By Gabriela Quijano, Head of Business and Human Rights at Amnesty International
For the past few months Israeli army bulldozers have been rolling in and out of Khan al-Ahmar, a small Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank. So far, the bulldozers have just been levelling the ground. But soon they will return to demolish dozens of homes, as well as the school, clinic and mosque which serve this community. Israel’s Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar in September, and its 180 residents have been given two “choices” for relocation: a site near the former Jerusalem municipal garbage dump, or a site next to a sewage plant near Jericho.
Just two kilometres away from Khan al-Ahmar is the Israeli settlement of Kfar Adumim, where life could not be more different. The settlement, home to about 400 families, is a thriving hub for tourism in the area thanks to its commanding views over the Judean desert and the Jordan Valley. In Kfar Adumim, tourists can organize expensive camping expeditions which allow them to “experience life as it was in biblical times.” On land which was stolen from Palestinians and an easy walk from the condemned homes in Khan al-Ahmar, tourists from all over the world pay to sleep and eat in traditional Bedouin-style tents.
The settlers who run these tours, as well as businesses and individuals offering accommodation in Kfar Adumim, are prospering partly thanks to promotion by online booking companies. A new report by Amnesty International shows how tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are all contributing to human rights violations against Palestinians by listing accommodation and attractions located in Israeli settlements, including Kfar Adumim. Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are illegal under international law and constitute war crimes.
The forcible transfer of the Bedouin residents of Khan al-Ahmar is also a war crime. Kfar Adumim was built more than 30 years after Khan al-Ahmar and has since encroached on almost all the land the Bedouin used to graze their animals, damaging their source of livelihood and forcing them to live in hardship.
Despite this, at the time of writing, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor all provide multiple listings for activities and accommodation in Kfar Adumim. Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia list “Desert Camping Israel”, a campsite just east of the settlement, where guests can hire Bedouin tents for as much as US$235 a night. TripAdvisor has a listing for a “Genesis Land” tour, run by the same company, as well as two properties that can be rented through its website. It also features reviews of a hotel, two restaurants and five “things to do” in the settlement and its surrounds.
Neither Airbnb nor TripAdvisor make it clear that these listings are located in illegal settlements within an occupied territory. Airbnb labels Kfar Adumim as “Israel”, which is incorrect, and TripAdvisor labels it as “Palestinian Territories”, which is only half of the story. It is not obvious to prospective tourists that booking accommodation in Kfar Adumim helps fund an illegal endeavour, or that the establishment of Kfar Adumim and other settlements is a war crime. These online booking companies are normalizing and helping to sustain the illegal settler presence in the area; and giving the Israeli government extra financial incentives to further develop the settlements.
In November 2018, Airbnb announced that it would remove all listings in “Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank”, which will cover the 30 properties it lists in Kfar Adumim. However, Airbnb did not include East Jerusalem in its definition, meaning that even if it implements its announcement it will still have more listings in settlements than any other online booking company. East Jerusalem remains under occupation and is a major flashpoint for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but all four companies Amnesty looked at have listings of settler-owned or run accommodation and attractions there.
In 2017, almost half of all foreign visitors to Israel said they had searched the internet for travel tips before going, according to Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Companies like Airbnb and TripAdvisor model themselves on the idea of sharing and mutual trust, yet by promoting settlement businesses to huge global audiences they are profiting from and helping perpetuate gross and systematic discrimination. Online booking companies have a responsibility to respect international humanitarian and human rights law. Until they remove listings in settlements, Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are all in breach of these responsibilities, as well as their own corporate standards.
With Palestinians in Khan al-Ahmar and elsewhere facing an uncertain future, it’s time to stop treating war crimes like tourist attractions.