Derailing Injustice: Palestinian Civil Resistance to the “Jerusalem Light Rail”
In a long article (4000+ words) in the Jerusalem Quarterly, Summer 2009, Omar Barghouti places the campaign against the Jerusalem Light Rail and its role in the Judaisation of Jerusalem in the context of wider calls from within Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.
“I believe that this [Jerusalem Light Rail] 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.”
Ariel Sharon, August 2005
… Palestinian civil society campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and its international supporters in the solidarity movement have been contributing to resisting Israel’s multi-faceted oppression against the indigenous people of Palestine by mobilizing international civil society to apply effective, nonviolent and sustained pressure against it until it fully complies with its obligations under international law and respects Palestinian rights.
The campaign against the “Jerusalem Light Rail” is a case in point, that tellingly illustrates the potency and potential of such a struggle as well as the challenges stacked up against it.
Realizing Herzl’s Vision
According to its official brochure, the Jerusalem Light Rail, JLR, is intended to fulfill Theodore Herzl’s vision of Jerusalem: “modern neighborhoods with electric lines, tree-lined boulevards… a metropolis of the 20th century.” The other crucial element of Herzl’s Eurocentric vision for the entire land of Palestine as a Jewish state was even more faithfully adhered to by the project planners.
Thus, while the professed goals of the JLR cite typical urban planning priorities, such as relieving traffic congestion and renewal of the city center, the actual map of the JLR’s planned route and stations reveal the unspoken underlying objective of the project: to irreversibly entrench the “Judaization” of Jerusalem3 and perpetuate its current reality as a unified city with a predominantly Jewish population under Israeli control. By connecting its most significant colonies, or “settlement blocs,” illegally built on the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT) including East Jerusalem,4 in contravention of international law,5 Israel hopes to use the JLR – as part of a comprehensive, long-term strategy that includes the Wall and other repressive measures6 – to cement the integration of those blocs into an ever sprawling “Greater Jerusalem,” thereby creating the third most important fact on the ground, after the 1948 nakba7 with the mass forcible displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians that accompanied it and the 1967 military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
The political and legal implications of the JLR cannot be fully appreciated unless seen within the context of Israel’s strategic plans for Jerusalem, particularly the “secret plan”8 sponsored by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office and Mayor of Jerusalem to “strengthen Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel.” This plan, exposed recently in Haaretz, aims at creating Israeli “hegemony” over the area around the Old City, “inspired by extreme right-wing ideology.”…
Barghouti then discusses the legal case against the JLR in France and Britain and the emergence of the Palestinian BDS campaign of which he says:
With its distinctly rights-based, approach, the BDS Call appealed to wide sectors in international civil society, inspiring and mobilizing them into launching effective, context-sensitive and sustainable campaigns against Israel and institutions – Israeli and international – that are complicit in its occupation and other forms of oppression.
Barghouti then moves on to the campaigns against Veolia and Alstom, two key European companies involved in the light-rail project up to and including the remarkable victory (Ha’aretz 9 June) and concludes:
“Despite Veolia’s reported announcement that it was withdrawing from the JLR, the Derail Veolia and Alstom Campaign “plans to keep the pressure on Veolia and Alstom until the companies end their services to Israel’s activities and projects that are in violation of international law,” as stated by Adri Nieuwhof. Specifically, Veolia is still involved in providing bus services that link Jerusalem with illegal colonies and in the dumping of waste from Israel and its settlements in the Tovlan landfill in the occupied Jordan Valley.”