Australian, Canadian firms pull out of Israeli settler railway

Youths throw stones at a tram

The Jerusalem light rail which links Israel’s illegal West Bank colonies is a symbol of oppression to Palestinians.

Faiz Abu Rmeleh ActiveStills

The Electronic Intifada can exclusively reveal that Canadian engineering giant Bombardier has pulled out of a bid to expand and operate an Israeli tramway linking settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Bombardier is one of several global firms – two others being Australia’s Macquarie and Germany’s Siemens – to drop out of the tender to build the next phase of the Jerusalem light rail.

The light rail system links settlements to each other and to Jerusalem, helping to entrench and facilitate Israel’s colonial expansion in the occupied territory – a war crime.

The tramway is a symbol of oppression for Palestinians.

Last month Israeli business publication Globes reported that investment fund Macquarie was withdrawing its support from the bidding consortium that includes Bombardier and Austrian company Wiener Linien.

According to Globes, the consortium was “looking for an investment fund to replace Australian fund Macquarie.”

However, a spokesperson for Macquarie confirmed to The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that not only had the Australian financier withdrawn, but the entire consortium spearheaded by Bombardier had pulled out altogether.

A request for comment has been sent to Bombardier.

Last year, FIDH, a prominent international human rights organization, said it had received a commitment from the French public firm Systra that it was pulling out of the light rail tender.

FIDH noted at the time that the railway is “a tool of Israel’s settlement policy and of its annexation of Jerusalem, in complete violation of international law.”

After sustained pressure from human rights campaigners, the French infrastructure multinational Veolia in 2015 sold its stake in CityPass, the consortium that operates the existing light rail line.

German firm withdraws

Now CityPass itself is following Veolia to the exit.

The CityPass consortium, which includes Germany’s Siemens, notified the Israeli government that it is pulling out of the tender to expand and run the Jerusalem light rail’s existing Red Line and to build and operate the new Green Line.

The Red line will be extended to penetrate deeper into the occupied West Bank, connecting the settlements of Pisgat Zeev and Neve Yaakov, which are part of the ring of colonies Israel is building to isolate Palestinians in Jerusalem from those in the rest of the occupied West Bank.

The Green Line will run from Mount Scopus in occupied East Jerusalem to the settlement of Gilo, southwest of Jerusalem.

The Times of Israel made clear that the consortium’s exit was related to risks stemming from Israel’s prolonged military occupation.

According to the Israeli publication, CityPass “pointed to a long string of security incidents, including Palestinian terror attacks and rock-throwing, as well as riots and protests in ultra-Orthodox areas, that damaged and delayed trains.”

The company said that its contract “did not adequately protect it from losses incurred during such events,” according to The Times of Israel.

“BDS pressure works”

Palestinian campaigners see the latest withdrawals as victories for their efforts to hold companies complicit in Israel’s occupation and colonization accountable.

Mahmoud Nawajaa, general coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), told The Electronic Intifada, “The withdrawals from Israel’s illegal Jerusalem light rail project of a consortium including the Canadian company Bombardier, and of the CityPass consortium including Siemens, show again that BDS as a form of popular pressure works.”

But companies that pull out are also merely complying with their basic human rights obligations.

There is a growing legal and human rights consensus that doing business with Israel’s settlements involves unavoidable complicity in major human rights abuses, including war crimes, and that such trade should be banned.

Corporate complicity

While the exits of Macquarie, Bombardier and Siemens will be welcome news to those campaigning for Palestinian rights, three consortiums are still bidding on the project and they include several global firms apparently still willing to profit from Israel’s crimes.

One consortium, according to Globes, joins together the Israeli infrastructure company Electra with France-based train manufacturer Alstom, and Moventia, the firm that runs public transport in Barcelona.

The second consortium includes Spanish train maker CAF, whose official workers council has voted against participation in the project. But according to Globes, that consortium is still bidding.

And the third consortium still seeking to build the railway includes settlement-builder Shikun & Binui, Chinese train company CRRC and the French investment fund Meridiam.

Meridiam was created with the financial backing of French bank Crédit Agricole.

A fourth consortium includes two Greek firms, infrastructure company GEK Terna, and state-owned Athens metro operator STASY.

But in a potentially worrying development from Israel’s perspective, Globes notes that the “intentions” of the Greek-led consortium are “unclear.”

The Greek government has given its backing to the bid, but lawmakers from Greece’s nominally left-wing ruling party Syriza, and trade unions, have expressed strong opposition to any Greek involvement in the settler railway.

Despite the ongoing complicity, campaigners hope that the latest rush for the exit won’t be the last.

“Like Veolia earlier, more and more corporations realize that investing in and enabling Israel’s violations of international law and human rights is not only illegal and immoral, but is bad for business,” the BNC’s Nawajaa said.

“A year after the US embassy move to Jerusalem, these companies’ withdrawals show that human rights can still trump US support for Israeli apartheid. Pressure must continue on all companies involved in or considering bids for tenders until they all have withdrawn from this illegal light rail project.”

Tags

Comments

picture

Glad to hear that Bombardier has pulled out of this project.
The remaining firms should think long and hard about whether they should participate as they would be
participating into what is against international law.

picture

These companies are not withdrawing from commercial arrangements with Apartheid Israel because of a sudden awakening of conscience. They're doing so because the impact on overall earnings is projected to be negative due to the spreading boycott movement against Israel, and because corporations operate largely in the domain of law- not that they're squeamish about committing crimes. But these organizations live and die in a welter of legal codes, constant litigation, and complex state and global regulations. So they think in terms of the law and its uses. They employ huge numbers of lawyers to help them navigate towards their goals. And there can be no doubt that in many cases their directors are listening to legal advice that warns them to avoid or seek extrication from entanglements with Israel.

Law is largely a collective act of memory, and in that profession the memory is an established one via the Second World War that businesses, their leaders, and the state officials with whom they work, can one day find themselves in the dock for war crimes. It's happened before, and it can happen again. No, it's not likely. At least, not yet. But there's a growing movement toward holding accomplices responsible in law for Israel's crimes. And in the eyes of more and more companies, their division heads and senior legal teams, Israel just isn't worth the trouble and risk. No one wants to lose his bonus as a result of depressed stock values. And no one wants to be named in some drawn out court hearing as a war criminal.

This is merely by way of noting that Israel has every reason to fear the BDS campaign- because it's bringing results. Companies are withdrawing from Israel for one reason- naked self interest. And that's a factor quite immune from blandishments, threats, or even bribes. Bombardier just want to stay in business.

picture

Yes I agree with u. What u r saying makes sense. They couldn't care less about human rights, they already are fully aware of Israel's illegal activities and war crimes. Self interest motivates them. Congratulations to BDS

picture

I would not touch the deal with a 10 foot pole.
In a war zone area, a company has no chance of popping corn, let alone building a transport system.
Profit is the aim for any company, here money would hemorrhage non stop.
Labor cost would include danger money.

Add new comment

Ali Abunimah

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.