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HRW urges Booking.com to follow Airbnb, pull Israeli settlement listings

Houses in the settlement of Ofra in the West Bank, established in the vicinity of the Palestinian village of Baytin (background), pictured on November 17, 2016
Thomas Coex (AFP/File)
Critics note that Airbnb maintains listings in other 'occupied territories', including north Cyprus and Tibet

Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged global tourism companies including Booking.com to follow Airbnb in removing listings for rental properties located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

In a 65-page report titled "Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land," published along with Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, HRW criticized home-share companies that list rentals in settlements as contributing to and benefiting from “serious rights abuses and entrenched discriminatory practices.”

Airbnb said Monday that it would remove such listings from its platform, prompting Israel to threaten legal action.

"We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians," the company said of the decision in a statement Monday.

“As a global platform operating in 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities, we must consider the impact we have and act responsibly," it added.

HRW praised Airbnb’s decision in its report as “a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft” and urged Netherlands-based Booking.com to follow suit.

“The continued business activities of Booking.com and other companies in settlements contribute to entrenching a two-tiered discriminatory regime in the West Bank,” said Arvind Ganesan, business and human rights director at HRW.

Booking.com said in a statement to HRW that it only provides the platform for making properties available, which it said does not amount to support for settlements.

Much of the international community, including the US and the EU, oppose settlement building in the West Bank -- territory the Palestinians see as part of their future state. Around 400,000 Israelis live in settlements that dot the West Bank and range in size from tiny hamlets to large towns.

While all Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law, Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not. Those without approval are referred to as outposts and tend to be populated by hard-line religious nationalists who see the entire West Bank as part of Israel.

The HRW report says that between March and July 2018, Airbnb had listed at least 139 properties in West Bank settlements on its platform, while Booking.com listed 26 such properties as of July.

AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov

Seventeen of the properties are on land Israel acknowledges is privately owned by Palestinians, while 11 are located in wildcat outposts established without Israeli authorization, according to HRW.

The US-based rights group lamented that listings in West Bank settlements cannot be rented out by Palestinian ID holders, representing the “only example in the world the organisations found in which Airbnb hosts have no choice but to discriminate against guests based on national or ethnic origin."

Airbnb’s decision to remove Israeli settlement listings from its platform was welcomed by Palestinians as a “positive step” but drew a harsh response from Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who called the move "hypocritical and disgusting" and threatened legal action.

Critics of the move pointed out that Airbnb maintains listings in other disputed territories including Turkish-occupied north Cyprus, the Moroccan-occupied Sahara, and Tibet.

“National conflicts exist all over the world, and the heads of Airbnb will have to explain why they chose to take a racist political stance against some of Israel’s citizens," Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs Gilad Erdan said, calling the move a “surrender” to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movemement.

Airbnb operates in over 190 countries, but their site states that as they are required to comply with international regulations, they do not operate in various countries and jurisdictions.

Due to US sanctions, the Airbnb platform is not available in Crimea, Iran, Sudan, Syria, or North Korea.

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Someone needs to set up an exclusive judea and Samaria accommodation rental site

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