Friday, June 22, 2018
French state firms complicit in Israel’s settlement railway
Three French firms are implicated in Israel’s expansion of the Jerusalem light rail, as new lines are planned to connect more Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank to western Jerusalem.
A new report documents some of the the rights and international law violations associated with the Jerusalem light rail as it sets out a case against the three companies, Systra, Egis Rail and Alstom.
French firm Veolia was instrumental in the realization of the first line of the light rail that runs between Mount Herzl in western Jerusalem and Pisgat Zeev settlement in the West Bank.
As a result, Veolia was consistently targeted by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for almost a decade. The company finally divested of all its activities in Israel in 2015.
Veolia’s experience, however, has not deterred Systra and Egis Rail from signing contracts for the design and construction of three new lines that will connect more Israeli settlements with western Jerusalem in the project’s second phase.
Just like Veolia, French firm Alstom played a major role in the first line of the light rail. The company delivered the carriages and provides maintenance services.
Alstom is also bidding for new projects for the extension of the light rail.
The report documenting this complicity was produced through a collaboration of international, Palestinians and French rights groups including the International Federation for Human Rights – FIDH, Al-Haq, and two major French labor federations, CGT and CFDT.
The French state is a major shareholder of Systra’s parent companies, the national railway SNCF and Paris public transport operator RATP. As such, the French government is directly implicated, as the report makes clear.
Egis Rail also has close ties with the state as a subsidiary of Caisse des Depots et Consignations, a public sector financial institution.
The Jerusalem light rail is part of the 1990 Jerusalem Transportation Master Plan, sponsored by the Israeli government and the occupation authorities running the Jerusalem municipality.
The colonial character of the light rail is clear from the underlying political intentions of the master plan as mentioned in the report: to unify Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and to achieve Jewish demographic supremacy.
The light rail network that connects Israeli settlements in the West Bank with Jerusalem is crucial to achieve these aims.
The public transport network will primarily serve the daily transportation needs of some 100,000 settlers.
Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the occupied West Bank confirm that Israeli settlements and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law.
In 2016, Human Rights Watch urged all firms to end all settlement-related business, saying that was the only way for them to avoid participating in Israeli human rights abuses that “dispossess and harshly discriminate against Palestinians, while profiting from Israel’s theft of Palestinian land and other resources.”
Two years earlier, the French government warned its citizens and companies that doing business in or with Israeli settlements in occupied territory could expose them to legal and reputational risks.
French president Emmanuel Macron also showed that he understands international law when he denounced President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
“On Jerusalem, France denounces the decision of the United States,” Macron tweeted. “France supports the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, living in peace and security, with Jerusalem as capital of the two states.”
Macron should back up his position with immediate action to end the French state’s complicity in the extension of Israel’s colonial tramway in Jerusalem.