By Stephanie Westbrook
Italian construction firm Pizzarotti is stupefied, bewildered, stunned. In an article on today’s Corriere della Sera, Italy’s top newspaper, covering Deutsche Bahn’s withdrawal from the Israeli project for a high-speed train line that cuts through the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Michele Pizzarotti said “We are astonished to find ourselves involved in these protests.”
Pizzarotti, through a joint venture with Israeli Shapir Engineering, has been contracted to build tunnels in section C of the planned A1 train route from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv; section C starts in the Latrun enclave and ends at Cedars Valley, both in the occupied West Bank.
Michele Pizzarotti can’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about. “We are not the project leaders, we entered into the Israeli high-speed rail as mere executors of a project designed by others, which has already been modified by the Israeli Supreme Court. We had no idea there were complications with the peace process.”
Complications indeed. The German Minister of Transport defined the project as “problematic” from a foreign policy perspective and “possibly in violation of International Law,” leading to the withdrawal of Deutsche Bahn.
In addition to the easily rebutted justifications presented by Pizzarotti during a recent meeting with the Italian Coalition Stop That Train, including having no role in planning the route, the limited environmental impact of tunnels and that the firm is only working on the end of the tunnel on the Israeli side of the Green Line, the Corriere della Sera article included two new gems.
“[T]he railroad could connect Ramallah and be used by Palestinians, and in our construction sites we provide work to Arab technicians and workers.”
The idea that the train would someday link Ramallah, a sort of “railroads for peace,” has often been trotted out by Israeli officials looking to defend the extraterritorial railway. However, as Who Profits pointed out on their Facebook page, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 7 (Hebrew) last August, Minister of the Environment Gil’ad Ardan candidly stated that “reports of a new train line between Ramallah and Gaza, via Ben Gurion Airport, were premature… This is not due to become reality anytime soon, it was only a legal requirement that permitted land confiscations across the Green Line for the needs of the Tel Aviv – Jerusalem train.”
The Pizzarotti construction site as a jobs-for-”Arabs” vehicle would be laughable, if it weren’t so sad. In the Bidu enclave, the area hardest hit by the planned rail route, unemployment is 70%, or twice the average for the West Bank, due to access to Jerusalem, their traditional economic center, being cut-off by the Apartheid Wall – built on Palestinian land. In addition, a document on the Philippines Overseas Employment Office web site shows Pizzarotti wasn’t exactly recruiting “Arabs”.
When asked by Corriere della Sera if they would be following in Deutsche Bahn’s footsteps, Michele Pizzarotti replied, “Not only would that be a disaster for us, because we have already invested 70 million in machinery, but it would also be pointless: the work would continue just the same via our Israeli partner.”
If their Israeli partner had the necessary know-how to build Israel’s longest tunnel, Pizzarotti wouldn’t be involved in the first place. The massive tunnel boring machines used by Pizzarotti have, in fact, never been used before in Israel and partnering with experienced foreign contractors was a formal requirement in some contracts. (See the 28-page report on the A1 Train line from Who Profits.)
The Italian Coalition Stop That Train, a network of over 80 associations, is working to convince Pizzarotti to pull out of the project. On Monday, a campaign was launched to “Declare Your City Pizzarotti-free”, with a sample resolution to be presented in city and provincial councils throughout Italy excluding Pizzarotti from contracts for public works. The same tactic, drawing on a EU directive that allows for exclusion of companies “guilty of grave professional misconduct,” was used in the campaign against French multinational Veolia, who’s involvement in the light rail project in occupied East Jerusalem has cost the company $10 billion in lost contracts.
And Change.org has just recently launched a petition calling on Pizzarotti to “end their involvement with this rail line”.
– Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact her: at email@example.com.