Angus Geddes of the Portsmouth & South Downs Palestine Solidarity Campaign calls for an end to Portsmouth’s ties with a corporation that is complicit in crimes against humanity.
On 27th March 2015, Britain called on Israel to stop operating a tramway linking Israel’s illegal settlements with West Jerusalem, declaring the tramway’s operation a clear violation of international law and UN resolutions. This call was part of a resolution of the UN Human Rights Council, passed with 45 out of the 47 member states voting in favour. The resolution also encouraged business enterprises to avoid contributing to the establishment or maintenance of Israeli settlements.
The Jerusalem tramway consolidates Israel’s hold on occupied east Jerusalem and ties the settlements even more firmly into the State of Israel. As far back as 1980 UN Security Council resolution 465 declared that Israel’s settlements ‘constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and also constitute a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.’
What has this to do with Portsmouth?
The company operating the tramway is 50% owned by Veolia, which also runs the waste management system for Hampshire, Project Integra, including Portsmouth’s incinerator and material recovery facility. By offering support to Israel’s settlements via the tramway, Veolia is complicit in Israel’s violations of international law and aiding and abetting a war crime, the land grab of an occupier moving its population into an occupied territory. Veolia was also part of the consortium that built the tramway.
Like any multinational company Veolia operates through a host of subsidiaries, but it remains one company. The evidence that Veolia is constituted and operates as one commercial entity is overwhelming and was placed beyond all doubt in when Veolia Director, Mr Robert Hunt, confirmed that Veolia is one entity; unequivocally, a single multi-national company. The Veolia Project Integra partner cannot then pretend to have no involvement in the company’s activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Project Integra waste management system involves all the local authorities in Hampshire, but the contract with Veolia to run the system is formally with Portsmouth City Council, Southampton City Council and Hampshire County Council. The contract runs for 25 years, expiring in 2025. But in November 2014 the three Councils decided to extend Veolia’s contract from 2025 to 2030. The original contract allowed for this, but not only was the decision taken 10 years ahead of time, but the extension was not even discussed with the Project Integra Strategic Board on which all the Hampshire local authorities are represented. Nor was it discussed by more than a handful of members in Portsmouth or by either of the other two contracting Councils.
The finalisation of the decision depends on the signing of a deed of variation. Neither Portsmouth nor any other Council should be extending a contract with a company complicit in Israel’s violations of international law. At the very least Veolia should be told that the deed of variation will not be signed until Veolia has actually terminated its support for Israel’s illegal settlements.
In early April, activists and campaigners for Palestine scored an important win as Veolia succumbed to increasing international pressure and sold off the majority of its businesses with links to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
However, its links to the Jerusalem Light Rail development – described by commentators as a ‘major colonization project’ – remain.
A decision by Portsmouth City Council to withhold its signature to the deed of variation will provide an incentive for Veolia to finally terminate its support for the Jerusalem Light Rail project and illegal settlements. A recent legal briefing commissioned by Jews for Justice for Palestinians highlights that: ‘There is every reason for excluding Veolia from public contracts in the UK and no good legal reason not to do so.’
Local campaigners recently told Members of Portsmouth City Council in their deputation to Full Council on 17 March:
Councillors, if you allow this extension of Veolia’s contract to go through you too will be tainted with complicity in Israel’s violations of international law, and through you the City of Portsmouth too. An intolerable situation. The contract should not be extended whilst Veolia continues its support for illegal settlements. Withholding signature of the deed of variation until that support actually ceases will make this abundantly clear to Veolia.
There is no sign that members of Portsmouth or any of the other Councils are paying any heed. Look out for banners explaining the scandal to a wider public in a street demo as the next step.
A demonstration to urge the Council to send a clear message to Veolia by refusing to sign the deeds of variation on its contract will take place on Saturday 25th April, at 11am in the Guildhall Square, organised by the Portsmouth and South Downs Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
It’s surprising, really, that Veolia has not terminated its support for Israel’s illegal settlements sooner. Since 2010, after vigorous local campaigns for the company’s exclusion, Veolia has lost or withdrawn from waste contracts worth well over £10 billion worldwide.
Photography by Sarah Cheverton.