UK must bar settlement profiteer from work on high-speed rail line

People on top of construction equipment hold banner

Activists protest at a Jerusalem light rail worksite in occupied East Jerusalem, to demand that Spanish train maker CAF end its involvement in the Israeli settler railway, 16 December 2020.

Keren Manor ActiveStills

The public company that is building a high-speed rail link across England has the right to exclude a Spanish firm that is helping Israel colonize Palestinian land in violation of international law.

That’s the conclusion of a new brief from the European Legal Support Center and Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights.

HS2 Ltd., which is building the high-speed line linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, is already seeking bids for tenders.

The HS2 company is wholly funded by the British government and is under supervision of the UK’s Department of Transport.

Spanish train maker CAF is among the firms hoping to provide rolling stock for HS2.

It is among five firms shortlisted by HS2 as potential providers of locomotives and carriages.

But CAF is currently leading the extension of the Jerusalem light rail, an Israeli tramway linking Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank with Jerusalem.

War crime

CAF’s complicity in Israel’s ongoing breaches of international law justifies its exclusion from public tenders in the UK, the two legal groups say.

They note that “every illegal Israeli settlement, built on land stolen from the Palestinian people, is considered a war crime under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

As recently as 2019, the British government reaffirmed its position that Israel’s settlements “are illegal under international law.”

Campaigners have been pressuring the government to put its money where its mouth is.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign mobilized its supporters to email transport minister Andrew Stephenson urging him to exclude CAF from any HS2 tenders.

Some 2,000 people participated in the action, prompting Stephenson to reply that it would “be inappropriate for the department to intervene.”

But the two legal groups reject this. They assert that HS2 is “legally entitled to and should take all necessary steps” to bar CAF from bidding.

Public bodies like HS2 are bound by international legal obligations “to respect, protect and fulfill human rights“ and to avoid economic relations with companies involved in violations of international law, the rights groups argue.

UK law allows public authorities to exclude from contracts any companies involved in “grave professional misconduct.”

The rights groups argue that such misconduct includes involvement in ongoing breaches of international law – such as Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Growing protests

CAF has faced mounting protests over its role in the Jerusalem light rail.

In 2019, its official workers council voted against participation in the project and urged management to withdraw.

A year ago, more than 70 political parties, trade unions and other groups in the Basque Country, where CAF is based, urged the train maker to withdraw from a project that “clearly entrenches Israeli apartheid.”

The Basque groups reminded CAF that the French company Veolia was forced to withdraw from the Jerusalem light rail project in 2015 after a sustained international campaign.

However, CAF has so far ignored these warnings and remains deeply involved in Israel’s settler railway.

That is why last December more than 30 organizations called on the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to include CAF in the UN database of businesses involved in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

By helping extend the Jerusalem light rail, CAF is involved in “gross and systematic violations of fundamental human rights against Palestinians,” observed Maha Abdallah of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies – one of the signatories of the call.

“We welcome LPHR and ELSC’s legal brief concluding that it is legal for the UK government to exclude CAF, and any other company violating Palestinian human rights, from the procurement process for HS2,” Alys Samson Estapé, Europe coordinator for the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee told The Electronic Intifada.

Estapé added that “CAF should not be rewarded with contracts” for helping violate international law.

“Instead, like Veolia, it should be boycotted until it ends its complicity with Israeli apartheid.”




Yes, Israel is in gross breach of international law, but look at the absurd response to the recent ICC decision. The Judaic theocrats cry, "Anti-Semitism", as the little boy cried "Wolf, wolf" till no one took any notice. They make themselves ludicrous. As if the Nuremberg trials were anti-German. They reveal their rejection of objective values and impersonal standards. They respond like the poor neurotic who takes everything personally. Yet what is truly nauseating is that the US and other major powers rush to their defence, as if Israel is a delicate flower which must be protected from every breeze, rather than a State founded out of terrorism which imposes its racist doctrine on the Palestinians, is armed beyond reason and inflicts violence, displacement and death on Arabs because they are Arabs. Whence this misplaced sensitivity towards Israel. From the distorted notion that they are still victims of the Nazi genocide. World Jewry in not under threat today. There are c 23 million Jews and about 12 million live in the US, where, by and large, they thrive. When did you last see a Jew being killed on the street by a cop? Jews thrive in Europe too. They are not a persecuted minority. Yet by constant manipulative reference to the Nazi genocide they portray themselves as such. What is under threat is Israel, not Jewry, and rightly because Israel is a theocracy which imposes a racist doctrine by blank defiance of international law. What democrat can support that? The twisted thinking which brings the US and others running to Israel's defence must be persistently exposed and shredded. Do we believe in democracy and international justice or don't we? Israel is not a democracy and it is a rogue State. What's wrong with democracy? What's wrong with equal rights? What's wrong with international law? It is Israel that is in the wrong, over and over. Israel is a living hypocrisy. It claims to believe in law and engages is criminality. Enough.


Hopefully, this fine job of sleuthing will give HS2 the extra push it needs to refuse any bids for tenders from CAF. It may have to put financial considerations behind the priority of acting in the interest of upholding basic international law. In the long run, HS2 will gain only respect and credibility for its choices.

Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh