During the last 2 years, a great campaign by the No to Veolia Action Group (NO2VAG) has worked hard in pressuring councilors to exclude Veolia from a £4.7 Billion contracts in north London. They have also submitted letters to North London Waste Authority (NLWA) documenting the illegal actions this Israeli profiteer has been committing and collected a petition signed by several thousand local people against selection of the company.
Less than 2 months ago, Veolia failed to win Canterbury Council’s 40 Million GBP contract after facing determined opposition from the local community, including Palestinian rights campaigners, over its complicity with illegal activity in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In an announcement published 21st Dec, the NLWA confirmed Veolia Environmental Services had withdrawn its attempt to submit final tenders for both NLWA’s waste services and fuel use contracts. Veolia had been shortlisted for both contracts.
The news came after increasing resistance to the bid by No2VAG, headed by Yael Kahn who said,
“As the chair of Islington Friends of Yibna (IFY) my focus is on occupied Gaza, especially Rafah where Yibna refugee camp is. So when I found out that Veolia was bidding for contracts in north London, which includes Islington, I was reluctant to get involved. This is because the reason so many are outraged about Veolia is the infrastructure it builds in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But my dilemma became more personal when there was no sign of a campaign building up. I could not envisage that my own home borough, Islington, would become complicit with the company that facilitates the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. I took further encouragement when Palestinians from Gaza stated that in spite of the siege and the Israeli bombardments, it was important for them that Veolia was blocked.
“Veolia got the message that this campaign was too strong for it to ignore and made it impossible for it to win the colossal £4.7 Billion contracts in north London. We won. Veolia pulled out. This is the biggest victory yet against Veolia and I’m so pleased we succeeded in blocking it in north London. We have received a notification that Veolia Environmental Services will not be submitting final tenders for either NLWA’s waste services or fuel use contracts. Now, Veolia dumps itself from NLWA contract bids.”
I spoke with Yael Kahn and asked her if there was proof that the campaign is what led to Veolia pulling out the bid. Kahn responded “We have been informed by a few councillors from across the 7 north London boroughs that it was our campaign that drove the latest changes in the NLWA plans and Veolia’s withdrawal. We always believed that Veolia was desperate to avoid any publicity that would expose its complicity with the Israeli violations of international law and that is exactly what had occurred in the last few weeks. There is no doubt in my mind that this was one of the key reasons it withdrew, as well as our campaign exposing the technical shortfalls of its solutions.”
In response to this same question of proof No2VAG spokesperson Caroline Day responded by email: “It is significant that Veolia will not provide any reasons for their withdrawal. If the withdrawal had been for legitimate reasons, the company would have immediately made such a justification of its costly abandonment of the lucrative contract. Moreover, it has been clear throughout the campaign, especially during the suppression of the deputation, that the company and its Zionist supporters wish to avoid public scrutiny of its bad business in the illegal settlements.The fact that the campaign had recently attained such wide coverage, support from the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestine and charity War on Want and had revealed damaging information to the public, all suggests that Veolia was keen to limit the damage further scrutiny that the No2VAG would have brought to bear in the coming months”
Update: I have just received this message from Yael Kahn who confirmed that Councillors told Irfan Akhtar of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques that it was No2VAG campaign that did it, Yael Kahn just forwarded along an email, Akhtar writes: “I have been getting phone calls from WF councillors congratulating me on a successful campaign. One senior Cllr said our efforts exposing Veolia did the job and the momentum against it was all too evident – the petitions, the first deputation, the media coverage in multiple boroughs and off course the international angle supplied by the UN – I was actually looking forward to the next few months!”
In a letter sent to the NLWA from the Coalition of Women for Peace in Occupied Palestine, “Veolia Environment and its subsidiaries are involved in violations of international law and human rights and have a record of discriminatory practices… Civil society organizations have been campaigning to encourage Veolia to cease from these practices… and its blatant disregard of ethical guidelines and international standards of social corporate responsibility.”
The letter outlined many unethical activities by Veolia, such as its involvement in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail which has been designed to connect the illegal settlements built on East Jerusalem with the Israeli territory of West Jerusalem. This violates International Humanitarian Law and the fourth Geneva Convention, article 49, regarding the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. This is not the end of Veolia’s deep complicity with Israeli settlement activity since the company also operates bus services to illegal settlements as well as dump waste on Occupied Land at the Tovlan landfill.
Veolia also published a racist classified advertisement for drivers that specified “completion of military service” and Hebrew as a mother tongue. It also announced that it would operate “kosher” train routes – segregated sitting areas for men (in the front of the train) and for women (in the back of the train).
Kahn continued, “After this seismic loss of contracts we expect Veolia to finally realise that complicity with the Israeli war crimes is not only unethical, but is extremely expensive.” Veolia has not commented yet. In a report by Marcus Dysch published in The Jewish Chronicle Online, “Veolia has given no reason for the withdrawal, which was announced on Friday, and a spokesman said the company would not comment.”
I asked Yael about her feelings, “I am ecstatic knowing that this biggest campaign against Veolia was won.” But did you think that you’d win the battle? I asked, “I never entertained the thought of not winning – this fight was simply too important.”
