Angelenos may not know Veolia Transportation, the company that runs bus services across our city. But its history of discrimination against Palestinians means both our city’s reputation and our tax dollars are at stake. The Los Angeles City Council ought not to destroy the hard-earned image of our City of Angels by doing business with a company that operates much like Southern bus companies that once discriminated against African Americans.
Veolia Environment is a 155-year-old multinational company based in France that operates in 77 countries. In the United States, its subsidiary, Veolia Transportation is bidding to renew its contract with the City of Los Angeles to operate our DASH buses. Accepting the bid would make the City of Angels complicit in discriminatory practices.
Veolia claims its mission as “serving communities and passengers, going beyond simply moving from one place to another, ensuring simpler, easier and seamless mobility.” Presumably that means all communities and all passengers Veolia serves.
This sounds praiseworthy. But it could not be farther from the truth. During our travels in the Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine, we did not witness Veolia “focusing on serving communities and passengers.” To the contrary, we witnessed Veolia’s refusal to serve millions of Palestinians who live in the West Bank.
In the occupied West Bank, Veolia operates bus lines that connect Jewish-only settlements to Israel. These buses do not stop in Palestinian towns and use Israeli-only roads, built on land confiscated from the Palestinians for the exclusive use of Israelis and settlers. West Bank Palestinians are denied access in a throwback arrangement reminiscent of the Jim Crow South.
Then there is the Jerusalem Light Rail Project Veolia is constructing which will link illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem to Israel. That tramway not only helps make the illegal settlements permanent but also serves as a critical component of the Israeli settlements infrastructure, “undermining any chances of a just peace for the Palestinian people,” according to the international human rights group Global Exchange.
Israeli settlements and the whole settler infrastructure that supports them in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are not only illegal under international law but also by our country’s own policy for many decades.
Veolia’s rules reflect Israel’s deliberate policy of ethnic segregation, which is the subject of harsh criticism by a recent U.N. report expressing “extreme [concern] at the consequences of policies and practices which amount to de facto segregation.”
We believe Veolia’s discriminatory provision of transportation services is antithetical to the values and policies of the City of Los Angeles. Such behavior would not have been tolerated by Angelenos in apartheid South Africa; similarly, it should not be tolerated when practiced by Israel against West Bank Palestinians.
Los Angeles has a proud history of standing against discrimination locally and internationally. In 1984 Los Angeles was one of the first major cities in the U.S. to divest from apartheid South Africa as part of an international boycott and divestiture movement that was critical in bringing down that regime. Similarly, in 2010 the LA City Council voted to boycott Arizona and any companies based there because of Arizona’s discriminatory anti-immigrant law SB1070. And in 2008 and 2009, the City’s Fire and Police Commissions terminated relationships with a program run by the Boy Scouts of America because of the Boy Scouts’ explicitly discriminatory policies against LGBTQ people.
Based upon our tradition of upholding human rights and rejecting bigotry, Los Angeles now has the opportunity to do the right thing once again by ending its relationship with Veolia and choosing instead to contract with a company that does not willingly and routinely discriminate against passengers based on their ethnicity or religion.
As people of Abrahamic faiths and tax-paying Angelenos, we call on the Los Angeles City Council to join Stockholm, Melbourne, Bordeaux, Dublin and the many other cities around the world refusing to contract with Veolia because of its participation in discriminatory, segregationist practices.