After two home demolitions last week in the village of Al Walaja, near Bethlehem, the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign issued a call for citizens and civil society groups to stand up and demand the immediate cessation of the involvement of French companies Alstom and Connex in the construction of a high-speed train route through the Al Walaja area.
Says an international supporter who was present at the demolitions, "It is Israeli state policy is to ethnically cleanse at least half of the village. This is due to the fact that the lands upon which the village was built have been illegally annexed to the Israeli Municiaplity of Jerusalem – in spite of the fact that these lands are rightfully owned by their Palestinian inhabitants – even though they belong to Palestinian territory. However, In this atmosphere of racism and segregation, the Arab population of the village is standing in the way of a new Jewish colony aimed at ‘judaising’ Palestinian territory."
"I would like to re-emphasise that under international law, this house is in legally recognised Palestinian territory. Under Israeli law, it is in Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents will therefore have to pay up to 80,000 sheckels for the priviledge of having their house destroyed."
The otherswise peaceful farming village of Al Walaja is very well accustomed to regular incursions by the Israeli military. The residents of the village are not being accused of any crime. But residents and their supporters claim that the demolitions are going ahead simply the location of the village, between the ‘Gush Etzion’ settlement bloc and the city of Jerusalem.
The French companies Alstom and Connex form part of a consortium that won a 2002 tender put out by Israeli authorities for a light rail transportation project amounting to around 500 million euros. The companies will be responsible for operation and maintenance for the next 30 years. In August of 2005, the project got the go ahead from then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who stated at a signing ceremony:
"I believe that this should be done, and in any event, anything that can be done to strengthen Jerusalem, construct it, expand it and sustain it for eternity as the capital of the Jewish people and the united capital of the State of Israel, should be done." The Mayor of Jerusalem (on the Israeli side, as the city is currently divided in two) Uri Lupolianski described the light rail to be "the fulfilment of Psalm 122".
The path of the light rail incorporates a number of Jewish settlements around East Jerusalem, built on stolen Palestinian land. Construction of the light rail will ensure the contiguity of these settlements into the central areas of the city and provide them with a vital transport link. The project plays a key role in sustaining the settlements and ensuring they became a permanent fixture upon Palestinian land. The project, a private-public partnership (PPP) between the Israeli Occupation government and the consortium, is hinged upon the willingness of international business groupings to provide a huge injection of capital. In turn the French companies will reap significant profits and dividends over a thirty-year period.
Meanwhile, the residents of Al Wallaja and other Palestinian towns and villages are locked behind an eight-meter high Annexation Wall built by Israeli forces on their land.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Foreign Minister Mr al-Qidwa brought the issue up with French President Chirac last year during a visit to Europe. Chirac promised to look into the issue but has stated the project will not change the position of East Jerusalem.
Says the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign:
"We make the call for European citizens of conscience to put pressure on President Jacques Chirac and the French government to demand that they force an end to Connex and Alstom involvement in projects that contravene international law and work against our rights as Palestinians to exist in our capital. We call upon our supporters in all the countries where Connex and Alstom operate, to use all forms of popular pressure, protest and boycotts against them, until they end their support for the Israeli project to ethnically cleanse Jerusalem."