International human rights organization, Amnesty International, recently published a report called “Destination: Occupation”, detailing how international digital tourism companies are churning out profits for themselves by participating in business with the apartheid state of Israel. They do this particularly by offering travel and house rental services in the illegal Israeli settlements in occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are considered ‘war crimes’ and are illegal under international law. The report details how these settlements are being used to encourage and normalize human rights violations by digital tourism companies.
In response to this, on Tuesday, an Israeli minister threatened to ban Amnesty International from entering Israel, and accused it of becoming a leader in the “anti-semitic” BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) campaign. Israeli public security minister, Gilad Erdan, who is also the strategic affairs minister, said in a statement that he has instructed ministry officials to examine the possibility of preventing Amnesty personnels from entering, or residing in, Israel.
Amnesty International responded to this threat by saying that Israeli officials are trying to silence reports of Israel’s war crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories.
“The Israel’s claim for “anti-semitism” in the report is a “blatant incitement based on lies, deceptions and distortions that are easy to refute and are intended to divert the discussion from the subject at hand, which is, war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied territories”, they said.
Digital tourism companies, such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, are driving tourism to the illegal settlements by listing hundreds of rooms and activities in them, while also contributing to their expansion by legitimizing and normalizing them to the international public. The report noted that Airbnb has more than 300 listings of properties in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), TripAdvisor lists more than 300 different entities, Expedia lists 9 accommodation providers, including four large hotels, and Bookings.com lists 45 hotels and rentals in the illegal Israeli settlements.
Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s director of global thematic issues, said, “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.” She also accused these digital tourism companies of “playing along with Israel’s agenda, instead of standing up for human rights of Palestinians by withdrawing all of their listings, reminding them that “war crimes are not a tourist attraction.
“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,” she added.
Amnesty’s report highlights how the Israeli government allows and encourages settlers to exploit land and natural resources that belong to Palestinians, and how tourism companies benefit from this exploitation. Seema Joshi further stated that these companies promote visits to nature reserves, encourage tourists to go on walking trails and desert safaris, and invite visitors to taste wine from local vineyards.
Amnesty also urged the above-mentioned companies to ban listings of tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in the occupied territories, and called for an international boycott of Israeli tourism businesses in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Following investigations by Al Jazeera and Human Rights Watch, Airbnb announced in November that it would stop offering around 200 listings on its website for vacation rental properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, but hasn’t clarified when its decision would actually go into effect. However, Airbnb has let more than 100 of its listings in the occupied East Jerusalem remain intact.
While a spokesperson for TripAdvisor agreed that “this issue is a sensitive matter with cultural and political implications”, she said that the fact that a company is listed on TripAdvisor, “does not mean endorsement or support of this company by our side”. An Expedia spokesperson said that the company will examine the report. Airbnb and Booking.com have not responded to the report yet.
Saeb Erekat, general secretary of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, called on the United Nations to “publish a list of companies involved in the Israeli occupation”. He called for international guidelines to ensure that foreign citizens and companies do not support Israeli settlements.
Israel conquered the occupied territories of West Bank and East Jerusalem in the six-day war of 1967. More than 600,000 Jewish settlers live in the now more than 200 settlements in those two areas, which the Palestinians seek as part of an independent Palestinian state.