BDS roundup: Veolia contract spiked in The Hague

In this week’s roundup of BDS news from around the world, another Veolia contract spiked — this time, in The Hague; more countries implement or consider proper labeleing of Israeli settlement products; a Palestinian author successfully campaigns US university press to cancel book publication because of inclusion of Israeli writers; and South African activists join global campaign to urge Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel Tel Aviv show.

Veolia spiked in The Hague

Multinational urban systems contractor Veolia has been rejected from contracts in yet another European city. On 23 May, the regional council of Haaglanden — whose major city is The Hague, the “international city of peace and justice” — decided not to award Veolia Transport Nederland Openbaar Vervoer, the Dutch subsidiary of Veolia, a contract for public transportation systems in the city.

Veolia, which has been a target of global boycott campaigns because of its involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail project (connecting West Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank) and settlement waste dumps in the Jordan Valley, has lost tens of millions of dollars in the last year due to concentrated efforts by BDS groups in Europe.

As our correspondent Adri Nieuwhof reported on 11 May, Palestinian and Dutch activism groups called on the regional Haaglanden council to “exclude Veolia Transport from bidding for a bus contract, because of the firm’s role in projects that strengthen Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank such as the Jerusalem Light Rail and the Tovlan landfill.”

Palestinian human rights group Al Haq, which has been a major force in the Veolia boycott campaign, reported this week that:

Al Haq’s recent advocacy efforts in The Hague are part of a long-term commitment to object to the activities of Veolia, a French multinational providing infrastructure through its subsidiaries to Israeli local authorities, for its involvement in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Railway linking West Jerusalem to illegal Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the West Bank.

On 14 April 2010, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC Resolution 13/7) specifically declared the Jerusalem Light Railway Way to be “in clear breach of international law and relevant UN resolutions.” Such infrastructure contributes to Israel’s illegal annexation of East Jerusalem and of other parts of the West Bank. Veolia, operating through a network of wholly- or partially-owned subsidiaries, also provides other infrastructural support to Israeli authorities, including the operation of the Tovlan landfill site in the Jordan Valley. The site is used to dispose of waste collected from Israel and Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

A joint letter from activists with United Civilians for Peace and the Dutch group A Different Jewish Voice (EAJG) congratulated the Haaglanden council’s decision to award the contract to a different company. The letter states, in part:

With this decision, the urban district Haaglanden gives a strong signal not to do business with companies with a dubious international reputation, such as Veolia for its complicity in the violation of international law in the occupied Palestinian territories. This decision also reaffirms the city of The Hague’s international reputation as city of peace and justice.

[Over] the past few months, EAJG and UCP have been active informing urban district Haaglanden extensively about Veolia’s activities in occupied Palestinian territory and have been clearly pointing out the responsibilities ensuing from this for urban district Haaglanden as the contracting party.

EAJG and UCP hope that also with future tenders of public transport (more) attention will be paid to the reputation providers of these services have in the field of international law. EAJG and UCP will continue to advocate that companies, in line with Dutch and European law on public procurement, are being excluded in advance from public tenders as long as their activities contribute to violations of international law.

More countries implement or consider proper Israeli settlement product labeling

Coming off the heels of both South Africa and Denmark ruling that imported products made in illegal Israeli settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank be labeled as such (not “Made in Israel” as they are currently, and falsely, labeled), a Swiss supermarket chain has said that it will follow suit and notify its customers of the proper origins of products on their shelves.

Israeli daily Ynet reported on Tuesday that Migros, the supermarket chain, “says it wants to offer customers greater transparency because the Swiss government and the United Nations consider the settlements to be illegal under international law.”

The article adds that Migros’ spokesperson said the store won’t outright boycott the settlement products, as has been the call by BDS groups, but that it will allow customers to make their own decisions about the products they sell. The products originating from Israeli settlements have previously been labeled “Made in Israel.”

Meanwhile, in Finland, FinnChurchAid and the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) have launched a campaign to educate consumers about settlement goods.

