Airbnb has announced that it will delist rental properties located in Israeli-occupied West Bank settlements following criticisms that accused the company off profiting off contested territory.
The holiday rentals giant, which had previously hosted approximately 200 West Bank properties on its platform, acknowledged Monday that “there are conflicting views” regarding the ethics of conducting business in the West Bank. The territory is the subject of a decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine, and is largely controlled by Israel.
“Many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced,” the company said in a statement. But after consultations, Airbnb “concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.”
“We are most certainly not the experts when it comes to the historical disputes in this region,” Airbnb added.
Airbnb’s announcement preceded the publication Tuesday of a critical report by New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW). The 65-page review accuses Airbnb and Booking.com of contributing to “serious human rights abuses against Palestinians,” including inhibiting freedom of movement. In some cases, the report wrote, the listed accommodations were built on land that Israeli authorities acknowledged was owned by Palestinians who were no longer allowed to access it.
Both Israel and Palestine make historical claims to the West Bank. Israel seized the territory from Jordanian forces in 1967 and has only returned parts of it to direct Palestinian administration. Nearly 600,000 Israeli citizens occupy contested, often ideologically motivated outposts in the West Bank in rapidly expanding settlements, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. In 2016, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution condemning the settlements as “a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle” to peace. The U.S. abstained from the vote.
Read more: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Inside the Cauldron of Hebron
Activists have long called for Airbnb and other companies to leave the disputed areas of the West Bank.
HRW welcomed Airbnb’s delisting announcement as “a positive step that other global tourism companies should follow.”
“By delisting rentals in illegal settlements off-limits to Palestinians, Airbnb has taken a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft,” HRW’s business and human rights director Arvind Ganesan said.
But in Israel, Airbnb’s decision drew ire. Minister for Tourism Yariv Levin lambasted the website as “discriminatory” and called for retaliation to “limit the company’s activity throughout the country,” according to local newspaper the Times of Israel. The leader of a settlement group said the decision “does an injustice to Israelis living in Judea and Samaria,” referring to the West Bank by a Biblical name.
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