French company runs Israeli bus services to settlements

Adri Nieuwhof and Daniel Machover, The Electronic Intifada, 11 March 2009

The international Derail Veolia and Alstom campaign is gaining momentum by coordinating efforts to pressure French transportation giants Veolia and Alstom to withdraw from the Israeli tramway project in Jerusalem that runs illegally on Palestinian land. With its involvement in this project, Veolia is directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the company is playing a key role in Israel’s attempt to make its annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem irreversible.

Veolia, for example, is heavily involved in the project with a five percent stake in the City Pass Consortium that holds the contract with the State of Israel for the construction of the tramway. The French company also has a 30-year contract as operator of the tramway. Activists and lawyers from Israel, Palestine, Australia, France, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom share information and work together to inform the public, influence local governments and politicians, and take legal action on this issue.

Veolia’s activities in the light rail in Jerusalem are not only in violation of international law, but also contravene the company’s commitments with respect to codes of conduct and conventions which regulate the activities of multinational corporations, some of which the company has itself pledged to uphold. As a transnational corporation, Veolia must comply with international rules governing corporate responsibility with respect to human rights. These include, but are not limited to, the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy (2000), UN Norms on the responsibilities of transnational corporations (2003), OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (2000), including guidance in respect of Weak Governance Zones, and the UN Global Compact (2000). It is notable that Veolia is not only a participant in the UN Global Compact but has also contributed to the Foundation for the United Global Compact. Its first two principles state that businesses should support and respect the protection of international human rights within their spheres of influence, and make sure they are not complicit in human rights abuses. Yet, by participating in the construction and maintenance of the Jerusalem tramway, Veolia flagrantly violates both of these provisions.

Veolia’s painful loss of a $4.5 billion contract in Stockholm has resonated in Scandinavia. At the end of February 2009 the financial committee of Oslo city council adopted a policy to stop doing business with companies involved in violations of international law. This proposed policy has to be ratified by the city council. The parties in favor of the policy — the Labor Party, Socialist Left Party and the Left Party — hold the majority in the city council. The driving force behind the policy is longstanding city council member Erling Folkvord of the Red Party. In an interview with the electronic magazine Frontlinjer, Folkvord said “this apartheid-like transport system strengthens the occupation and annexation of Palestinian land. In this way the project contributes to the colonization of the Palestinian territory.” Veolia has a substantial contract for collecting waste in Oslo. According to Folkvord the new policy will have consequences for Veolia in Oslo.

Veolia is not only involved in the illegal tramway in Jerusalem. In December 2008 The Electronic Intifada reported the findings of the Who Profits from the Occupation? project that Veolia is also involved in illegally dumping waste from Israel and the settlements in Tovlan landfill in the Jordan Valley. Veolia turns out to be a loyal partner for Israel in the colonization of Palestine. After receiving a tip from someone participating in the Derail Veolia campaign, research undertaken by Who Profits confirmed that Veolia is running bus services 109 and 110 from West Jerusalem to settlements in the West Bank. For instance, Connex bus 110 goes through road 443 in the West Bank to Mevo Horon and Givat Zeev settlements.

Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Numerous UN resolutions and the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on Israel’s wall in the West Bank have confirmed that settlements violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — which states “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” By running bus services Veolia is directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in the OPT.

In December 2005, Amnesty International in France invited Veolia to discuss its concerns about the illegality of the tramway. The company refused the invitation and informed Amnesty it had appointed an independent legal expert to study the file. Three years later one can conclude Veolia has not backed out of illegal activities that facilitate Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Campaigners believe that a fair public debate on these issues would be illuminated by Veolia’s publication of the advice it received: after all, what has Veolia got to hide if it is proud of its economic activities in the OPT?

Adri Nieuwhof is consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland. Daniel Machover is attorney and co-founder of Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights based in Great Britain.

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