Between 21st and 24th October the Cambridge University Students’ Union(CUSU) will be asking all its members – you are included – to vote in a referendum on the question: ‘Should CUSU call upon the University to cancel its contract with Veolia?’
Why? What is Veolia? What is its relationship to the University of Cambridge? Why should students care about this? Veolia is a French multinational which the University employs to conduct its waste disposal. The contract runs out in 2012. A few thousand miles away – a world away, in fact, from the cloistered bubble which we know and inhabit – Veolia is responsible for extending the infrastructure of occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories. The work they do for the state of Israel sets them at odds with the Fourth Geneva convention, articles 49 and 53, as well as Hague Conventions 1897 and 1907. The UN Security Council resolution 465, meanwhile, “calls upon all states not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in the occupied territories.” Veolia is doing more than providing assistance; they are actively facilitating the settlements’ expansion.
Veolia was a lead partner in the Citypass consortium which constructed the Jerusalem Light Railway, specifically linking illegal settlements in East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem, as well as the illegal Ma’ale Adumim settlement in the West Bank. Veolia will also assist in running the Jerusalem Light Railway and its discriminatory operational recruitment campaign excludes Palestinians by requiring candidates to speak Hebrew as mother-tongue.
I do not wish to offer a history lecture. I want to persuade you that boycotting Veolia – by calling upon the University to cancel its contract – is the right thing to do. Boycotting is tactic that works. It was instrumental in ending apartheid in South Africa. You know, apartheid: where a states systemically discriminates against a section of its population on ethnic and racial grounds. When companies began to see their profit margins heading southwards as a result of boycott activity, they quickly realised it made sense to get out of South Africa. Veolia has already lost significant waste disposal contracts after vigorous local campaigns for exclusion: councils in Edinburgh, Richmond, Portsmouth, Winchester & East Hants, Ealing, Tower Hamlets, Swansea, Stockholm, Melbourne and Dublin have all boycotted Veolia.The full list of campaign successes can be found here.
‘But they run buses and trains: that’s hardly a crime. They’re not killing anyone.’ Such an ostensibly commonsensical objection misses the point. Israel’s gradual annexation of the Palestinian Territories is a slow-going affair (see map): it a house-by-house form of ethnic cleansing. There is an architecture and an infrastructure of occupation which Veolia are helping to construct. Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are illegal under international law. Moreover, they also have a serious daily impact on the Palestinian communities where they are located: diverted water supplies; reduced access to farmland and settler destruction of crops; restricted freedom of movement hindering access to health; education and social resources; pollution of Palestinian land with settlement sewage – these are just some of the consequences that the settlements have for the affected Palestinian communities.
Apologists for Israel’s actions will try to persuade you that this need not concern outsiders, that only Israelis have the right to pronounce upon the way their state conducts itself. Others will openly make the case for the settlements – usually offering a bizarre parody of nineteenth-century colonial mores. Here, at this University, this term, you have a chance express your dissatisfaction with this status quo. You have a chance to be part of movement with growing momentum and to play a modestly small part in a big campaign. This concerns everyone.