The National Union of Students has expressed its support for campaigns urging UK universities to abolish their relationship with the companies Veolia and Eden Springs, which are associated with injustices against Palestinians living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights. It has suggested that students campaign against the companies’ presence on campus.
Veolia and Eden Springs are profiting from Israeli settlements on the West Bank, which is civilly administrated by Palestine, but has been occupied militarily by Israel since 1967.
Veolia Environment, a French multinational, has had involvement in the Jerusalem Light Rail Service (JLR), which began operations in December 2011, and passes through Israeli-annexed territories that are considered illegal by the International Court of Justice. The NUS names this as their top reason for targeting Veolia.
Whilst Veolia sold its interests in the JLR to the Israeli company Egged in October 2011, it continues to provide technical assistance in the service’s operation. On top of this, it is involved in a landfill site that uses Palestinian land to serve the waste disposal needs of Israeli settlements, and operates the 7 and 19 bus lines between Israeli settlements on the West Bank, a service to which Palestinian passengers have only restricted access.
Eden Springs is a water company that sources water from Katzrin, an illegal Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights, and which the NUS describes as “helping prop up the settlement”.
In October last year, a CUSU referendum over whether to break Cambridge University’s contract with Veolia received 58% of votes in favour of cutting ties. However, the 10% of the student body required to vote in order for the referendum to pass was not reached. Since then, students have continued to campaign to ensure that Veolia’s contract, which expires in 2012, is not renewed.
Those challenging the campaign to boycott Veolia have cited the company’s withdrawal from aspects of its involvement in the JLR, and the universal usefulness of its waste disposal services to both Israeli and Palestinian settlements. Such aspects of Veolia’s involvement are described by Omar Barghouti, author of BDS, as the company “trying to hide or sugar coat its horrific complicity in Israeli violations of international law”.
The decision by the NUS to back campaigns targeting Veolia is sure to encourage Cambridge students and academics who are, in conjunction with Palestinian students, trade unionists and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, calling for the university to end its perceived indirect support of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.