Caroline Day, the spokeswoman for No2VAG said, “This is a huge victory for local democracy. Powerful lobbies representing unethical interests in the illegal settlements may have won a short-term victory in silencing me*, but in standing up for their right to see their money invested ethically; local people have achieved a victory for justice for the Palestinian people. Companies are becoming increasingly aware that being complicit in Israeli war crimes is bad business.”
In my email exchange with Day, she added: “We are delighted that justice has prevailed and Veolia has withdrawn from the procurement process in north London. Despite apologists for the Israeli settlements in my own borough management to stop me from making criticisms of the company and silence reference to its complicity in violations of international law, our strong collective local voice was, in the end, too loud for them to ignore.”
Engineer Rob Langlands and secretary of No2VAG said, “North London residents want an environmentally responsible and cost effective solution to waste disposal. The Veolia technical proposals were not on track to provide this. I am especially delighted, because of the ongoing Veolia involvement in the illegal Israeli settlements, that the Veolia bids have now been consigned to the rubbish bin.”
Maseeh Walehdy, one of the No2VAG campaigners expressed his happiness at the news, “Today’s announcement that Veolia have pulled out of the bidding for a multi-billion pound contract goes to show that no matter how big the corporation, a small group of people who truly believe in a cause will be your downfall. We spent months chasing after councilors and committee members to explain to them Veolia’s complicity in occupied Palestine and I guess sheer dedication does pay off.”
Fenya Fischler a student at SOAS in London also involved in a campaign to block Veolia in Colchester told me “I think the decision today is fantastic news and it shows in a true sense how dedicated sustained grassroots activism can achieve real tangible results. I’m very glad to have followed the campaign for a couple of months and it is clear that it is part of a growing movement, including BDS, that we’re seeing at the moment, showing genuine practical solidarity with Palestinians and condemning the continued Israeli occupation.”
Izzat Ismail, a student at UCL and an activist who supported the No2VAG campaign said after the success, “Surely Veolia’s withdrawal is the result of an intense campaign and strong opposition from No2VAG campaigners exposing Veolia’s grave misconduct in the illegal Israeli settlements, its poor safety record and its financial incapabilities. Not to mention that Veolia’s technical proposal is even worse for the environment and is not a cost effective solution for North Londoners. The fact that Veolia was shortlisted in the final stage has tarnished the image of the NLWA as a public body that itself is obliged to ensure the procurement process complies with the 2006 Public Contract Regulations. Veolia is a parasite and never welcome in North London, I’m glad that Veolia realized this fact!”
Update: Irfan Akhtar of Waltham Forest Council of Mosques: “It was inspiring and at times shocking to realise the amount of sleep Yael was getting by on! We at the WF council of mosques came on late in this campaign but are proud to work with such Stellar campaigners and be part of such a massive victor”
“As a group IFY decided to support the campaign to block Veolia on the grounds that fighting any of the Israeli war crimes would help in the fight against its crimes against Gaza. IFY then paid for the first legal work for No2VAG. While the Authority we were fighting, NLWA, refused to take into account the legal representations, it helped our understanding of the law and gave us the tools to challenge the NLWA.” Yael stated.
“This campaign was my hardest in 40 years of activism. The obstacles were from all directions. The Authority used every trick and was assisted by councillors’ indifference and media that was silent for a long time. As was exposed in the last few weeks, paid Israeli propagandists were lobbying against us from within, such as a councilor in one of the 7 boroughs, Luke Akehurst, who is employed by BICOM (Britain Israel Communications Research Centre) as the director of ‘We Believe in Israel’. But the hardest were those who were supposed to assist the campaign but failed us abysmally.”
More Contracts to Be Blocked!
Due to companies like Veolia, Palestinians suffer a severe humanitarian impact including house demolition, murders and injuries and restriction of movement by Israel. The existence and extension of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegitimate, making Veolia an inappropriate partner for any public institution. As Palestinians facing a brutal and illegal occupation, local authorities and institutions are urged to follow the model set by public authorities and European banks that have chosen to disassociate themselves from Veolia and not to award it any public service contracts. Such action would contribute to upholding the rule of law and advancing justice and fairness for Palestinians.
Yael’s message to the whole world was, “Now that we won a victory in most difficult circumstances I hope no one would give up without a sustained and focused fight against companies like Veolia – even when it looks impossible we can win and we shall.”
A Word from Gaza
In Gaza, people thank all who joined the campaign. Thank you for your support and dedication. This is a major blow to companies that profit from war and apartheid and now they have finally seen that there are repercussions and there always will be.
Hanan Abunasser, a BDS activist from Gaza, in response to my question on her feeling as a Gazan after this extraordinary success No2VAG has achieved, said “All the companies that are complicit with the Israeli occupation in a direct or indirect way should realize that this is not only immoral, but it costs a lot.”
What I can see now is people around me in Gaza are jubilant and proud of the activists who are playing a great role to help and support us in Palestine. Today’s success further shows that there are strong and renowned international solidarity movements calling for justice.
*[Ed note: Read Hackney Mayor backs Conservative bid to block anti-Veolia deputation for background]