German railway firm stops advising Israel on project

A German railway firm has stopped advising Israel on a rapid rail project that includes nearly four miles that would run under the West Bank.

DB International dropped out of the project last winter over human rights concerns, according to a letter dated March 11 from Germany’s state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Affairs, Enak Ferlemann. The move was brought to light when the letter was posted recently on several blogs.

The rail line, at a cost of about $1.7 billion, is expected to cut travel time between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to about 28 minutes from a trip that now takes up to an hour and a half. According to estimates, the project will be completed by 2017. Most of the section in the West Bank would be underground, according to the German news magazine der Spiegel.

Critics say this section would violate international law by infringing on Palestinian territory.

The written response from Ferlemann—a member of the conservative Christian Democratic Union—to Left Party legislator Inge Hoger confirmed that the head of the Ministry of Transport, Peter Ramsauer, had discussed the matter with German railway executives this winter. Ferlemann wrote that DB International, after meetings in Germany’s embassy in Tel Aviv, had announced in writing that “they would no longer be involved in this politically sensitive project.”

Peter Grasse, an assistant to Hoger on Middle East Affairs, told JTA that Ferlemann’s letter was “a positive signal” suggesting that the German government takes human rights in the Palestinian territories seriously.

Hoger took part in the ill-fated Mavi Marmara flotilla that entered Israeli waters off Gaza last year. Grasse said Hoger had no current plans to join further flotillas.