Friends of Palestine WA to launch boycott Veolia campaign

The French multinational Veolia will be “the major target for its boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign work in 2012”, Friends of Palestine WA resolved at its annual general meeting on February 4. The campaign will include “protest actions, lobbying and other activities to draw attention to Veolia's role in profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories”.

For decades, Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights of freedom, equality and self-determination through ethnic cleansing, colonisation, racial discrimination and military occupation. Despite abundant condemnation of Israeli policies by the United Nations, international bodies and human rights organisations, Israel’s crimes have continued with impunity.

On July 9, 2005, a year after the International Court of Justice declared Israel’s apartheid wall in the occupied Palestinian territories to be illegal, a clear majority of Palestinian civil society called upon people of conscience all over the world to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives and demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law.

Why Veolia?

Veolia is a large multinational active in utility services, including water supply, waste management, energy and transport. In 2010, Veolia had 320,000 employees in 105 countries. Its revenue was €34.8 billion and its profit €579 million. Veolia Environment and Veolia Transport profit from major investments in Israeli infrastructure projects servicing settlements in the occupied territories.

Veolia Transport Israel, a subsidiary of Veolia Transdev, is a leading partner in the CityPass consortium, contracted to build and operate a tramway linking West Jerusalem to illegal Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. The light rail system, which began operation in December, will cement Israel’s hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the settlements even more firmly into Israel. The “Ammunition Hill” station of the network operates as the feeder station for settler traffic from Ma’aleh Adumim, a large settlement in the West Bank, and from Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.

Veolia Transport Israel is thus directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements and plays a key role in Israel’s attempt to annex East Jerusalem. Veolia has recruited operators for the tramway through an advertisement requiring Hebrew to mother tongue standard, but without mention of Arabic, a clear indication that the tramway is expected to be used primarily by Jewish Israelis, not Palestinians. Full army or civic service is also required, meaning Palestinians are denied employment on the rail system.

In April 2010, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution, by a vote of 44 to 1, declaring the light rail and its operation illegal.

Veolia Transport Israel also runs two bus services supporting and consolidating illegal settlements. These are services 109 and 110, linking the settlements of Mevo Horon, Giv’at Ze’ev and Har Shmuel to Israel. Until recently, part of the route was an apartheid road on which Palestinians from the West Bank were forbidden to travel, even though it passes through the West Bank. In June 2010 the ban was partially lifted to comply with an Israeli court order, but at most West Bank Palestinians can still use the Veolia buses only between two stops about 5km apart, and quite possibly not at all.

Dumping rubbish on the occupied

Through its subsidiary TMM, Veolia Transport Israel has been operating the Tovlan landfill site in the occupied Jordan Valley for many years. Tovlan supports Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank by taking their refuse. There has also been a report of Tovlan receiving refuse from Israel itself, the occupier dumping its rubbish on the occupied. Veolia says that it is selling Tovlan to a local buyer and may have already done so, but far from ending Veolia’s complicity, the deal will compound it, for the intended sale is to Massu’a, the nearby illegal Israeli settlement. Moreover, Veolia will continue its involvement by providing the settlement with advice concerning Tovlan.

On December 9, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Veolia is seeking to pull out of transit and contracting services in Israel/Palestine, citing the European economic crisis as responsible for a planned contraction in its international investments. While Veolia Israel has agreed to sell the contracting business of its energy subsidiary, Dalkia Israel, to Electra for an estimated NIS40-60 million (about $10-15 million), and is negotiating divestment of its transport services, Haaretz reported, “Veolia Israel will be keeping its local [waste management] and water businesses, which employ another 1,250 and have about NIS1 billion in annual revenues”. Haaretz reported that Veolia is expected to expand investment in these services “as they are quite profitable”.

According to Haaretz, Veolia Transport Israel is trying to sell its 5% stake in the CityPass consortium and its 80% stake in the tramway operating company to the Israeli company Egged for NIS46 million, but the Israeli state has held up the sale. Part of the deal is for Veolia Transport Israel to provide Egged with technical assistance for five years, so Veolia will still be involved in and profit from the tramway. Veolia says that it is selling its stakes to take advantage of a good offer rather than trying to distance itself from services to settlements.

