The Palestinians are complaining that by contributing to the economy in Judea and Samaria, Airbnb, like other companies doing business there, helps perpetuate Israel’s “settlement” enterprise.
Like many vacation rental operators around the world, Moshe Gordon has listed his property on Airbnb, luring visitors with a stunning vista of desert landscape and boasting of proximity to both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. What it doesn’t mention is that the “cozy fully furnished” apartment, with its cable TV, Internet and hiking trails, is in a community in Samaria, Israel’s historical and biblical heartland.
Airbnb is coming under Palestinian criticism for such listings, which some find misleading for failing to mention the property is on “occupied” land claimed by the Palestinians. Such criticism puts Airbnb in the crosshairs of an increasingly aggressive global boycott movement and has injected a dose of Mideast politics into the sharing economy.
The Palestinians say that by contributing to the “settlement” economy, Airbnb, like other companies doing business in Judea and Samaria, helps perpetuate Israel’s “settlement” enterprise. Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat sent a letter to Airbnb’s CEO last week demanding the company cease working with “settlers.”
“Any international company like Airbnb that profits from the occupation and from our blood must be held accountable and brought to justice,” said Husam Zomlot, a Palestinian ambassador at-large and former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The complaint coincides with the release Tuesday of a report by Human Rights Watch that said that businesses operating in “settlements” contribute to and benefit from “an inherently unlawful and abusive system that violates the rights of Palestinians.”
Israel captured Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war and began building communities there soon after. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians claim all of Judea, Samaria and east Jerusalem as parts of a future state, a position that Israel rejects.
The Palestinians and much of the international community are up in arms over Israel’s right to build wherever it wants, saying the construction runs counter to the goal of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
On Monday, the European Union, Israel’s largest trading partner, said that all its agreements with Israel must “unequivocally and explicitly” show that they cannot apply to “occupied” territories. The move followed a November decision to label Israeli products made in Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights. Many Israelis fear the step could be a precursor to a full-fledged ban on products such as wines, dates and cosmetics, which make up a tiny percentage of Israeli exports, but would set an ominous precedent.
Also alarming to Israel has been an international movement calling for boycotts against products from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights or any company doing business in those areas. The anti-Israel boycott movement claims responsibility for pressuring some large companies to stop or alter operations in Israel proper, or Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, including carbonated drink maker SodaStream, French construction company Veolia and international mobile phone giant Orange.
The boycott movement’s economic impact has been minimal, and it has helped spread lies about Israel.
While the Human Rights Watch report said it was not calling for a boycott, it urged businesses to cease their “settlement” operations. The report said Palestinian laborers in the “settlements” are often paid well below Israeli minimum wage, and that companies operating in Judea and Samaria receive preferential treatment over Palestinian rivals. It followed repeated claims by World Bank and others that Israeli policy in Judea and Samaria has stifled Palestinian development.
Israel Rejects Criticism Against Airbnb
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon rejected the report’s conclusions as well as the criticism against Airbnb. “The Palestinians should stop whining and take their fate in their own hands and stop blaming Israel for their incapacity to build their own economy,” he said.
In an email, Airbnb said it “follows laws and regulations on where we can do business.” It said it encourages guests to talk to their host about the listing before any trip and that the platform uses Google Maps to determine locations— a website on which Jewish communities, as well as Palestinian cities, are not listed with an affiliated country. Under its terms of service, Airbnb specifies that it will not accept responsibility for the accuracy of listings posted on the site, saying this lies with hosts.
Airbnb, which charges users a service fee, also has listings in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus and Moroccan-annexed Western Sahara, among other disputed territories. Listings there vary, with some marked only as a city, and others linked to Northern Cyprus or the unoccupied southern half. The few properties in Western Sahara are listed as in Morocco.
Owners of Airbnb properties in Israeli communities reject the criticism. Even though Israel has never annexed Judea and Samaria, they see their communities as part of Israel and point to biblical history as proof of the Jewish connection to the land.
“It is Israel,” said Gordon, who charges about $60 a night for his apartment. “I don’t really understand the controversy here.”
Communities across Judea and Samaria play host to Airbnb properties, according to the site’s listings. Tourists can stay overnight in a desert camp or in a yurt in the Tekoa community. A perusal of more than two dozen listings showed very few reviews, indicating limited business — which may also be connected to the fact that Palestinian terrorists often attack communities in Judea and Samaria.
Israelifficials say there is a blossoming lodging industry in Judea and Samaria that has until now mainly targeted Israeli tourists. But with Airbnb experiencing growing name recognition among residents, Miri Maoz-Ovadia, a spokeswoman for the Yesha council, said she expects more Judea and Samaria properties on the site.
“International platforms such as Airbnb are very positive,” she said. “Any of these platforms should be allowed … to show also places that are here in the heartland of Israel.”
By: Tia Goldenberg, AP
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