The campaign website is now just in Finnish, but an English-language description of their work was emailed to The Electronic Intifada.

The campaign will include leaflets and postcards that shoppers can give to their local store managers or drop into customer feedback boxes, template letters that people can send to heads of supermarket chains, and an online petition urging government ministers to introduce mandatory labeling on Israeli settlement goods and to take action against companies cooperating with the settlement industry.

The online petition states:

We, the undersigned, are concerned about the contacts between Finnish-based companies and illegal Israeli settlements. The settlements have been built in contempt of international humanitarian law. Finland, too, believes that they constitute a serious obstacle to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

The Finnish government should be take international law and humanitarian law as a basis for the execution to all settlement practices. However, measures that have been strengthening the economy of settlements, such as trade and investment, have been gone unpunished. This economic cooperation maintains the occupation and undermines the rights of the Palestinians.

Finland does not recognize the settlements as part of the Israeli territory. Still, the origin of the products is labeled as Israeli. The current labeling of settlement products is incorrect and misleading to consumers. We, the undersigned, do not want to buy products originating from illegal settlements and the accompanying human rights violations. That is why we want to know which “Israeli” products come from the settlements.

We appeal to you, Minister, to introduce the compulsory labeling of products originating from the settlements along this model: Origin: Settlement / Palestinian territories. Guidance on designation of origin must have a clause that prohibits the sale of settlement products as Israeli.

In addition, please communicate to the companies and investors working together with Israeli settlements that they are involved in violations of international law.

And in Ireland, the Irish Times reported on 15 May that the country may “push for the EU to ban goods from Israeli settlements if Israel does not quickly change its settlements policy in [the occupied West Bank].”

The Times added that Tánaiste [deputy head of state] Eamon Gilmore “has also said the Government may seek to have certain extremist settlers banned from the EU if they do not stop their violence in settlement areas.”

Gilmore continued:

“I think we may have to look at the question of banning products from settlement areas into the EU. We have always resisted the idea of boycotts in relation to Israel. But I think a distinction has to be drawn here between Israel and the settlements.”

The Times said that:

Mr. Gilmore said he spoke for the Government on these points. Asked if he thought Ireland’s presidency of the EU next year would provide a platform to advance the Government’s case, he said: “I do, yes.”

Palestinian author successfully campaigns US university press to cancel book publication because of inclusion of Israeli writers

The Gulf News reported this week that Palestinian writer Huzama Habayeb, who lives in Abu Dhabi, withdrew from a book project that was to be published by the University of Texas “when she found that two Israeli writers had been included on the list of proposed contributors.”

The proposed book was to be a collection of short stories by women writers across the Middle East “to honor the late US scholar Elizabeth (B.J.) Fernai, who had lived [in] and written on the region.”

Gulf News added that the UoT press “had wanted to include Israeli women authors in the anthology over the objections of the Arab writers, who argued the Israelis’ inclusion was politically unacceptable.”

The report adds:

“It didn’t take me long to decide,” she said. “I knew that I cannot be part of this project. There was no second thought at all So, I sent an email to the centre requesting them to withdraw my story for the book and I explained to her why I wanted to withdraw,” Although she was born in 1967, she has never set foot in her native Palestine.

“Once, I went to cross over from Jordan. When I was told that my papers would have to be stamped with an Israeli stamp, I refused to cross. To accept that stamp would be recognition of Israel,” she said defiantly.

“I am Palestinian and I can never accept the illegal occupation of my country.”

And the writing protect hit another raw nerve for her.

“We do not have our land,” she said. “It is illegally occupied the only thing that we have as Palestinians is our heritage, our arts, our writings, our culture. This is very important for every Palestinian. It is part of the glue that keeps us together where ever we are. We cannot compromise on this.”

She contacted the university and asked them to withdraw the name. She was surprised, however, at how quickly the centre agreed to her request. That just spurred her to more action.

