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Australian, Canadian firms pull out of Israeli settler railway

Ali Abunimah

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for Macquarie confirmed to The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that not only had the Australian financier withdrawn, but the entire consortium spearheaded by Bombardier had pulled out altogether.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


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