In 2003, Veolia won a $500 million contract to build and maintain a light railway that will run across the city of Jerusalem, included occupied East Jerusalem. On 1 November a group of Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, in response to the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, joined international efforts to boycott Veolia in Europe. This decision, made public in front of the city hall in Bilbao, was taken as the Bilbao city council has awarded (but not yet ratified) the concession contract for bus transportation in the city to Veolia.
Bilbao is the first city in the Spanish state where such a nonviolent direct action has happened to raise awareness about the responsibility of European public institutions in granting contracts to companies that collaborate with the Israeli colonization of Palestinian land. Veolia, through its participation in building the Jerusalem light rail, is a direct accomplice to Israeli war crimes and its regime of apartheid, colonialism and belligerent occupation.
According to Sergio Yahni, the Program Director of the Alternative Information Center,“this demonstration, which called on Veolia to take responsibility for its actions and their consequences, was the direct result of the unique relations which developed amongst the Palestinian, Israeli and international participants in the Bilbao Initiative: Towards a Just Peace in Palestine.” Yahni, who represented the AIC in the Bilbao Initiative’s steering committee and at the conference itself, added that “the Bilbao Initiative created a strong space and platform in which Palestinians, anti-colonial Israelis and internationals could strategize together for effective and coordinated work for a just peace in the region.”
Veolia Transportation is an international transport service, part of the French-based multinational company Veolia Environnement and trades under the brand names of Veolia Environnement, Veolia Transport, Veolia Verkehr in Germany and in Germany, Melbourne and Jersey it is known by its former name, Connex. Founded in 1876, Veolia Transportation is a private company that employs 72,000 workers worldwide.
In 2003, Veolia won a $500 million contract to build and maintain a light railway that will run across the city of Jerusalem, included occupied East Jerusalem. The railway, spanning eight lines and covering a 13.8 km route with 23 stops, is expected to be completed by 2020, while the first line will be ready in 2010. This first line will run from the largest Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem, Pisgat Ze’ev, to Beit Hakerem in west-central Jerusalem. Once built, the rail system will further strengthen Israel’s hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the city’s settlements even more firmly into the state of Israel.
According to international law, an occupying power is not allowed to annex or drastically change the infrastructure in the territories it occupies. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice confirmed that Israel is an occupying power and that building the Separation Wall and the Jewish settlements is illegal. As the tramline project runs through occupied East Jerusalem, Veolia’s involvement in this project renders the company complicit in Israel’s violations of international law.
An awareness of these Israeli violations of international law and the role of Veolia in Israel’s attempt to strengthen its position in the occupied Palestinian territories has meant that several related companies have declined to take part in Jerusalem’s light rail project with Veolia.
In August 2006, due to strong protests by trade unions and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC), Veolia Transport-Ireland decided not to train Israeli personnel to operate the tramline in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the Dutch bank ASN decided, in November 2006, to divest from VEOLIA until the company respects the relevant UN resolutions. In December 2006, the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign stressed the importance of asking VEOLIA advisors to take a stand for justice in Palestine. Their argument for this action is the effect that the tramline will have for the Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land. To date, unfortunately, Violia has rejected the calls from Palestine and internationals organizations.