
OASA is also a state company whose managing director is appointed by the government.
The Greek government is giving its full backing to STASY’s bid.
Deputy transport minister Nikolaos Mavraganis declared that the company’s participation in the settlement project symbolizes that “Greece of yesterday, Greece of stagnation, isolation, univocal external economic policy ceased to exist.”
Mavraganis thanked the STASY board for executing government policy, which suggests the government pushed the company to participate in the Jerusalem light rail.
This year, several groups in Greece organized protests against STASY and GEK Terna’s aspirations to participate in the light rail expansion.
They refer to reports that the new tram line will be built on Palestinian land without permission of the Palestinians.
The lawmakers asked the minister whether OASA, STASY’s parent company, knows if participation in the expansion of the tramway violates international law.
The Palestinian Authority has also urged Greece to pull out of the project, its envoy in Athens asserting that to proceed would constitute a “flagrant violation” of international law and harm historically friendly Palestinian-Greek relations.
Yet along with Cyprus, Greece has developed close partnerships with Israel, especially in energy, including construction of a European Union-funded subsea cable that will link Israeli settlements to Europe’s electricity grid.
The light rail is part of the 1990 Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan sponsored by the Israeli government and the occupation authorities running the Jerusalem municipality.
Developing an efficient transport network to illegal settlements around East Jerusalem contributes to Israel’s colonization and occupation of the West Bank.
International human rights organizations and the United Nations have all warned against complicity in Israel’s settlements through trade or business.
Amnesty International Greece has called on STASY, GEK Terna and the transport minister to take these warnings seriously.
And Tom Moerenhout, a legal research scholar at Columbia University, told The Electronic Intifada that under international law Greece has a responsibility not to recognize or assist Israel’s settlement enterprise
“One could reasonably question the support of the Greek ministry of transport to state company STASY. This may constitute implicit recognition, which is equally prohibited,” Moerenhout said.
“Indeed, if STASY and GEK Terna are awarded the contracts for the expansion of the settler tramway they will be complicit in aiding and abetting Israel’s crimes.”
Earlier this year the workers council of the Spanish train manufacturer CAF voted to reject that company’s bid for a role in the Israeli settlement railway.