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Jonathan Kuttab discusses the lawsuit against the Canadian company Bombardier, which is building an illegal railway through occupied and confiscated Palestinian land in the West Bank, violating international law

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GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert, coming to you from Baltimore. The giant aerospace and rail manufacturing company Bombardier, based in Montreal, Canada, is under suspicion of having committed a war crime over a contract to provide trains to the Israeli railway system. The Israeli Ministry of Transportation recently opened a new high-speed train line between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, illegally cutting through the occupied West Bank and confiscating lands from Beit Iksa and Beit Sourik. Here’s what PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi and a resident of the area had to say about the train.

HANAN ASHRAWI: Well, this train is for the use of Israelis only. They cannot use the pretext that they’ve confiscated Palestinian land or they’ve built this train in order to serve the Palestinians because it serves purely the Israelis as part of the system of annexation and the system of apartheid in Israel.

RESIDENT: It’s very sad. You see a railway and see modern technology on your land, and inside your land. And you can’t use or benefit from it.

GREG WILPERT: According to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in the Hague from 2004, infrastructure support for any permanent changes of the conditions in areas under Israeli occupation constitutes a war crime. The organization Independent Jewish Voices of Canada published an open letter to Bombardier, calling on the company to stop providing trains to the Israeli apartheid railway system. Also, a new book came out about the violations committed by Bombardier. The book is called Bombardier Abroad, written by David P. Thomas. It covers three countries in which Bombardier is involved in dispossession: South Africa, Tibet, and Israel.
We’re joined now by Jonathan Kuttab. He’s a human rights lawyer who’s taking action to stop Bombardier’s complicity with dispossession in Palestine. He joins us from Washington, D.C. Thanks for joining us today, Jonathan.

JONATHAN KUTTAB: You’re welcome.

GREG WILPERT: Now, Dr. Lutz Bertling of Bombardier stated that he has no problem with Bombardier trains going beyond the Green Line. Does the company have legal protection to say how Israel uses their trains is not the company’s concern, and that they can keep selling them to Israel?

JONATHAN KUTTAB: No, clearly not. The law on this question is very clear. Any company that knowingly allows and participates in action that is clearly violative of international law is, of course, responsible for the violation, and is complicit, and is itself guilty of this violation.

GREG WILPERT: The fact that the two biggest cities in Israel, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, have not been connected by a fast train line since the founding of the state of Israel has been a major source of embarrassment and a cause of traffic jams and loss of money. Now, the German railway company Deutsche Bahn recently withdrew from the project because it violates international law. So why doesn’t the Israeli government just plot a route that stays inside Israel and avoids violating international law?

JONATHAN KUTTAB: There’s two reasons, actually. The first is that Israel, while openly and legally considering this not part of the state of Israel, in fact, has treated all the occupied territories as basically its own. They have violated international law left, right, and center, and then gotten away with it. They act as the sovereign in that area, when they are only a belligerent occupation.

So ideologically, Israel has no problem. They think “This is all ours, we can do whatever we want.” But secondly, and the more important reason, is because Israel believes it can get away with it. It believes that it can violate clearly provisions of international law and not suffer any consequences, whether it’s economic, political, or legal. They feel that the international community is pretty much quiescent, that the United States will actively oppose the imposition of international law sanctions upon it. They feel that the BDS movement, which is the popular civil attempt to bring them to compliance with international law, is a real danger. That’s why they spend so much energy fighting BDS, boycotts, divestments, and sanctions, because they don’t believe they have the tools to prevent civil society from calling upon them to comply with international law.

GREG WILPERT: Now, what kinds of consequences do you think Bombardier may face for its violation of international law? Is there a chance to extract compensation from the company? And could executives risk being personally liable for complicity for committing a war crime?

JONATHAN KUTTAB: Theoretically, yes. The reality, however, is that there is a huge gap between what international law is, and the ability, particularly of weak actors, to enforce compliance. International law has been progressing in fits and starts. Especially during the last 10 or 20 years, the United States, particularly Israel also, have tried to reduce compliance, reduce the effectiveness of the tools that are available to enforce international law. They have resisted the creation of the International Criminal Court, which by the way now exists, and it lists apartheid as one of the basis for its jurisdiction.

So they feel they can get away with it. And they think that the Palestinians and their supporters are too weak to pay what I would call the transactional costs of bringing them to justice under international law.

GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, we’ll continue to follow the situation, but we’ll leave it there for now. I was speaking to Jonathan Kuttab, human rights lawyer involved in the Bombardier case in Palestine. Thanks again, Jonathan, for having joined us today.

JONATHAN KUTTAB: You’re welcome.

GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first taught sociology at the Central University of Venezuela and then worked as a freelance journalist, writing on Venezuelan politics for a wide range of publications and also founded, an English-langugage website about Venezuela. In 2007 he published the book, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power: The History and Policies of the Chavez Government (Verso Books). In 2014 he moved to Quito, Ecuador, to help launch teleSUR English. In early 2016 he began working for The Real News Network as host, researcher, and producer. Since September 2018 he has been working as Managing Editor at The Real News. Gregory's wife worked as a Venezuelan diplomat since 2008 and from January 2015 until October 2018 she was Venezuela's Ambassador to Ecuador.