Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freedom Riders add to Veolia's worries

AS police in New York brutally cleared Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccutti Park in the small hours overnight, a small group of youth inspired at least partly by an earlier US protest were boarding a bus bound for Jerusalem.

They too were to be intercepted by police, as their simple, peaceful action against injustice posed a threat to the powers that be, and a problem incidentally for one French-based company whose name and logo have become all too familiar here in Britain.

The struggles are not unrelated, regardlesss of the awareness or wishes of participants, since it is the United States which, for all its President's supposed commitmen to "two states" is vetoing Palestinian recognition by the UN.

And the Palestinian activists, though they have studied the example of the US black freedom riders, who fought against racist 'Jim Crow' laws in the South, want it made clear they are not just contesting the Zionist settlers' sole monopoly of 'bus seats, but challenging the segregated transport system as part of the illegal annexation , ethnic leansing and settlement of East Jerusalem, which ought to be the seat of government of free Palestine.

Here is the report from the Palestinian news agency:

RAMALLAH (Ma’an) -- Palestinian activists boarded Israeli settler buses Tuesday in an action inspired by the American civil rights movement which resulted in several arrests.

The activists headed toward the Kohav Yakov and Psagot settlement bus stops and boarded a bus for Jerusalem. Israeli forces stopped the bus on the Hizma checkpoint and prevented it from entering Jerusalem.

Settlers left the bus while it was searched and the activists were removed and arrested. As many as seven were reported to have been arrested by late Tuesday.

The detainees were identified by organizers as Nadeem al-Sharbate, Badee Dwak, Huwaida Arraf, Basel al-Araj, Fadi Quran, Mazin Qumsiyeh, and Fajr Harb.

"We launch this campaign in the belief that we will not achieve freedom, justice, and self-determination unless we make the Israeli occupation pay, economically and politically, for its daily violations of our rights and dignity," a campaign statement said.

The campaign aims to "deepen the people's involvement in the popular resistance, in tandem with the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel."

The activists said they would continue to defy Israeli forces by boarding Egged and Veolia buses, which are used by settlers, in an action inspired by the US civil rights movement.

They will continue to "express our firm opposition to the illegitimate colonial entity on Palestinian land, all apartheid practices, human rights violations, land confiscation, the wall, and the refusal to let refugee return to their homeland."


In the UK, Veolia Transport was known under its old name Connex, but now Veolia is better known through its involvment in local authority contracts and waste disposal.

In a letter to the West London Waste Authority which groups several boroughs, campaigners say there is evidence that the company has "been guilty of grave misconduct in relation to international and humanitarian laws and norms". They cite evidence that the company operates discrimination in employment, as well as being engaged in controversial projects.

"Veolia Transport, a subsidiary of Veolia Environnement, is a leading partner in the CityPass consortium, contracted to build a light-rail tramway linking West Jerusalem to illegal Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem. Once built, the rail system will cement Israel‟s hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the settlements even more firmly into the State of Israel. This applies not only to the settlements in East Jerusalem: the 'Ammunition Hill' station of the network will operate as the feeder station for settler traffic from Ma'aleh Adumim, a large Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and from Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley.

"The line is due to open in 2011 and Veolia is responsible for operating it. With its involvement in this project, the company is directly implicated in maintaining illegal settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and is playing a key role in Israel‟s attempt to make its annexation of the Palestinian territory of east Jerusalem irreversible. Further, as a willing agent of these policies, Veolia is undermining the chances of a just peace for the Palestinian people.

"Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the annexation of East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. This is clearly confirmed by numerous UN resolutions and by the 2004 advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the Wall, which Israel has been building in the West Bank. The settlements violate Article 49 of the 4th Geneva Convention: “…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as well as Article 53 forbidding destruction of property in occupied territory. In some cases in East Jerusalem these violations amount to war crimes, i.e. “grave breaches” of the Convention (see Articles 146 and 147), as they involve extensive appropriation of Palestinian property not justified by military necessity. These grave breaches are being facilitated by Veolia‟s part in the construction and future operation of the tramway serving the settlements. The tramway also constitutes a significant alteration of the infrastructure of the occupied Palestinian territories contrary to the Hague Regulations of 1907, Section 3, which are also part of international law.
In April 2010 the UN Human Rights Council declared the tramway and its operation to be illegal (A/HRC/RES/13/7 of 14 April 2010). The resolution was passed 44 to 1, with the UK, France and all the EU members of the Council voting in favour. The operation of the tramway is precisely what Veolia has a contract to do.

"Thus, through its involvement in the building and future operation of this tramway linking Israel‟s illegal settlements with West Jerusalem, Veolia is facilitating Israel's 'grave breaches' of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and is complicit in its perpetuation of those breaches. In other words, Veolia is involved in aiding and abetting on-going war crimes. It is also facilitating, exacerbating, aiding and abetting Israel‟s breach of the Hague Regulations.

"Veolia furthermore operates two bus services serving the same function as the tramway: supporting and consolidating illegal settlements and tying them more closely into Israel. These are services 109 and 110, operated by its local company, Connex. They link the settlements of Beit Horon, Giv'at Ze'ev, Mevo Horon and Ramot Alon to Israel. Part of the route was until recently an Apartheid road on which Palestinians from the West Bank were forbidden to travel, even though it passes through the West Bank. In June 2010 the ban was theoretically lifted, but in practice to date, with restricted access and egress, it is still unclear whether West Bank Palestinians can now use the services".

That last point seems today to have been clarified.



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