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Report: Tourism companies contribute to Israeli settlement expansion

Jan. 31, 2019 11:29 A.M. (Updated: Feb. 1, 2019 11:39 A.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Online booking giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are fueling human rights violations against Palestinians by listing hundreds of rooms and activities in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem, Amnesty International (AI) said on Wednesday.

In Amnesty International's new report entitled "Destination: Occupation," the organization documents how online booking companies are driving tourism to illegal Israeli settlements and contributing to their existence and expansion.

AI said, “Israel’s settling of Israeli civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) violates international humanitarian law and is a war crime. Despite this, the four companies continue to operate in the settlements, and profit from this illegal situation.”

“One of the settlements included in AI report is Kfar Adummim, a growing tourism hub located less than two kilometers from the Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, whose imminent and complete demolition by Israeli forces has been given a green light by Israel’s Supreme Court. The expansion of Kfar Adummim and other surrounding settlements is a key driver of human rights violations against the local Bedouin community.”

“Israel’s unlawful seizure of Palestinian land and expansion of settlements perpetuates immense suffering, pushing Palestinians out of their homes, destroying their livelihoods and depriving them of basics like drinking water. Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor model themselves on the idea of sharing and mutual trust, yet they are contributing to these human rights violations by doing business in the settlements,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Thematic Issues.

“The Israeli government uses the growing tourism industry in the settlements as a way of legitimizing their existence and expansion, and online booking companies are playing along with this agenda. It’s time for these companies to stand up for human rights by withdrawing all of their listings in illegal settlements on occupied land. War crimes are not a tourist attraction.”

In November, Airbnb pledged to remove all listings in settlements in the occupied West Bank, however it did not extend its commitment to occupied East Jerusalem, which is also occupied territory, and where it has more than 100 listings in settlements.

AI called on Airbnb to implement its announcement and remove all its listings in settlements in occupied territory, including East Jerusalem. AI also said that Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor should remove all their listings in the OPT.

All four companies in Amnesty International’s report have listings in settlements including East Jerusalem.

Airbnb currently has more than 300 listings of properties in settlements in the OPT. TripAdvisor lists more than 70 different attractions, tours, restaurants, caf s, hotels and rental apartments in settlements in the OPT. Booking.com lists 45 hotels and rentals in settlements in the OPT. Expedia lists nine accommodation providers, including four large hotels, in settlements in the OPT.

Amnesty International found that Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor not only play a significant role in driving tourism to illegal settlements, they also mislead their customers by failing to consistently indicate when listings are located in Israeli settlements.

“Tourists coming here are brainwashed, they are lied to, they do not know this is our land,” said a Palestinian farmer living next to illegal Shiloh settlement, where the Israeli government is funding a large visitor centre to draw tourists to an archaeological site.

In recent years the Israeli government has invested huge sums to develop the tourism industry in settlements. It uses the designation of certain locations as tourist sites to justify the takeover of Palestinian land and homes, and often deliberately constructs settlements next to archaeological sites to emphasize the Jewish people’s historic connections to the region.

AI’s report highlights how the Israeli government allows and encourages settlers to exploit land and natural resources that belong to Palestinians, and how Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor also benefit from this exploitation.

“Despite the fact that these are illegally appropriated Palestinian natural resources, these activities only benefit settlers and the online companies that do business with them.”

It is not just the tourism industry which is profiting from, and contributing to, illegal settlements. Hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of goods produced in Israeli settlements are exported internationally each year, despite the fact that most countries around the world have officially condemned the settlements as illegal under international law.

AI called on individual companies to stop doing business in and with the settlements, as well as calling on governments worldwide to make this mandatory through regulation, and to introduce laws prohibiting the import of settlement goods.

Joshi stressed, “It’s not enough to condemn the settlements as illegal but allow the commercial activities that make them profitable to continue.”
The Irish Senate is currently in the process of approving a landmark bill that prohibits the import and sale of goods, services and natural resources originating in illegal settlements in occupied Palestine and Amnesty International is calling on other countries to follow this lead.

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