The controversial Israeli expansion project of the red tram or light rail line that will run through the occupied Palestinian area around Jerusalem is now entering a new phase.
Both the mayor of Jerusalem, Moshe Lion, and the Israeli infrastructure authorities seem to consider that the forced lockdown and the consequent reduction of activity as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is an opportunity to speed up these works. Thus, their planning bodies have been instructed to accelerate the project, which was awarded to the JNET consortium.
JNET is a consortium made up of the Israeli engineering company, Shapir, and the Spanish company CAF, based in Beasain, in the Basque Country. Shapir has been identified by the United Nations Human Rights Council as one of 112 companies profiting from illegal occupation.
The JNET consortium is in charge of executing the extension of both the existing red line and the planned new blue tram line, which will cover also occupied Palestinian territories. Both projects have already been pre-planned, so there is now a go-ahead to accelerate the works in this new scenario, justified by the decrease in road traffic that will make it easier to work in relevant crossroads in the settlements.
The work will include both the excavation and laying of the railway infrastructure, as well as communications infrastructure, and possibly the laying of rails. The construction would be carried out in the Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev settlements along Arthur Hanke and Henrietta Szold streets; and from the other end, they will proceed from Herzl Street on until the Ora crossing, and then to Hadassah Ein Kerem in the following stage.
Originally, the construction in these areas was scheduled to begin last October. According to the new plans, the work at the crossings will commence in the coming weeks, with the hope to advance construction as much as possible before the end of the lockdown, thus before regular traffic is restored.
Last February, Israel decided to reach a termination agreement with the former concessionaire of the Red CityPass tram line to take control of it and recover the concession, upon payment of compensations of around 420 million euros, awarding management control to the new JNET consortium.
Among the beneficiaries of this operation is the company Alsthom (a competitor of CAF) that held 50% of the CityPass shares, and which – in addition to earning a substantial capital gain – would receive an additional reward, since they would be in a position to request their exclusion from the list of companies that profit from their participation in activities promoting the occupation of Palestinian territories — not a petty matter that causes significant damage to the corporate image and prestige of the companies involved in those illegal activities and remains a heavy burden for their taking part in other international tenders.
On the contrary, the CAF management took the decision to obtain this contract, assuming that the risk would be minimal and that a long-term impact is unlikely.
The unquestionable fact is that Shapir, CAF’s Israeli partner, has been formally listed by the UN among companies profiting from the occupation and that CAF may be singled out as such by executing a project so unjustifiable that it violates innumerable United Nations resolutions, as well as the Geneva Convention. All of this is taking place in a favorable political context for Israel, where right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his former rival Benny Gantz are now both part of a joint national unity government. A top priority on this new government’s agenda is the annexation of some illegal settlements and of 30% of the occupied West Bank.
The choice of CAF CEOs and managers to remain in the consortium and obtain short-term profits stains the corporate image of the company, and will most definitely harm the relationship with other international vendors.
CAF managers now stand on shaky grounds. Their partaking in the Israeli violation of international law in occupied Palestine is destroying the credibility of a company that has been, otherwise, exemplary in many other respects. CAF’s miscalculations will also increase the risks for the company’s shareholders and workers, and, needless to say, the very government that protects CAF’s operations.
– Santiago González Vallejo is the head of the Comité de Solidaridad de la Causa Arabe (CSCA). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.