Airbnb have rightly responded to pressure to stop making money from bookings in illegal Israel settlements in the West Bank.
They have offered a commitment to take down all listings in illegal settlements, areas built on Palestinian land in contravention of international law.
“Our hope is that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow,” the online bookings company said in a statement on their website.
This is a palpable victory for Palestinians and for pushing back against the normalisation of Israel’s decades-long occupation of the West Bank.
The move came just before Human Rights Watch published a report on the negative effects of Airbnb’s business in the West Bank entitled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements”.
The report noted that the illegal settlements in the West Bank effectively bar people based on their ethnic and national origin, leaving Airbnb hosts with effectively no choice but to discriminate against Palestinians. This appears to be the only example in the world of the firm barring guests based on national or ethnic origin, which contravenes Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy in the EU and the US ― but apparently not elsewhere.
In the West Bank settlements, a Palestinian cannot even pay to stay in an Airbnb within their own homeland due to the occupation. This is an unjust reality which rental companies seem to have been unable to confront. Discrimination like this has further underlined the accusations that the occupation of Palestinian lands is racist in its character.
This shift has come after Palestinian rights campaigners from around the world have worked to pressure Airbnb for profiting from Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. The UN consider these settlements to be a “flagrant violation under international law” without “legal validity”, while the Red Cross have noted that the settlements violate the Fourth Geneva Convention. Yet numerous companies, following the steely logic of financial gain have sought to do business in illegal settlements and other occupied areas of Palestine.
Human Rights Watch are now asking Booking.com to follow suit and withdraw from economic activities in the illegal settlements. While this move by Airbnb is welcome it has not addressed its continued listing of properties in occupied East Jerusalem, which the United Nation’s classify as an occupied territory.
Booking.com have shifted their language from describing these settlements as part of “Israel” to describing them as “Israeli settlements”, but this change is immaterial and does nothing to alter the process of profiting from occupation.
Both companies are under pressure and the campaign continues, demanding an end to firms making money out of the illegally occupied territories, be it the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Respect for the principles and norms of international law cannot consist of fudges and more accurate branding. That respect must involve withdrawal from activities which entrench the undermining of human rights.
Likud politicians are calling on Israeli settlers to use the anti-boycott law to sue Airbnb for ending its role in the settlements. We have Israel as an occupying power advocating using its domestic law against a company for seeking to abide by the rules of international law. This threat from the Israeli administration to sue Airbnb for actions which respect the Fourth Geneva Convention betrays an arrogance from the governing party - and a sense that they view themselves as above international law.
Human Rights Watch’s Director, Arvind Ganesan, rightly noted that Airbnb “has taken a stand against discrimination, displacement and land theft” but questions still remain over how far this stand goes. Until such companies stop advertising properties in all illegally occupied areas their records on human rights issues will continue to face scrutiny.
Every company that makes money from the occupation is contributing to the entrenchment of ‘a discriminatory regime’ which deepens the suffering of Palestinians. By normalising the occupation of Palestinian lands, the Palestinians’ second-class status becomes increasingly normalised, something few firms seem to consider. As a consequence these kinds of economic activities serve as a barrier to hopes of a just peace.
British politicians have often offered little more than lip service on the issue of companies profiting from the occupation. The Labour Party’s position is clear opposition to the settlements, yet there was no further clarity in last year’s manifesto. Labour Friends of Palestine does however have a more detailed position, including opposition to businesses profiting from illegal settlements. The Liberal Democrats remain characteristically vague, while the SNP’s position is a little less vocal than Labour’s and the government currently offer no foreseeable prospect of action. More than ever it looks as though leadership is strictly coming from below.
No doubt, this is a victory for the Palestinian people and for challenging the normalisation of a half-century occupation but there is still a long way to go in challenging the deepening of the occupation. This is a victory for the campaign for justice for Palestinians but it does not represent the end of this kind of economic activity. Until we have an end to business which entrenches the occupation, and normalises the abuse of Palestinians, the rights of the Palestinian people will be left out of their reach.