Sunday, September 19

The construction of the Spanish train in occupied Palestine, under the international magnifying glass | Spain

Image of the tram currently in service as it passes through the historic center of Jerusalem.
Image of the tram currently in service as it passes through the historic center of Jerusalem.Juan Carlos Sanz

The OECD contact point in Spain, called NPC, has on the table the project to expand the light rail or tram in East Jerusalem (JLR, for its acronym in English), in which the Spanish company CAF participates, after the complaint filed by a pro-Palestinian association that alleges that the new lines cross territories occupied, according to UN resolutions, by Israel.

The NPC’s opinions are not binding and it is likely that the firm of Beasain (Gipuzkoa) will end up rejecting its mediation, but if the contact point concludes that the work does not comply with the guidelines of the international economic organization on human rights, the reputation of CAF will suffer a severe setback.

In August last year, CAF (acronym for Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles) and its Israeli partner Shapir were awarded the expansion of the Jerusalem tram, a project valued at 1.8 billion dollars, of which more than 500 correspond to the Basque firm. The work includes the construction of 27 new kilometers of track and 53 stations.

The idea is to extend the existing line by 6.8 kilometers, which would reach the Neve Yakov neighborhood in the north, and to build a new 20.6-kilometer line to the Jewish settlement of Gilo, in the south. In addition, the contract includes the supply of 114 light trains and the rehabilitation of the 46 in service, as well as the operation and maintenance of the two lines for 15 years.

As soon as the award was known, several NGOs and human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, denounced that, in their opinion, the work consolidates the occupation of Palestine by Israel, by connecting Jewish settlements with Jerusalem. The construction of the line will also entail the forcible seizure of Palestinian land and, where appropriate, the expulsion of its residents.

CAF’s own Works Council in Beasain and the nationalist union LAB have asked for the contract to be renounced, while the Basque Government, a minority shareholder of the company, is silent. The international campaign of protests against the tram works, which has already started in Spain, Norway or the United Kingdom, has also reached Jerusalem. Five Israeli activists of the movement Stop the JLR they were arrested on Tuesday for climbing onto bulldozers that were leveling the ground near Gilo, in occupied Palestinian territory near Bethlehem.

The Jerusalem City Council has started the preliminary works so that the project can start in the coming weeks. The police made the arrests after construction sites were paralyzed for more than two hours, while activists displayed a banner that read: “CAF, get off the train apartheid From Israel”.

“We remind CAF that any infrastructure that consolidates the settlements violates international law. It is better that he retires now, ”has warned activist Sarah Rosen. The organizers of the campaign in East Jerusalem, linked to the Israeli pacifist and anti-occupation movement, warn that the extension of the tram lines to the settlements closest to Jerusalem is a first step to extend them to the large Jewish colonies, such as Maale Adumin ( in the east) and Gush Etzion (in the southwest). These projects run in parallel with plans for the construction of new roads to promote a doubling of the current Israeli population in the West Bank to reach close to one million inhabitants in 2040.

The offer presented by the Spanish CAF and the Israeli Shapir won the tender to the consortium made up of five companies from Israel, China, Portugal, Poland and Spain (Comsa). Before, the main railway companies in the world (Alstom, Siemens or Bombardier) had withdrawn from the tender, supposedly so as not to face the consequences of being involved in such a controversial work.

Although CAF has always maintained that its project in East Jerusalem is just “one more contract”, it wanted to cover its back by requesting an opinion from a prestigious professor of International Law, who concluded that no reproach of illegality can be made to the conduct of the company Basque, since there is no rule or mandate that prevents it from participating in the tender. Sources close to the company maintain that, in the summer of 2019, it sent said report to the legal department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which gave it its approval; and they add that, in the two meetings that were held in the following months at the Secretary of State for Commerce, with the participation of various ministries, no problem was made to the contract either.

Warning of violation of international law

The version that foreign sources have given EL PAÍS is different. Or at least it emphasizes other aspects. They claim that CAF has been informed that the work violates international legality, as it is built on territories occupied by Israel according to the United Nations. This does not mean that the company commits an illegality, and in this it coincides with the professor’s report, since there is no embargo by the UN or the EU that the contract violates: the only commercial measure adopted so far by the Twenty-seven It is the mandatory nature of the labeling with an indication of origin of imported products from Israeli settlements. Nothing to do with an infrastructure. Just in case, the Government has advised CAF that it will not be able to count on public guarantees to finance the work, something that the Basque company does not intend to request.

The Government has also warned CAF that it could be included in the black list of companies involved in business in the occupied territories, drawn up by mandate of the UN Human Rights Council. It is an expandable database that currently includes 112 companies (94 of them Israeli). Along with US tourist platforms such as Airbnb and TripAdvisor, the French railway material giant Alstom or CAF’s own Israeli partner in the construction of the light rail, Shapir, is in the relationship. Being on that list has no immediate legal consequences, but it is not the best cover letter in many countries.

In her recent official visit to Israel, the Foreign Minister, Arancha González Laya, reaffirmed in Jerusalem before her Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, that “Spain believes in the need to give impetus to the negotiations between Israel and Palestine and to achieve a solution built around the two states (…), under the guidance of UN resolutions ”. The last and most forceful, resolution 2334 approved by the Security Council under the Spanish presidency now four years ago, reaffirms that “the establishment of the settlements has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and an important obstacle to the achievement (…) of a general, just and lasting peace ”.

Israel has traditionally aspired to incorporate the main settler settlements in East Jerusalem and in the vicinity of the Green Line (the pre-1967 border) with the West Bank, where some 600,000 people live, following an eventual peace agreement through an exchange of territories with the future Palestinian state. In the plan presented last January by US President Donald Trump, Israel received the green light for the first time to annex up to 30% of the West Bank (all settlements and the Jordan Valley), an initiative that the Netanyahu government tried unsuccessfully to apply in July.

International protest campaigns against the occupation such as those supported by the Pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement are condemned by Israel as actions marked by anti-Semitism and delegitimizing the very existence of the Jewish State. Current legislation prohibits foreign nationals who direct them and those who have spoken out in favor of its objectives from crossing Israeli borders.

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