BDS VICTORY: German company pulls out of illegal Israeli railway project

In a substantial victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a major German rail transportation company — Deutsche Bahn, or DB — has pulled out of the $550 million illegal A1 train project, which is designed to connect Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The projected route of the rail project cuts more than 6 kilometers through the occupied West Bank in two places, and construction work has already been heavily underway. Palestinian villagers, some of them already refugees from Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948 and further displacement in 1967, have lost their land due to the train project. The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) stated last December that:

In blatant violation of its obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel as the occupying power has, without military necessity, expropriated privately owned Palestinian land with the aim of constructing permanent infrastructure, ostensibly to serve the needs of its own civilian population. When completed, the A1 high-speed train will exclusively serve Israeli commuters between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The fact that the A1 project is also intended to serve Israel’s long-standing policy of forced population transfer is clearly evident in its route, which will force Palestinians, once more, off their lands. The route is designed to expropriate more Palestinian land from and undermine Palestinian means of subsistence in vulnerable communities that have already been victims of massive dispossession and displacement in the past, in order to make place for Israeli infrastructure that serves the dominant Jewish population.

On 9 May, the Financial Times reported that Deutsche Bahn (DB) ostensibly pulled out of the A1 rail project due to pressure from activists “angered by the activities of [DB’s] international consulting arm, which provided advice on the electrification of the new track linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.” The article continues:

Opponents said the project was illegal because it used occupied Palestinian territory for a project that would be used primarily, or solely, by Israeli citizens. They also argued that the new line could have easily been built on Israeli territory alone, making land confiscations in the West Bank unnecessary.

… According to a letter sent by Germany’s ministry for transport to a member of parliament, the operator faced criticism for its involvement from the government itself: “The federal government pointed out [to Deutsche Bahn] that the project of the Israeli state railway is problematic from a foreign policy point of view and potentially breaches international law,” it said. The letter added that the German operator confirmed “in writing” that there would be no further involvement of its international subsidiary in “this politically very sensitive project”.

Merav Emir, an activist with Who Profits, the campaign group that leads the lobbying effort against the rail project, welcomed the decision. “I want to congratulate the German government for making such a clear and bold statement about the illegality of this train route under international law,” she said. “We call on other European governments to follow suit in making sure that companies in their countries abide by international law.”

 The BDS Movement website stated on Monday that “this is one of the first known government interventions relating corporate complicity with Israeli violations of international law … German BDS campaigners and the Coalition of Women for Peace [the parent organization of Who Profits] have been targeting Deutsche Bahn over their involvement in the project.” They added that a broad coalition in Italy “has been formed to oppse the involvement of Parma-based Pizzarotti” in the A1 rail project. 











Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).