French multinational Veolia is known for its involvement in several Israeli colonization projects in the occupied West Bank. In a public relations effort to sell a supposed commitment to peace, the company has lend its name to the Veolia Desert Challenge, an Israeli biking event held in the Naqab on 2 December.
This year’s event included a “The Race for Peace”. The organizers were delighted to invite one hundred Palestinians from the West Bank to participate and to “create eye level encounters,” they write on the English page of the website. On the pages in Arabic and Hebrew it is written that this is the first time that Palestinians from the West Bank will participate in the Veolia Desert Challenge. “We believe that Sport is yet another way to bring people together, reconcile and break down barriers. We invite you, Arabs & Jews, to come and enjoy a sporting experience in the great outdoors.”
The organizers target Palestinians with a web page in Arabic where they announce that participation is open to everybody from the West Bank, both sexes, if older than 14 years. Participation is free of charge for Palestinians, including travel costs from all governorates of the West Bank.
On the website page in Hebrew there is the remark “Pay attention - for some of the Palestinian participants it is the first time they are meeting with Israelis, we’d be happy if you arrive early morning to welcome them.” This is a bizarre statement considering how the vast majority of Palestinians in the West Bank will have interacted with Israeli soldiers at any of Israel’s hundreds of checkpoints. It also ignores the fact that more than 500,000 Israelis illegally live on stolen Palestinian land in the occupied West Bank.
Veolia’s ignorant execs would do well to read the Fact sheet of November 2011 from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory which documents the aggressive behavior of settlers towards the indigenous Palestinians:
- The weekly average of settler attacks resulting in Palestinian casualties and property damage has increased by 40% in 2011 compared to 2010, and by over 165% compared to 2009
- In 2011 three Palestinians have been killed and 167 injured by Israeli settlers. In addition, one Palestinian has been killed and 101 injured, by Israeli soldiers during clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians
- OCHA has identified over 80 communities with a combined population of nearly 250,000 Palestinians vulnerable to settler violence, including 76,000 who are at high-risk
Meanwhile, Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem writes about the checkpoints:
Israel’s severe restrictions on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank are enforced by a system of fixed checkpoints, surprise flying checkpoints, physical obstructions, roads on which Palestinians are forbidden to travel, and gates along the Separation Barrier. The restrictions enable Israel to control Palestinian movement throughout the West Bank as suits its interests, in a sweeping breach of Palestinians’ rights.
Prolonged checks and searches at some of the checkpoints, humiliating treatment by soldiers, and long lines deter Palestinian drivers from using some of the roads still open to their use. As a result, Palestinian movement on some of the main roads in the West Bank has dropped, and these roads are used almost exclusively by settlers.
There will be hardly a Palestinian from the West Bank, if any, who has not met Israelis. For example, those who managed to participate in the Veolia Desert Peace Race had to ask Israeli officials for a permit to enter into Israel in order to be able to travel to the Naqab. If they received a permit in time, the next hurdle would be the Israeli checkpoints on their way. Israeli soldiers would have studied the papers and decided if they could pass…. I wonder how many Palestinians made it to the Veolia Desert Challenge Race for Peace.
Supporting a “the Race for Peace” in the Naqab is not the way to support peace in the Middle East. A better way for Veolia would be to end immediately its involvement in all Israeli activities in the occupied West Bank.