Veolia Environment has also attempted to use the March 2011 merger of its transport division with Transdev, which formed Veolia Transdev, to hide its complicity in the occupation. The merged company is 50% owned by Veolia Environment, whose CEO is also the chairman of Veolia Transdev. Veolia Environment therefore still bears very substantial responsibility for and retains effective control of Veolia Transdev’s wholly owned subsidiary Veolia Transport Israel. Veolia’s involvement with Tovlan is not affected by the Veolia Transport/Transdev merger, for the subsidiary concerned is part of Veolia Environment’s Environmental Services Division.

International BDS

Numerous BDS actions have targeted Veolia's investments in North America and Europe in recent years and, more recently, in occupied East Jerusalem.

The UK-based Bin Veolia campaign is seeking to end Veolia's waste management contracts with numerous government authorities. UK and European activists have been seeking to appeal to European Union regulations that a company can be excluded from bidding for government contracts on the grounds of grave misconduct.

The Bin Veolia campaign has achieved considerable success: at least eight UK councils having ended Veolia's contracts since late 2010 or resolved to exclude Veolia from future contracts. Late last year, the West London Waste Authority excluded Veolia from a £485 million contract for treatment of residual domestic waste.

Over the last six months campaigners collected signatures from nearly 600 local residents on a letter documenting Veolia’s direct complicity in grave breaches of international and humanitarian law in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Sarah Colborne, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign in the UK , commented: “Complicity in infringing human rights and international law has become an expensive business for Veolia. Other companies please note: There is a strong, determined and popular international campaign for justice for Palestinians; if you aid Israel's oppression of Palestinians, your business will suffer just like Veolia's.”

In February 2011 the East London council of Tower Hamlets voted to review its position with Veolia and place no further contracts with it, saying that Veolia's work for the Israeli government assisted the "continued oppression of the Palestinian people".

In 2009, Veolia Transport, which had been running the Stockholm metro for many years, lost the replacement contract, worth several billion euro, after a high profile public campaign. Veolia’s finance manager for Sweden was sacked. Stockholm City Council did not admit that the campaign was responsible, but it was widely acknowledged that this was the case.

Also in 2009, Veolia Transport lost a €750 million contract for the biggest urban network in France.

In 2010, the Dublin City Council instructed its city manager not to grant or renew any contracts with Veolia after concerted action by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

Freedom rides

On November 15, Palestinian activists boarded segregated Israeli settler public transport headed to East Jerusalem in a historic act of civil disobedience inspired by the US civil rights movement. The six freedom riders boarded a bus that serves Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank on its way to East Jerusalem, wearing kuffiyehs (Palestinian scarves) and T-shirts reading “Justice”, “Freedom” and “We Shall Overcome”.

They took this bold action to expose the racism and segregation that pervade every aspect of life in occupied Palestine: to send the message to the world that separate is not equal. They also wanted to bring attention to the role of Israeli and international companies, such as Egged and Veolia, that operate these segregated bus lines, in perpetuating and profiting from the occupation.

Before being dragged from the bus by Israeli soldiers and arrested, Fadi Quran, a 23-year-old Palestinian from Ramallah, said: "We are not going to give up. We are struggling for justice, freedom and dignity, and we shall overcome. Stand with us in solidarity. Please divest from the Egged and Veolia bus companies and all Israeli institutions. We will achieve freedom, justice and dignity for this generation of Palestinians."

Veolia in Australia

On November 30, 2009, Connex Melbourne (a Veolia Transport subsidiary) lost the contract for operating Melbourne's suburban rail system. While media reports focused on Connex's failure to deliver an efficient service, it had also been the focus of a local Palestine solidarity boycott campaign.

Veolia Transport's turnover for Australia is over $635 million. Its Australian transport investments include: Veolia Transport Brisbane, using the former National Bus Company's fleet; free CAT bus services in the Perth CBD, Fremantle and Joondalup; WA Southern Coast Transit bus lines in the Mandurah/Rockingham area and the bus lines in the Joondalup/Wangara that feed Transperth rail lines; Sydney's light rail and monorail; and Veolia Transport NSW (formerly Connex/Connex Southtrans) commuter buses that service the depots of Bankstown, Villawood, Taren Point, Menai and Revesby.

Veolia Environment also has numerous contracts with councils and waste management authorities around Australia, though these contracts are more hidden from public scrutiny. The Perth inner city council, Town of Vincent, is one such example.

Friends of Palestine WA's AGM discussed a number of possible protest actions targeting Veolia, including “freedom rides” on CAT bus routes in Perth and Fremantle and a “bin Veolia” campaign directed at inner city councils, universities and statutory authorities found to have significant contracts for waste management with Veolia Environment.

Direct Action — March 20, 2012