Travelers looking to stay “minutes from Center City” in Jerusalem can find quite the steal on Airbnb. The vacation rental company offers a “quiet two bedroom apartment” for just $65 a night or, for those with a bigger budget, a “luxury townhouse” at $128 a night. What Airbnb does not note, however, is that these listings are in illegal Israeli settlements.
In January, various news outlets reported that several of Airbnb’s listings in Israel are actually in settlement blocs or outposts in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some of the listings are in expensive Jewish-only neighborhoods built with state funding, while others are in small, rural outposts constructed by individual Jewish settlers that are deemed illegal even under Israeli law. The listings in settlements like Kfar Eldad, Nokdim, Ma’ale Adumim, and Nofei Prat make no mention of the Israeli military checkpoints guests would need to pass through in order to reach their destination nor do they mention the occupation in any way.
In addition to offering rentals in Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the company also features listings in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus and the Moroccan-annexed Western Sahara, as highlighted by the Associated Press.
While there is no international consensus over the other disputed territories where Airbnb operates, Israeli settlements are illegal under international law, making Airbnb’s listings in those areas susceptible to legal action. As John Dugard, international law professor and former UN special rapporteur on occupied Palestinian territory, told the Guardian, vacationing in an Airbnb settlement rental “facilitates the commission of the crime of establishing settlements.” Dugard argued that Airbnb could possibly be prosecuted in a European Union member country for “aiding and abetting the commission of a crime” since the company earns “money from property built on [an] illegal settlement.”
Upon discovering that many of these listings were in Jewish-only communities, an Israeli blogger for Local Call wrote an investigative piece about discriminatory renting practices. Posing as a U.S. traveler of Palestinian descent named (pseudonym Khaled, spelled Haled), the blogger attempted to book a room through Airbnb at dozens of settlement listings, securing only one. Most Airbnb hosts Haled contacted apologetically noted that the “political situation” made them unable to offer him a room. The place the blogger was able to book was located in Tekoa, southeast of Bethlehem. Since the settlement is located in Israeli-controlled Area C, the host mentioned to his prospective guest that he would likely have to go through “a security check at the entrance of Tekoa” given the “tense situation in Israel.” The article is available on Local Call’s English-language sister blog, +972 Magazine.
Airbnb’s settlement listings have made the company a target for the international boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. U.S.-based groups American Muslims for Palestine, CODEPINK, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the U.S. Palestinian Community Network launched the Stolen Homes campaign on 20 January. Calling on Airbnb “to immediately stop listing vacation rentals in Israeli settlements, all of which were built on stolen Palestinian land and deemed illegal under international law,” the campaign went viral on social media. Under the hashtag #StolenHomes, the groups circulated a petition on Twitter, which went viral and remains ongoing at the time of writing.
The aforementioned coalition also created a mock Airbnb webpage marketing a “whole house” for “8 non-Palestinian[s]” in the “Occupied West Bank” under the banner “Stolen home by illegal settlers.”
The listing goes on to describe “your own vacation rental, located in an illegal settlement and in violation of international law. Support structural discrimination and theft of Palestinians’ land.” And the home “includes views of the West Bank Apartheid Wall.” It warns that “Guests with Arab-sounding names will be subject to additional scrutiny by settlement security,” and house rules maintain that “All those would could be perceived as Arabs must be accompanied by armed guards while in the Settlement, for their own protection.” The “price” for “non-Palestinians” is affordable (“On Top Of Subsidies From The Israeli Government”), but the “cost” to Palestinians: “Stolen Home. Lost freedom.”
Visitors to the mock-site may leave “reviews,” and thus far 2,877 people have left comments. Reem Suleiman wrote, “As a Palestinian, I find Airbnb’s listings highly offensive given that my family in the West Bank is struggling to keep their own homes from being demolished. Shame on Airbnb.” For his part, Ari Levy observed, “As a user of Aibnb, both as a host and as a traveller, find it very disturbing that this service does no[t] have any sense of civic responsibility. I demand that Airbnb consider such listings as unwanted and withdraw them from the service.”
On March 10, JVP and CODEPINK staged a protest outside Airbnb’s San Francisco headquarters, where activists delivered a petition signed by over 140,000 individuals calling on Airbnb to end its listings in illegal Israeli settlements.
An Airbnb representative collected the petition, but the company demurred in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle, “This particular issue is complex: people have been debating this matter for 5,000 years [sic], so a hospitality company from San Francisco isn’t going to have all the answers but at the end of the day, we want to help open the world, not close it off.”
JVP Deputy Director Stefanie Fox told the Chronicle, “Airbnb has to stop enabling Israeli violations of international law. Whether Airbnb has a physical presence or not in the West Bank, they are still profiting off it. It’s absolutely dirty money.”
By Brittany Dawson & Khelil Bouarrouj.