Adri Nieuwhof, The Electronic Intifada, 15 October 2010
Last month, the German company TÜV NORD Group announced that it will test the technical safety of the first line of the controversial Jerusalem light rail project that critics say is being built in violation of Palestinian rights. The light rail project will connect West Jerusalem with several illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and is expected to enter into operation next spring.
The tramway under construction in Jerusalem, 10 February 2008. (Anne Paq/Activestills)
The TÜV NORD Group is one of the world's largest technical service providers and employs nearly 10,000 workers in more than seventy countries. In a 15 September press release, the company expressed its enthusiasm about its involvement in the light rail project and that it hopes to test the safety of future lines ("TUeV NORD Group gets Jerusalem's trams on track").
TÜV NORD Group's involvement in the project will likely find it in hot water as has its French counterparts, the construction giants Veolia and Alstom. Activists and human rights observers say that the companies involved in the light rail project are directly implicated in maintaining Israel's occupation of and settlement infrastructure in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Israel's settlements in the occupied West Bank and its annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. This status has been affirmed by numerous UN resolutions and a 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice.
In addition to normalizing the occupation, TÜV NORD Group's involvement in the light rail project is also contrary to its own principles against discrimination and racism, as the route is designed mainly to serve the needs of Israeli settlers. According to the spokesperson of CityPass Consortium, which is contracted with overseeing the light rail project, Palestinians and Jewish Israelis will not be integrated on the train.
"If Palestinians would want to make use of the light rail, both groups will not meet on the train, because of their different life patterns," spokesperson Ammon Elian told Belgian researcher Karolien van Dyck in 2009. He added that the network of buses used by Palestinians made their integration into the tram line "redundant."
CityPass general director Yair Naveh also stated to the Israeli daily Haaretz his support for segregated cars on the rail. Naveh, who took his post in 2008 after retiring as Major General in the Israeli army, said in August: "It is not a problem to declare every third or fourth car a mehadrin [kosher] car" ("Jerusalem light rail may have segregated men-only/women-only cars," Nir Hasson, 23 August 2010).
Moreover, Palestinians in East Jerusalem -- who suffer widespread, systematic discrimination in virtually all sectors -- will not be able to access and use the light rail because ticket prices will be significantly higher than that for local bus routes. Mahmoud al-Mashni, a resident of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shufat whose land was confiscated for the project, told The Electronic Intifada, "It is not good for us, it is good for the Jewish settlements. We cannot afford to pay the fees."
The Electronic Intifada has also previously reported on the CityPass consortium's opinion poll which queried Jerusalem residents about whether they would be bothered by both Jews and Palestinians entering the rail freely "without undergoing a security check." Even Israeli officials described the questionairre as "racist."
Qualification requirements for jobs related to the construction of the light rail also discriminate against the Palestinian population. Veolia's job postings for new staff require having completed Israeli military service, as well as knowledge of Hebrew and English. These criteria mean that Palestinian job seekers are virtually excluded, because Palestinian citizens of Israel and residents of East Jerusalem generally do not serve in the Israeli army. And although Arabic is an official language in Israel, it is not listed by Veoila as a requirement ("Veolia pubilshes discriminatory ad for Jerusalem light rail," Diakonia, via The Alternative Information Center).
The discriminatory policies call into question the TÜV NORD Group's commitment to equality, as spelled out on its website: "The respect and appreciation of different culture, races, and experiences. Our employees have a right to be treated equally and to work in an atmosphere that is free of discrimination and/or racism. We achieve this by respecting the rights of others."
When contacted by The Electronic Intifada, TÜV NORD Group attempted to evade responsibility for its involvement in the project, telling this reporter: "In Jerusalem we were involved as consultant for technical safety issues. We have and seek no other role."
However, it is only a matter of time before the company comes under the same scrutiny given to Veolia and Alstom and will feel the impact of the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel's occupation and apartheid policies.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.