“There are academic boycott movements around the world protesting the Israeli occupation — and the only two countries where they don’t exist are the United States and Israel. I wanted to do more to resist or to try and isolate Israel,” Huzama said. “It doesn’t need a genius to figure out that the Texas centre wanted to resolve the issue quickly and silently,” she explained.

Not surprisingly, Huzama Habayeb has subsequently been accused of being anti-Jewish.

The report adds:

For Huzama, the accusation of being anti-Jewish is hard to accept. “At no time did anyone use the term anti-Jewish,” she said.

“But it seems if you are anti-Israel, you are automatically anti-Jewish. For generations before Israel existed, back hundreds of years, Jews and Palestinians lived side by side. That accusation saddens me, but at least the book has been cancelled. I feel vindicated. And proud.”

South African activists join global campaign to urge Red Hot Chili Peppers to cancel Tel Aviv show

The global campaign to urge US rock group Red Hot Chili Peppers to reject Israeli apartheid and cancel their upcoming Tel Aviv gig remains at the forefront of current cultural boycott actions.

As The Electronic Intifada has been reporting, the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel is continuing to gather signatures for this campaign and is promoting the action on social media outlets.

On 23 May, South African Artists Against Apartheid joined the campaign and drafted their own open letter to RHCP, appealing to the band to heed the Palestinian-led call for BDS.

The SAAAA letter states, in part:

You might wonder what purpose refusing to perform in Israel might serve? As a people whose parents and grandparents suffered under (and resisted) Apartheid in South Africa, our history is testament to the value and legitimacy that the international boycott had in bringing an end to the Apartheid regime in our country.

When artists and sportspeople began refusing to perform in South Africa, the world’s eyes turned to the injustices that were happening here. This then created a wave of pressure on politicians and world leaders representing their constituencies, to insist on a regime-change — this contributed to a free, democratic and non-racial South Africa. The same is not only possible for Palestine-Israel, but inevitable. The question is: on which side of history do you want to be? Performing in Apartheid South Africa during the 80s, or in Israel today, is choosing to be on the wrong side of history.

As South Africans, we recognise the role that internationally-recognised artists like yourselves played in helping us to end apartheid in our country. It is this recognition, along with our belief in you, that leads us to join the many others around the world who are calling on you to cancel this part of your tour.

We understand how difficult it would be for you to reject an opportunity to share your enthusiasm and skills with others. Bands like you are the reason artists want to exist. Your music motivates beyond concert stages, penetrating into the intimate personal spaces of individual human lives and transforming them forever, the way only true art can.

Unhappily, matters are not so simple in this context. Art does not simply take place in a vacuum. The belief that cultural activities are “apolitical” (or that you are simply performing music, not getting involved in politics) is a myth. You performing in Israel will be a slap in the face of Palestinians (who have, since 2005, asked international artists not to perform there) but it will also be tacit support for the Israeli regime and its practices of apartheid.

The audiences before whom you would perform at Haryakon Park in Tel Aviv will not include your Palestinian fans from Gaza or the West Bank — they are barred from traveling to Tel Aviv. They are excluded, like how Blacks were excluded under Apartheid in South Africa, by laws which shut them out of places in a land which, historically, is as much their own as those who are permitted to attend.

… From our own experience of the cultural boycott of South Africa which we ourselves called for, we had no sense of being its unwilling victims and isolated from the rest of the world. In fact, our experience was precisely to the contrary – we were strengthened by a powerful sense of world-wide solidarity with us and support in our struggle for freedom.

As Palestinians (and an increasing numbers of progressive Israelis) have themselves called for the boycott, we have no doubt that they will feel as heartened and encouraged in their struggle as we were.

We urge to you to stand by them, to exclude Israel from your tour, and be on the right side of history.

The cultural boycott activism blog Refrain Playing Israel noted that the South African Artists Against Apartheid letter was the eighth letter written by activism groups and individuals to the band since the campaign began several months ago.

To see all eight open letters to the band, visit Refrain Playing Israel’s page on the Red Hot Chili Peppers campaign.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).