Veolia is involved in several Israeli projects in the occupied West Bank in violation of international law. It is still involved in the Israeli Jerusalem Light Rail project connecting illegal Israeli colonies to Jerusalem. The company also operates four bus lines running between Israel and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, Veolia owns and operates through its subsidiaries Tovlan landfill which processes Israeli waste on occupied Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley. Veolia tries to sugar-coat its complicity in Israeli violations of international law by offering a pittance to the Palestinian villagers of Jiftlik in the Jordan Valley. The company has placed three refuse containers there for free waste collection.
Jerusalem Light Rail: impact on Shuafat
Veolia continues to be involved in the Jerusalem Light Rail project. According to Haaretz, the State of Israel has held up the sale of Veolia’s share in the light rail to Egged. Moreover, the company will continue to deliver consultancy services to Egged if the deal materializes.
Two weeks ago I discussed the impact of the light rail on Shuafat with resident Ibrahim Yousef.1 Yousef lives opposite the second stop of the light rail in Shuafat village. The main road from East Jerusalem to Ramallah passes through Shuafat and Beit Hanina. The road is used by many Palestinians and used to have two to three lanes in each direction. Over the years, the settlers have surrounded the neighborhood. Pisgat Zeev settlement is located to the north, Ramot settlement to the west and French Hill settlement to the south of Shuafat. Israel has built a huge settler road that links the settlements with West Jerusalem. In Shuafat, the settler road crosses the Palestinian main road. An Israeli security tower is located at the crossing.
The Jerusalem Light Rail has been constructed in the middle of the main road in Shuafat. Only one very tight lane is left for the Palestinians, explains Yousef. A traffic light has been added about every 300 meters – in all about eight on the Shuafat stretch. These traffic lights have slowed down the traffic. “It is only about ten seconds green.”
The strange phenomenon of traffic lights that leave a ridiculously short time for Palestinians to pass was reported by Al-Jazeera last year. The reporter actually shows the different treatment of settlers and Palestinians at the crossing between the settler road and the Palestinian road in Shuafat. Settlers have three times more time to pass the crossing on a three-lane road. Palestinians have 26 seconds to pass the crossing on a single lane. Cameras that flash when cars ignore the red light face the Palestinian road.
Yousef adds that Palestinians in Shuafat “noticed a militarization of the area. There are armed guards. We have 360 degree cameras opposite the Mosque, overseeing the middle station in Shuafat. All is seen, every move we make. We have a roundabout where armed security guards are on watch. When I go out of my door it feels like the neighborhood is colonized. The visual impact of the light rail when it comes full of settlers from Pisgat Zeev, it feels like colonization, occupation. Most of my friends have used the light rail because it was free. The settlers were not comfortable with the Palestinians in the light rail.”
Since 1 December people have to pay for a ticket. It will cost NIS 6.40 (US$ 1.70), which is more than the NIS 5 (US$ 1.32) they have to pay for a ride on a Palestinian bus to Jerusalem. Yousef expects a decline in the number of Palestinians using the light rail because of the higher costs of a ticket.
Jerusalem Light Rail: line of friction
The Israeli press has reported on several incidents relating to the Jerusalem Light Rail. On 5 December, Palestinians damaged one of the carriages of a passing light rail by throwing stones. “The new train has been the target of repeated attacks by some disgruntled Arabs who are angry at the inclusion of their neighborhood on the route”, reported Arurz Sheva. It was not the first time the light rail was attacked. Palestinians from Shuafat threw stones at the light rail on 10 October, smashing a window pane of one of the cars.
Another incident took place on 29 November when a Jewish girl used a personal canister of tear gas to spray at Palestinian girls in a clash between a group of Jewish and Palestinian girls in one of the rail carriages.
“The Jerusalem Light Rail will be a point of friction”, says Yousef, when I ask him to comment on recent reports on the clashes. All other areas are more segregated. “The light rail is the less segregated, it is inevitable that it leads to friction.”
Waste dumping in the Jordan Valley
Subsidiaries of Veolia own and operate Tovlan landfill which processes Israeli waste in the occupied Jordan Valley. This week, I spoke with Fathy Khdirat - a human rights defender from the Jordan Valley. Khdirat informed me that Veolia had offered three containers for free waste collection to Jiftlik, a village in the Jordan Valley. However, Veolia’s move cannot conceal the company’s role in the dumping of Israeli waste on Palestinian land in Tovlan landfill.
I asked Omar Barghouti - author of “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS): The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights” – to comment on Veolia’s offer to Jiftlik. He said: “As Desmond Tutu said, we do not need anyone to polish our chains; we want to break them altogether. Veolia is trying to hide or sugar-coat its horrific complicity in Israeli violations of international law, even war crimes, by throwing some bones to ghettoized Palestinian communities in the Jordan Valley. This is beyond humiliating; it is racist and criminal. Derail Veolia!”
1Irbahim Yousef is a pseudonym to protect the person’s security.