On his visit to Switzerland, Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masri unequivocally condemned the Jerusalem Light Rail project . French companies Veolia and Alstom should stop assisting the occupier and leave Jerusalem, he said.
Al-Masri headed a delegation of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Geneva. The Electronic Intifada reported on the first official visit of Hamas members to a European country since the 2006 PLC elections. I interviewed Al-Masri on Thursday, 19 January, about his views on the Israeli Jerusalem Light Rail project.
The first line of the light rail connects West Jerusalem with the illegal settlements of Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. This status has been confirmed repeatedly by numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank.
I wrote about the negative impact of the light rail on Palestinian Shuafat in my blog of 14 December. The first line of the light rail - for which two thousand square meters of land belonging to Shuafat resident Mahmoud al-Mashni have been confiscated - has three stops in Shuafat.
According to Al-Masri, “This a dangerous project, well planned by the occupier to maintain, strengthen, change the image of Jerusalem. To destroy the historical monuments of Islam. The aim is to link West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem and to make sure that Jerusalem will be the eternal capital of Israel. It proves that Israel does not believe in peace.”
When I inform him that Veolia repeatedly states that the light rail is important for the Palestinians because they use it, he responds: “Any company that assists the occupier does not contribute to peace. They should leave Jerusalem. They should respect the resolutions of international organizations. Companies that support the occupation violate international law. If Palestinians use the light rail, it is not an argument. They maybe have to use it because it is a means of transport that is available. Veolia should not look for excuses for the occupation.”
Through its spokesperson Al-Masri, Hamas has joined the protests and criticism against the Jerusalem Light Rail and the two French companies involved in it: Veolia and Alstom. Palestinian non-governmental organizations, the PLO, the Arab League, international law experts, solidarity activists, churches, trade unions, city councils, socially responsible investment advisers and pension funds have called on Veolia to end their involvement in Israeli projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
However, Veolia has chosen to continue its collaboration with the Israeli authorities in a project that was developed to serve the needs of the settlers in East Jerusalem. Veolia has therefore been targeted by the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Veolia Israel’s CEO Arnon Fishbein commented on Veolia’s attempts to sell off its shares in the light rail to Egged in the Israeli magazine The Marker on 26 January. “There were pressures inside Veolia, because there are many among the group who believe the company lost a lot of contracts because of this project”, he admits. “One way or another, we will never leave a contract in the middle”, says Fishbein. (Translated from Hebrew)
It is unlikely that the deal with Egged will be approved because Israel requires the operator to be a foreign and experienced company. According to The Marker, banks are not happy to entrust the project in the inexperienced hands of Egged.
Fishbein sums up Veolia’s commitment to the Jerusalem Light Rail: “We are not running away from any contract. We made a business agreement. If it would be approved, we’ll be happy to carry on with it. If not – we won’t stop the train.”
Instead of listening to the voice of the Palestinians and respecting decisions of UN bodies, Veolia Israel’s CEO expresses clearly the company’s dedication to a project of the occupying power Israel. The global BDS Movement will therefore continue its activism against Veolia.