Workers, mayors and civil society groups are banding together in the Basque Country to oppose the participation of the local firm CAF in a project to expand Israel’s settlement railway in occupied East Jerusalem.
The project contravenes international law since it solidifies Israel’s grip on occupied Palestinian land. By participating, CAF is contributing to serious violations of Palestinian human rights.
In August, a consortium of CAF and the Israeli infrastructure company Saphir was chosen by Israel’s finance ministry to expand the settlement railway project, known as the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR).
CAF and Saphir won the $2 billion contract to extend the railway to more illegal Israeli settlements, particularly in East Jerusalem, and to strengthen transportation links between those settlements and West Jerusalem.
Other multinationals had participated in the initial stages of bidding for the project, including Alstom, Siemens, Systra, Bombardier and Macquarie. Yet they withdrew from the call for tenders, leaving just two consortiums bidding.
“Outside the pale”
The Israeli business publication Globes explained that the other firms did not “officially withdraw from the process for political reasons” but added that “for most of the international transportation and infrastructure companies, Jerusalem is ‘outside the pale.’”
Concerns about the project have been raised not only by global companies but also within CAF itself.
In October, the key workers council at CAF’s headquarters in Beasain reiterated its January call for CAF to withdraw from the project, saying Israel wants to “legitimize” Israel’s military occupation of East Jerusalem.
Both unions represent workers in the CAF factory that would build equipment for the JLR. They said the project was an “affront to the rights of the Palestinian people.”
The workers council at CAF’s headquarters in Beasain again voiced its opposition to the JLR project on 29 November, the UN’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Earlier that week, Beasain’s village council also passed a unanimous motion in solidarity with the Palestinian people and in support of their rights.
At another 29 November solidarity event in Altsasu, Navarra, two mayors from the Basque Country – Mikel Arregi, mayor of Zestoa, and Francisco Javier Razquin Flores, the mayor of Arbizu who goes by the name Rubio – called on CAF to withdraw from the project. Their villages, Zestoa and Arbizu, are twinned with Marda, south of Nablus, and Birzeit, both in the occupied West Bank.
“Strong bonds of solidarity”
Arregi told The Electronic Intifada that it is “important that CAF, a major company in our region, isn’t complicit in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.”
He continued: “There are many of us in the Basque Country who stand with the Palestinian people, and don’t want this project to go further. So we are mobilizing to stop it.”
Frequent events on Palestine are held in the Basque Country. On 30 November in Donostia, the Palestinian writer Salah Jamal and the Basque chef Zigor Iturrieta participated in a village council-organized event “Flavors of Palestine,” where CAF’s involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail project was again discussed.
Xabier Aguirregabiria, from Sodepaz, a Spanish human rights organization, said opponents of CAF’s involvement in the project would keep mobilizing “until CAF is no longer complicit in Israel’s occupation.”
“There are strong bonds of solidarity between the Basque and the Palestinian peoples due to our common experience of struggle for our rights and freedom,” he said. “Civil society, politicians and trade unions are working hand in hand in the Basque Country to oppose CAF’s participation in this Israeli project to colonize East Jerusalem. ”
Corporate involvement in the crimes of Israel’s regime of occupation and apartheid is a legal liability and morally reprehensible. It can hurt business, too.
The French company Veolia was forced to pull out of the same illegal Israeli project in 2015 after losing billions of dollars in international tenders due to sustained BDS campaigning.
CAF must heed the growing call from its own workers, and from Basque and Palestinian civil society, and stand on the right side of history by withdrawing from this illegal project.
Alys Samson Estapé is the Europe campaigns coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC).