Open letter to OECD regarding decision to host tourism conference in Jerusalem

18 September 2010

Your Excellency Angel Gurría

SecretaryGeneral of OECD

Cc:OECD Member States

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC), a broad coalition of the largest civil society political parties, mass organizations, networks,and trade unions, strongly condemns the decision by OECD to hold its annual Tourism Committee Conference in October in Jerusalem-the first time the conference is held outside Paris. The conference comes at a time when Israel is gradually ethnically cleansing the Naqab (Negev) desert, the Jordan Valley, and occupied East Jerusalem, as in the neighborhoods of Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan,and continuing its construction of its illegal colonial settlements and wall on occupied Palestinian land. Holding the conference in Jerusalem, in spite of this reality of Israel’s grave violation of international law, will be regarded by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and people of conscience around the world as a decisive and far-reaching act of complicity in rewarding and perpetuating Israel’s occupation, colonization and apartheid against the Palestinian people. It will further entrench the culture of impunity that has enabled Israel to escalate its commission of war crimes and what is described by some leading international law experts as a prelude to genocide against Palestinians in the illegally besieged and occupied Gaza Strip. The BNC, therefore, calls upon the OECD Tourism Committee to respect international law and relocate the conference out of Israel.

Condemned as a state that is practicing occupation, colonization and apartheid by a recent authoritative legal study in South Africa supervised by international law expert and former UN human rights rapporteur, Prof. John Dugard, Israel is not in compliance with international law and OECD standards and benchmarks.Israel has yet to comply with the recommendations of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict and investigate and prosecute where needed those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity that resulted in the death of more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in the winter of2008/9. Israel has yet to lift its illegal blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip which has brought to the brink of starvation almost 1.5 million Palestinians,most of whom are refugees Israel had displaced and dispossessed during the 1948Nakba. It has yet to dismantle its illegal Wall in the occupied Palestinian West Bank in accordance with the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion. Israel has yet to end its 43-year-old occupation of the West Bank,including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, reverse its colonial enterprise and release Palestinians detained and imprisoned. It has yet to transform its political and legal system in order to provide reparation for millions of Palestinian victims, including return for the refugees, and allow full and equal rights for its Palestinian citizens. Only then can Israel be treated as a pluralist democracy, like other OECD states.

Israel’s ongoing blockade of essential food, health, educational and construction supplies is not only immoral; it is a severe form of collective punishment, a war crime that is strictly prohibited under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is inducing mass poverty, water contamination, environmental collapse, chronic diseases, economic de-development and hundreds of deaths.

This three-year old illegal siege against 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza has been squarely condemned by leading legal experts, including UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the oPt, Prof. Richard Falk, who described it as constituting”slow genocide.”

Israelis blatantly working to “Judaize”[1]Jerusalem through policies of ethnic cleaning, including home demolitions, residency permit revocation, settler takeovers of Palestinian housing, restrictions on freedom of movement and forced fragmentation through the Apartheid Wall, permit systems, illegal settlement construction and land confiscation. Rather than condemning such illegal practices under international law, the OECD conference will cement Israel’s hold on occupied Jerusalem, and will be perceived as as tamp of approval of Israel’s violations of international law in Jerusalem and elsewhere.

Internationally, tourism is overtly deployed by Israel to ‘rebrand’ the state as an attractive holiday destination, and to cover up its occupation, colonization and apartheid policies. Last June, Israeli authorities handed demolition orders to 22residences in the Silwan neighborhood in East Jerusalem as part of a wider scheme to demolish houses and turn the area into an “archeological park” and“tourism center”[2].Extremist settler organization El Ad, supported by Israeli Antiquities Authorities, has exploited — unscientific — archeology to lay claim to the area and now promotes tourism for religious Jewish settler fanatics at the expense of the local Palestinian population who live in fear of constant violent harassment[3].UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk said of the plan that “international law does not allow Israel to bulldoze Palestinian homes to make space for the mayor’s project to build a garden, or anything else,” adding that the plan”should be seen within the context of Israel’s persistent, systematic approach to driving Palestinians out of East Jerusalem”. Not only so, but in February, Israel defied world opinion and international law, declaring two Palestinian sites in the West Bank as “national heritage” as part of its unilateral strategy to annex them to Israel[4]. These Israeli cultural crimes must be understood in the context of decades of Israeli crimes including the erasure of over 500 Palestinian villages in 1948, the destruction of the Moroccan Quarter in the old city of Jerusalem in 1967, and the more recent desecration of the historic cemetery of Ma’man Allah (“Mamilla”) in West Jerusalem for the purposes of building a so-called “Museum of Tolerance”.

Israeli Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said “Israel’s joining the OECD is of great importance in terms of building a positive image for the country, the positive image gained will have an effect on the tourist’s choice to visit Israel, and it will attract foreign investors to the country,including, among others, investors in tourism.[5]”The OECD showed that it is willing to turn a blind eye to Israeli war crimes,bend its own rules and ignore international law when it accepted Israel as a member last May[6].Organizing this tourism conference in Israel sends once again a strong signal that OECD members are perfectly willing to be complicit with Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and actively support Israel’s PR efforts to whitewash its colonial and apartheid policies.

The OECD ought to respect its own obligations under international law and relocate this ill-conceived conference out of Israel. Failing to do so will further undermine the organization’s already dismal respect for human rights and the international rule of law.

In deep concern,

The Palestinian Boycott,Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC)

[1] See, for example, UN Special Rapporteur, Prof. John Dugard, Human Rights Situation in Palestine and other Occupied Arab Territories (A/HRC/7/17,January 2008).

[2] Why 88 Arab homes received eviction notices http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2009/0226/p04s01-wome.html

[3] The dig dividing Jerusalem http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/26/jerusalem-city-of-david-palestinians-archaeology

[4] West Bank sites spark heritage row http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/02/20102211933459711.html

[5] OECD selects Jerusalem to host its tourism conference http://www.alternativenews.org/english/index.php/topics/news/2676-oecd-selects-jerusalem-to-host-its-tourism-conference

[6] http://holdisraelaccountable.net/2010/05/10/palestinian-civil-society-condemns-oecd/

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