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Rewarding Alstom: Arab Partnership in Occupation

Capture: France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C), shakes hands with employees of Alstom during the inauguration of the European LGV Est in Belfort, eastern France.
Capture: France's President Nicolas Sarkozy (C), shakes hands with employees of Alstom during the inauguration of the European LGV Est in Belfort, eastern France. (Photo: AFP- Sebastien Bozon)

Alstom, a French corporation, has received global condemnation for aiding Israel’s colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Yet Alstom’s business ventures continue to thrive in the Arab world, and the corporation appears set to win more multi-million dollar contracts in the near future.

Boycott Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) campaigners in Beirut warned Wednesday in a press conference that French construction giant Alstom Group may be awarded major new contracts in several Arab countries, notably Saudi Arabia and Iraq. The activists appealed to Arab governments to stop dealing with the firm, which is complicit in Israel’s ongoing theft of Palestinian land.

“Alstom is a partner in the occupation’s crimes,” said Khaled Tiraani, head of the Brussels-based KARAMA (Keep Alstom’s Rail and Metro Away) campaign. KARAMA is part of a coalition of European organizations campaigning for a worldwide boycott of the company. “This rail network is designed to judaize Jerusalem, while separating and dividing the surrounding Arab villages,” he told a press conference held at the Lebanese Journalists’ Syndicate headquarters. “Despite all attempts to dissuade this company from working with the Israeli occupation, Alstom turned a deaf ear.”

Alstom has been involved in the construction of an Israeli rail network linking western and eastern Jerusalem and adjoining Israeli settlements. The Jerusalem Light Rail (JLP) project is likely to provide a major boost to Israel’s efforts to expand illegal settlements and strengthen its hold on occupied Jerusalem and the surrounding areas, in violation of international law.

The campaigners hope to raise awareness of the issue in the Arab world and persuade Arab governments to use their existing or prospective business dealings to pressure the French company. Efforts to urge Arab governments to withhold contracts from companies involved in the JLP have so far fallen on deaf ears.

Lawyers in Egypt unsuccessfully petitioned the Egyptian high court to ban Alstom from bidding in the third phase of the Cairo Metro project.

In Lebanon, Alstom manages the control center for the national electricity company (Electricité du Liban), under a contract awarded by the Council for Development and Reconstruction. While the firm is already engaged in various multi-billion dollar infrastructure and energy projects throughout the region — notably in Egypt, Morocco, Iraq, and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait — it is also a prime contender for a number of other major contracts in various Arab countries.

In Iraq, Alstom — which is already heavily invested in the electricity sector — signed preliminary agreements this year for two major rail projects, each expected to cost some US$1.5 billion. One is a commuter train network in Baghdad, and the other, a 650km high-speed link between the capital and Basra. Earlier, Alstom cut a 10-year deal with Morocco to develop a rail transportation system valued at some 9 billion Moroccan dirhams (about US$1.5 billion).

Tiraani said that given the French company’s contribution to Israel’s takeover of Jerusalem, Alstom’s involvement in plans to establish a rail link between two other holy cities – Mecca and Madina – were particularly outrageous. Alstom is part of the conglomerate that won the bid for the first phase of a project worth 6.8 billion Saudi riyal (around US$800 million), with costs expected to total US$12.5 billion. “It is an affront and a slap in the face for this company to be poised to sign this contract,” Tiraani said. “It is an insult to one’s intelligence.”

Tiraani urged the Saudi government not to award the final contract to Alstom, while stressing that the boycott campaign was directed against the company and not against Saudi Arabia or other governments doing business with the company. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are among Alstom’s most lucrative markets. They are also seen as increasingly reluctant participants in the supposed Arab governments economic boycott of Israel. At a recent regular meeting of boycott liaison officers, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait resisted efforts to include several European companies who have Israeli subsidiaries on the boycott list.

Campaigners now fear that Alstom is eyeing the biggest Gulf prize of all: the proposed railway linking all six of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member-states. Estimated costs of the proposed scheme, due to be built by 2017, have risen from US$14 billion to US$25 billion. Some analysts say the final price tag could near US$100 billion.

“This company should not be involved in any projects in the Arab world,” said Lebanese Journalists Syndicate head Muhammad al-Baalbaki at Wednesday’s event. “This firm and others like it ought to be denied any contract in any Arab country.”

This is in contrast to notable successes in Europe. Pressure from campaigners forced the German government to order partly state-owned Deutsche Bahn to pull out of the JLR on grounds that the project was illegal; in Sweden, the state pension fund divested from Alstom because of its role in consolidating Israel’s occupation. Several European banks and companies have followed suit. According to some estimates, the boycott campaign has cost Alstom some US$5 billion in lost business.

Alstom in Occupied Palestine: Complicity and Evasion

Alstom used to hold 20 percent of Citipass, the consortium which won the tender to construct and operate the JLR. In October 2010, Alstom was reported to be in 'advanced stages' of negotiating to sell its stake (see

On 19 January 2011, the Israeli financial newspaper, The Marker, announced the sale of Alstom’s share in Citipass to two of its Israeli partners in the consortium.

But Alstom remains the provider of the trains for the project, and still has shares in two other companies that are involved in the light rail project. The first is the contractor for the project. In this company Alstom holds 80 percent of the shares while Ashtrum holds the other 20 percent.

The second is the company which has the contract for providing maintenance for the project for the next 22 years, called Citadis Israel. Alstom is the sole owner of this company.

This is an edited translation form the Arabic Edition.

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