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Friday, March 16, 2007

The French version of the 'Muhammed cartoons'?

A French - 'Palestinian' organization has filed a complaint in a French court against two French companies who are participating in the construction of the new Jerusalem tramway which is scheduled to open in 2009. Association France Palestine Solidarite (AFPS) has taken legal action in France against Veolia and Alstom because both companies are involved in the Israeli light rail or tramway project that will run in 'East Jerusalem.' (The above link is in French. The English link is here).

The two companies are part of the Citypass consortium, which obtained the concession to construct and operate the tram in 2002. Other members of the consortium are the Israeli Construction and Infrastructures company Ashtrom and Israel's Polar Investments.

AFPS is claiming that the tram is intended to "turn the settlements that are located close to Jerusalem into Jewish neighborhoods of the city, facilitating transport to and from these settlements and encouraging more people to live there." Of course, given that they also refer to Jewish neighborhoods of 'West Jerusalem' as 'colonies,' I'm not quite sure what that means.

AFPS also claims that the tram will create Israeli strongholds in 'Arab parts of Jerusalem,' will prevent Arab neighborhoods from developing and will isolate the 'east Jerusalem' neighborhoods from Judea and Samaria. Given that the tram will connect the entire city, it's not clear to me how this will isolate 'East Jerusalem' from Judea and Samaria. I have not seen a map of the entire project, but all of the points in the map above are located within Jerusalem proper. AFPS also claims that the project will expropriate dozens of acres of land from Arabs. Given that every piece of construction that I have seen for the tramway goes down a major street, I don't know what land is being 'taken' that was not taken many years ago. Two writers last month in Le Monde Diplomatique tried to substantiate AFPS's claim:
At the North Shu’fat stop, planners have designed park-and-ride lots for suburban commuters, especially Palestinians. The Israeli project director, Shmulik Tsabari, who came with us on our site tour, seemed oddly unaware of the fact that a large number of potential passengers, such as the inhabitants of Ras Khamis, or the Shu’fat and Anata refugee camps, live behind the separation wall. One checkpoint in the wall is open at present, but that doesn’t mean it will remain so in the future. The army already often closes it during the rush hour so that settlers can circulate more easily.

So who will use the park-and-ride lots — if they are built? “The 50 dunum (5 hectare) plot belongs to dozens of Palestinian families and the town hall has stymied negotiations,” explained lawyer Mahmud al-Mashni. “But a permit is required to build on the land since it’s in a green zone. The city authorities plan to use part of the area for the parking lot and allow the owners to build a shopping centre and homes on the remainder. But the owners can’t afford to do that — they won’t be able to pay the taxes, which are far higher on building land. According to Israeli law, the owners should get 60% of the land’s value in the event of state expropriation. Instead they’re being offered a ‘generous’ 25%.”
I'm going to guess that they are being offered 60% of the part that's actually being used for a parking lot. And in the real world, you either develop the rest and use rental fees to pay the taxes (and bank loans to cover the taxes - if any - during the development period) or you sell the land to someone else who will develop it. That's not expropriation. It's business. This sounds like it needs a good real estate entrepreneur. Of course, the owners may be murdered by their fellow 'Palestinians' if they sell....

According to the pro-'Palestinian' site Electronic Intifada, AFPS claims that the construction of the tramway is 'illegal' under both the Geneva Convention of 1949 and French law:
The contract between the Israeli government and CityPass is a violation of the Geneva convention of 1949 that not only prohibits the occupying force to transfer part of its civil population to the occupied territory, but also prohibits the demolition of property unless absolutely necessary for military operations. There can be no doubt about the civilian purpose of the tramway


The articles 6, 1131 and 1133 of the French Civil Code state that any agreement can be discharged of its powers when its aim is in contradiction with the public order or good morals. The contracts of Alstom and Veolia Transport are therefore also illegal under French law. The legal action undertaken by AFPS [2] is based on this rule in French law and is seeking the cancellation of the contracts for the construction and running of the tramway in Palestine between Alstom, Veolia and the Israeli government. At the same time the legal action is aimed to prohibit the companies to execute the contract.
Article 2 of the Geneva Convention provides that the Convention pertains only to “cases of…occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party” by another such party. Judea and Samaria were never the territory of a High Contracting Party; the occupation after 1948 by Jordan was illegal and Jordan never had lawful or recognized sovereignty. The last legal sovereignty over Judea and Samaria was that of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which stipulated the right of the Jewish people to settle in the whole of the Mandated territory, a right preserved by Article 80 of the U.N. Charter.

Furthermore, even if the Geneva Convention did apply, it would not outlaw the creation of Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria and Jewish neighborhoods in 'East Jerusalem,' since the relevant Article 49 of the Geneva Convention was intended to outlaw the Nazi practice of forcibly transporting populations into or out of occupied territories to death and work camps, and cannot be applied to Israel because Israelis were not forcibly transferred (except, of course, out of Gaza and northern Samaria in the summer of 2005). In addition, had the drafters of the convention wished to outlaw 'settlements,' they would have used that term (or some equivalent) in the text; they did not.

And while I am not an expert in French law, I am an attorney, and it is inconceivable to me that the pre-Eurabian French legislature could have intended to avoid contracts signed in Israel as interfering with "public order and good morals." That provision is clearly intended to cover French public order and French good morals and to pertain only to contracts to be performed in France. Le Monde Diplomatique (linked above) also took on the French law claims:
According to international lawyer Monique Chemillier-Gendreau: “A state is accountable for the actions of its country’s major companies if they break international law and if the state does not do what it can to prevent them.” Doubtless aware of the risk, a French consulate official in Jerusalem stressed that neither Alstom nor Connex benefited from any export credits or guarantees from Coface, the official French export guarantee department.

A diplomat in Paris, who wished to remain anonymous, went further: “The French foreign office has always discouraged companies from taking part in this venture.” Maybe. But in that case why did Gérard Araud, France’s ambassador to Israel, take part in the official contract-signing ceremony in the offices of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon?

The diplomat confirmed that the foreign ministry “always had strong reservations about French companies taking part in this project”. In the event of confrontation “it would give rise to a crisis on the scale of the Muhammad cartoons row”. France would be in violation of international law. He added “That tram is the tram of apartheid” and claimed that the lawyers hired by Alstom and Connex are “dubious”, which confirmed recent comments by the two companies.
YNet notes that the 'apartheid' tramway is meant to be used by all residents of Israel, regardless of their religion:
... City Pass [is] going to build the first light-rail line that will be used by all residents of Jerusalem – Jews, Muslims and Christians – without regard to race, creed or gender.
At least so long as there are no suicide bombers on the trams. Admittedly, that might change the picture. But if it does, it will be justified. And somehow, if it changes the picture, I doubt it will be so brash as to bar all the Arabs. The Arab residents of Jerusalem are allowed to ride all of the buses here - despite what we went through in the early part of this decade.


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