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Settlement bus company hired to shuttle OECD Jerusalem participants

Tourism conference transportation arrangements connected to West Bank construction projects.

28 October 2010

By Dimi Reider

Participants in the OECD annual tourism conference, held last week in Jerusalem, were ferried around the city in buses leased from a company that develops Jewish settlements in the West Bank. The conference was nearly canceled due to the controversial decision to hold it in Jerusalem, and several members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation for Development boycotted it.

Video and still footage obtained by Haaretz shows conference attendees arriving at the Israel Museum last Thursday in a bus owned by the Mateh Binyamin Development Company. On the front of the bus was a sign: "86th Session of the OECD Tourism Committee. High-Level roundtable 20-22 October 2010." The company's logo is clearly visible on the side of the bus.

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria and Benjamin Netanyahu

OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem in January.

Photo by: Reuters

According to the Mateh Binyamin Local Council website, in addition to owning a fleet of around 70 vehicles for transportation the company also takes an active part in settlement construction. Also according to the website, the development company owns three gas stations in the West Bank, planned and built an entire neighborhood in the settlement of Na'aleh and routinely builds infrastructure in settlements, including electricity, water and sewage lines. The company's offices are situated in Psagot, a settlement near Ramallah.

The Tourism Ministry told Haaretz that the organization of the conference was outsourced to Ortra, a private events company. Managing Director Lior Gelfand confirmed to Haaretz that buses from the Mateh Binyamin Development Company were hired to carry OECD conference participants from their hotels to conference venues at the Israel Museum and IIC Jerusalem International Conventions Center.

The ministry also said it didn't see anything wrong with hiring that particular bus company.

"Women's Coalition for Peace and other organizations opposed Israel joining the OECD precisely because it's impossible to separate the occupation economy - an exploitative element which runs contrary to international law - from the normative economy of Israel," the research coordinator for the organization's Who Profits project, Meirav Amir, told Haaretz.

Who Profits focuses on the economic aspects of Israel's control of Palestinian territories. "The delegates of the OECD have proven just that, when already on their first visit they found themselves using the services of a company taking an active part in settlement building," Amir said.