Veolia tries to spin its involvement in the occupation

Nesher cement found at a construction site in occupied East Jerusalem, June 2009. (Clean Hands Project)

By participating in the touring Veolia Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition, the French transnational company Veolia Environnement is attempting to spin its image that has been tarnished by the exposure of its involvement in the Israeli occupation.

The UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign used the occasion of the exhibition, featured at London’s Natural History Museum and in BBC Wildlife Magazine, to remind the public of Veolia’s participation in a segregated transportation project and the building of infrastructure to service Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The exhibition at the Natural History Museum was met with a “Dump Veolia” demonstration on 10 April and further protests are anticipated as the exhibition will travel to other UK cities and Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain and the US.

Veolia Transport, a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, is involved in the construction and operation of a light rail system undertaken by the City Pass Consortium that links West Jerusalem to the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company also operates regular bus services to the illegal settlements, including Beit Horon and Givat Zeev, along road 443, on which Palestinians are banned from traveling. Through its involvement in these projects, Veolia is directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and plays a role in Israel’s attempt to make its annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem irreversible.

Veolia claims that the contract to operate the light rail does not set any access restrictions on any population or passengers, and has expressed its commitment to operate the Jerusalem light rail on “a clear, non-discriminatory policy based on free access for all parts of the population.” However, statements by City Pass Consortium spokesperson Ammon Elian show that the project will entrench the status quo situation of segregation. He told a Belgian researcher without a trace of irony: “If Palestinians would want to make use of the light rail, both groups will not meet on the train, because of their different life patterns.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the territory annexed by Israel after its occupation in 1967, receive starkly inferior municipal services and are subjected to the revocation of residency rights and home demolitions.

Meanwhile, Veolia Transport continues to operate the segregated bus service 322 from Tel Aviv to Ashdod. At the terminal for bus 322 in Tel Aviv, small posters promise eternal damnation for those who do not observe the rules of halacha, or Jewish religious law. On 8 April chairman of the municipal council in Tel Aviv Yael Dayan told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that bus service 322 is a “kosher” bus route, meaning that gender segregation is practiced with the agreement of the authorities. Women enter through the rear of the vehicle and the men from the front. They cannot touch each other or sit next to one another. In some buses, a thick blanket is hung in the middle of the bus between the two sexes. “It’s the return of the Middle Ages,” Dayan told Le Temps. Veolia Transport confirmed in a phone call with Who Profits from the Occupation? that bus 322 is segregated.

In addition to providing transport services to the settlements, Veolia is also involved in waste collection and dumping in the occupied West Bank. TMM Integrated Recycling Services, a subsidiary of Veolia, owns the Tovlan landfill near Jericho in the Jordan Valley. Veolia has leased the Palestinian-owned land from the Israeli civil military administration, according to British electronic magazine Corporate Watch. The magazine interviewed a worker who monitored the cars entering the landfill from 2002 until 2009 and who stated that until two years ago, Tovlan received some waste collections from Nablus. According to the worker, the waste dumped at Tovlan landfill comes primarily from the numerous illegal settlements in the Jordan Valley (“Veolia’s dirty business: The Tovlan landfill,” 29 January 2010).

Meanwhile, in 2009 Corporate Watch photographed Veolia garbage trucks picking up waste in Massua settlement, and in March 2010 a picture was taken of a Veolia vehicle picking up rubbish from Tomer settlement.

Veolia’s involvement in the occupation does not end there. The company has won a contract with Nesher cement factory to build and operate a large facility for sorting and transforming waste into a source of energy in Hiriya near Tel Aviv. The website of Who Profits from the Occupation? — an Israeli group that monitors corporations’ involvement in Israel’s occupation — states that 85 percent of all cement in Israel is sold by Nesher Cement and the use of Nesher products has been documented in construction sites in West Bank settlements and in the construction of the light rail project in Jerusalem.

Despite the photo exhibition designed to promote Veolia’s image, the corporation’s involvement in the occupation is not lost on solidarity activists. Irish Palestine Solidarity Campaign spokesperson Freda Hughes announced at a 30 March demonstration that the group will this year highlight the role of Veolia in entrenching Israeli apartheid. The city council of Dublin is under pressure not to enter or renew contracts with Veolia, and activists protested in front of the city hall on 12 April.

Meanwhile, in the UK, the Green Party in Croydon is calling the city council to ditch Veolia because of its involvement in the breaching of Palestinians’ human rights. Veolia is responsible for waste and recycling collections in Croydon.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.