Update

Pressure grows on CAF to quit construction of Israel’s illegal settlement tramway

During its annual meeting, Basque company CAF faced protests online and on the street, along with shareholder criticism

During its June 13 annual general meeting (AGM), held online, the Basque transport company Compañía Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF) faced protests online and on the street outside the company’s Beasain office, along with shareholder criticism, all demanding that CAF immediately end its involvement in Israel’s war crimes. Last year, CAF won the tender for Israel’s illegal Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR) project, which is intended to entrench Israel’s illegal settlements while enabling Israel’s ongoing annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory.

Thousands of people from around the world called on CAF to “get off Israel’s apartheid train” in the last weeks. Amnesty International Spain and EH Bildu, the Basque Country’s second-largest political party, also joined the appeals to CAF.

In the UK, human rights campaigners are putting pressure on the government to bar CAF from a highly-lucrative contract to build a high-speed UK rail project due to the company’s support for Israel’s settlements.

As CAF was holding its AGM, one hundred protesters, including CAF workers, gathered across the street from the company’s headquarters, holding Palestinian flags and campaign signs.

Axier Alvarez Mujikafrom, one of the protest organizers with the coalition ‘CAF Get Off Israel's Apartheid Train’, said:

Hundreds of organisations and thousands of people, including CAF’s own workers are protesting CAF’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. Beyond the Basque Country and the Spanish state, activists around the world are campaigning to exclude CAF from major tenders until it ends its shameless profiteering from Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

CAF management clearly did not want to have to publicly answer the questions of a CAF shareholder about the illegality of the JLR which would shed light on unethical business practices and have financial consequences for the company.

The CAF shareholder, Santiago Gonzalez, said:

CAF prevented me from sharing my criticism of this illegal contract that profits from Israel’s denial of Palestinian human rights. The UN Human Rights Council has condemned Israel’s Jerusalem Light Rail as a violation of international law, yet CAF ridiculously claims that ‘UN advisers’ said it did not. Now that work on the ground has started, CAF will face mounting pressure in several countries to exclude it from contracts over its complicity in Israel’s war crimes and apartheid.

Among those who have called on CAF to withdraw from the JLR project are CAF-related trade unions, the CAF workers council, as well as Basque organizations and mayors.

In the last two weeks, over 3000 people have sent emails in English, Spanish and Basque to Andres Arizkorreta, the Chairman and CEO of CAF Group, and hundreds of people telephoned CAF offices, asking “CAF to immediately rescind its contract for the Jerusalem Light Rail.” The campaign hashtag reached over 6 million people on twitter.

Hundreds more tweeted photos of themselves holding signs calling on CAF to withdraw from the JLR, including journalist Teresa Aranguren; President of the Catalunya Human Rights Institute David Bondia; award-winning director Julio Perez del Campo; leading Basque mountain runner Javi Domínguez, Basque actor Gorka Oxtoa; member of the European Parliament Manu Pineda; and spokesperson for Podemos in the Madrid Assembly Isa Serra.

Among the trade unions that have shown support for the campaign are STEILAS sindikatua, the Basque Country’s largest teachers union, and LAB, ELA and ESK, all trade unions for CAF employees. 

The well-known Basque singer Fermin Muguruza released a song jointly with Sr Wilson asking CAF to stop working in the occupied Palestinian territory. Many artists, such as Tasio, have joined the campaign by sharing their own designs asking CAF to abandon Israel's illegal project.

Background

In August 2019, the consortium of CAF and the Israeli infrastructure company Shapir was selected by Israel’s finance ministry to lead the $1.8 billion project to expand the railway network serving Israel’s illegal colonial settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel’s settlement enterprise is considered a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The JLR project contravenes international law since it solidifies Israel’s grip on occupied Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem. By participating, CAF is contributing to Israel’s serious violations of international law and Palestinian human rights. In addition, CAF’s partner Shapir is listed in the UN database of companies that are complicit in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.

The Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR) project is so blatantly illegal that other multinationals which had participated in the initial stages of bidding for the project, including Alstom, Siemens, Systra, Bombardier and Macquarie withdrew from the call for tenders, leaving just two consortiums bidding.

The French company Veolia was forced to pull out of the same illegal Israeli JLR project in 2015 after losing billions of dollars in international tenders due to sustained BDS campaigning in Europe, the US and several Arab countries.


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