The OECD has lost 4 million Palestinians

August 26, 2011
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The OECD’s recent report on the statistics of Israel shows that the Israeli government succeeded in manipulating the organization into accepting Israel’s perspective - according to which Palestinians simply do not exist.
In May 2010, Israel was accepted into the OECD, the or

The OECD’s recent report on the statistics of Israel shows that the Israeli government succeeded in manipulating the organization into accepting Israel’s perspective - according to which Palestinians simply do not exist.

In May 2010, Israel was accepted into the OECD, the organization of developed democracies, and an exclusive club for the world’s richest 34 countries. It did so following heavy pressure by the U.S, to overlook Israel’s occupation of both Palestinian and Syrian territory.


Although OECD membership doesn't bring direct material benefites, Israeli governments went to great lengths to gain entry, because membership of the organisation lends an air of legitimacy to Israel.

But the OECD had a serious problem with defining Israel, a country without defined borders, which occupies and illegally annexes large tracts of lands. European Union policy  prevents EU members of the OECD from recognizing Israel in the occupation borders.

The solution agreed upon was that Israel would produce statistical data that refers only to the population within its internationally-recognized green-line borders, within a year of its acceptance.

Unsurprisingly, Israel never produced this document. But the OECD needed these statistics, otherwise the compromise agreement on which it had accepted Israel as a member in the first place, would have been revealed as a sham and the OECD would have lost face. So its own statisticians recently produced a report, Study on the Geographic Coverage of Israeli Data (PDF), which attempts to resolve the issue on Israel’s behalf.

The report only uses data from Israeli sources (mainly the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, or ICBS). No attempt was made to challenge its validity or to compare it with data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, and it seems that the OECD statisticians received very little, if any, cooperation from the ICBS.

The writers of the report, keenly aware of the treacherous legal and political ground they were treading, included a disclaimer that the OECD uses Israeli data “without prejudice” to the status of the occupied territories, as if a scientific discussion in the statistics of Israel/Palestine could take place without making any political, legal or moral comment. The report explains that, regardless of the legal aspects of the occupation, they are merely referring to the “economic territory” of Israel, which includes the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the Israeli colonies in the West Bank, which are effectively part of the Israeli-controlled economy.

Can this argument be acceptable? In truth, this report produces a better picture of Israeli economic realities by incorporating activity in territories beyond the green line. But it fails to include them all: four million Palestinians are missing from the account which ends up not simply as is a de facto acceptance of the occupation but of Israeli apartheid as well.

While the report often refers to the occupied West Bank as “Judea and Samaria” (a biblical reference used by the Israeli government to justify the occupation and emphatically not accepted by the United Nations, or any other international body), the word “Palestinian” does not appear even once in the 58-page report.

In fact, the OECD decided to collect data about Israeli citizens and residents within Israel’s “economic territory”, and failed to notice approximately four million Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation. Those four million include 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank (where the OECD counts only Israeli citizens and residents in its stats), and 1.5 million in Gaza, which remains part of Israel’s economic sphere and under full Israeli economic control, but do not figure into the OECD calculations at all.

How can one question that four million Palestinians who use Israeli currency, pay customs and various other taxes to the Israeli government, are subject to Israeli monopolies in water, energy and telecommunication (yes, I am talking also about Gaza, which Israel claims is “no longer occupied” but which pays customs and tariffs on imported goods and Value Added Tax (VAT) for Israeli products that are sold in Gaza.), are not part of Israel’s de-facto economic territory?

And yet, it seems that the OECD countries are intent on eliminating the Palestinians from the data, as if the area of approximately 27,000 square kilometers (Palestine and the Syrian Golan Heights) was populated by only 7.5 million people, and not by 11.5 million.

Another example was the OECD’s tourism conference held in October 2010, which Israel won the right to host - in Jerusalem. On this basis, Israel’s minister of tourism announced that the OECD delegates, by attending, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Buses from one of Israel’s colonial companies (carrying names of illegal settlements) were used to transport the delegates.

In fact, if Palestinians would be included in the data pertaining to Israel’s “economic territory”, as they should be, a very different face of Israel would be revealed.. Israel would probably be revealed as the most unequal economy in the world. From the refugee camps in Gaza where most people live under the international poverty line, to north Tel-Aviv (about two hours drive from there) with neighbourhoods housing millionaires and billionaires…

Israel’s image as a developed economy and as a democratic country rests on its ability to separate Jews and Palestinians, citizens and subjects. This kind of separation is called apartheid.

While it is obvious why the Israeli government would like the world to forget about the existence of the Palestinians altogether, one wonders why the OECD countries go to such great lengths to help Israel conceal them.

Shir Hever is an Israeli economist and commentator who researches the economic aspects of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

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August 26, 2011
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