Joseph Defends Segregated Buses in Palestine
November 13, 2012, Boston, MA – Protesters greeted Veolia Transportation CEO Mark Joseph at the Harvard Kennedy School today with signs declaring “Veolia Drives Israeli Apartheid” and demanding “Veolia Out of Boston Transportation.” Joseph spoke at the Issues in Transportation Study Group as Veolia Transportation subsidiary MBCR vies for renewal of its controversial Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority contract to run the Massachusetts commuter rail.
Human rights organizations like Amnesty International and B'Tselem have repeatedly condemned Israel’s construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as a violation of international law. Veolia Transport (of which the North American company Veolia Transportation is a subsidiary) operates bus lines between settlements and has constructed a light-rail connecting the settlements to Jerusalem, entrenching Israel's colonial outposts. Furthermore, the Israeli military bars Palestinians from riding these buses, creating segregated transport systems.
Today’s protest in Boston is part of an ongoing campaign here urging the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) not to renew its commuter rail contract with MBCR, a company 60% owned by Veolia. Activists all over the world have targeted Veolia in response to the 2005 call by Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it ends its occupation and dismantles the wall, recognizes the equal rights of Palestinian citizens, and respects the right of return of Palestinian refugees. Human rights group Global Exchange estimates that Veolia has lost billions of dollars in contracts over its dealings with Israel.
Chanting slogans such as “Hey Veolia, you can’t hide! We charge you with apartheid!” and singing Veolia-themed parody folk songs such as "Segregated Bus" to the tune of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," protesters forced Joseph to begin his talk by explaining their presence to attendees, who could hear chants coming from outside. Joseph noted that Veolia is greeted by protests in every city it visits, and dismissed claims of apartheid and segregation by explaining that “only two” of Veolia’s bus lines serve the settlements. Joseph claimed that Veolia takes “no position” with regard to the settlements.
As the noisy outside demonstration continued to disrupt the meeting, student attendees inside the meeting confronted Joseph with questions about Veolia’s complicity with Israeli apartheid and human rights abuses. When asked why Veolia continued to operate two segregated bus lines despite the fact that it has lost billions of dollars in contracts for doing so, Joseph charged the student questioner with engaging in a “propaganda campaign” and entreated him to “get the facts straight.” Joseph outright denied that Veolia has lost any contracts due to its operations in the West Bank, saying “It’s not negative to us to do business in Israel.” Instead, Joseph claimed, Veolia has lost contracts in competitive bidding processes. Joseph concluded his remarks by saying that, “as an American,” he did not think Veolia should cease its segregated operations in Palestine. “For me,” Joseph said, “I would not stop that business as long as we don’t discriminate against riders.”
Joseph’s remarks were especially ironic given the situation in Boston, where MBCR is widely considered to be the inside bidder for the new MBTA commuter rail contract. MBCR’s renewal seems so certain, in fact, that the city cannot seem to attract new bidders to vie for the contract.
Joseph and the Harvard campus security were so rattled by the resistance to Veolia both inside and outside the meeting that the entire building was held on lockdown for the duration of his talk and for more than two hours after the end of the meeting. Joseph did not leave the building until all protesters had been dispersed by police, who falsely claimed that Joseph had already left the building in order to discourage protesters from remaining outside in the 30 degree weather.
In demanding Veolia cease and desist from its unsavory crimes and human rights abuses in Palestine, Bostonians are proud to be part of the global BDS movement. To learn more: