OCCUPIED PALESTINE: The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and its worldwide partners are celebrating the withdrawal of the huge French corporation Veolia from the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR), an illegal rail system built to facilitate the growth and expansion of Israeli colonial settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee in a statement sent to The Citizen has reported that the sale of Veolia’s stake in the JLR project ends its entire involvement in the Israeli market, including all projects that violate international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people.

The sale follows an extensive 7-year boycott campaign against Veolia, due to its complicity in the Israeli occupation, which cost it tenders around the world estimated to be worth over $20 billion.

Veolia sold nearly all of its business operations in Israel in April 2015 but had until now remained a 5% shareholder in the JLR project. On Thursday evening, the human rights research group Who Profits reported that Veolia had liquidated its 5% share in the JLR project.

Under BDS pressure, Veolia has failed to win massive contracts with local authorities across Europe, the US and Kuwait. City councils across Europe have passed resolutions excluding the firm from tenders due to its involvement in Israeli human rights violations.

Following Israel’s massacre in Gaza in the summer of 2014, for instance, Kuwait’s city council excluded Veolia from a tender for the treatment of solid waste worth $750 million.

Veolia executives have admitted that the campaign has cost the company “important contracts”, and financial analysts have repeatedly spoken about the financial cost of the campaign to Veolia.

By the end of 2013, Veolia’s investment rating was reduced to “junk” status as a result of its reported massive debt of over $20 billion –almost equal to the total value of tenders lost by Veolia by then.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) General Coordinator, Mahmoud Nawajaa, described Veolia’s complete withdrawal from illegal Israeli projects as a victory for all human rights campaigners who have pressured the company:

“Strategic and dedicated campaigning by the BDS movement has forced one of Europe’s biggest companies to abandon the Israeli market.”

“Veolia’s withdrawal from Israel sets an example to all companies that are complicit in Israel’s human rights violations. This is a victory for the BDS movement and all our partners from other rights movements who have helped in pressuring the company.”

Nawajaa added, “We call for legal action, by specialized organizations, against Veolia to compel it to pay reparations to the Palestinian communities adversely affected by its infringements of international law.”

The JLR is considered one of the most infamous colonial Israeli attempts to normalize and strengthen Israel’s hold on occupied East Jerusalem and tie the city’s settlements even more firmly into the state of Israel. The United Nations Human Rights Council considered the project a service to Israel’s illegal colonies in the OPT. Veolia’s involvement in it, among other similarly illegal Israeli operations, had rendered the company complicit in Israel’s violations of international law.

The BDS campaign against Veolia was launched in Bilbao, the Basque region, in November 2008, to pressure the company to end its involvement in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.

In 2007, French solidarity group AFPS and the Palestine Liberation Organization took the company to court in France to compel it to end its complicity in Israel’s violations of international law.

As well as its involvement in the JLR, Veolia had also been targeted for its role in waste, water and bus services for illegal Israeli settlements. Veolia transferred control of these projects to other companies as the campaign pressure on it mounted.

Riya Hassan, the BNC’s Europe coordinator, said, “Veolia is still a target for union activists, environmentalists and anti-privatization campaigners, due to its record of anti-labour policies and involvement in the privatization of public water. All those still being affected by Veolia’s policies and struggling for accountability and reparations can continue to count on our solidarity. The BDS movement takes cross-struggle solidarity to heart.”