For many people around the world the summer holidays are about to begin. They are logging on to Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia or TripAdvisor without a second thought.
Few will realise that as well as helping holidaymakers book beach holidays, city breaks, budget hotels and bargain flights, these companies are boosting tourism to Israeli settlements that violate international law and are thereby contributing to a system of institutionalized discrimination and mass human rights violations suffered by hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
As an Amnesty International campaigner on business and human rights I witnessed this impact first-hand when I travelled to the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) and visited the village of Khirbet Susiya a year ago.
The women of the Nawaja family welcomed me into their home – a large Bedouin-style tent – and in between cups of sweetened tea and the playful chatter of children, they told me their story. They described to me how an Israeli settlement and touristic archaeological site, as well as the businesses built around them, have devastated the lives of an entire Palestinian community.
Khirbet Susiya, home to some 300 Palestinians, is a small village located in the South Hebron Hills, in the south of the West Bank. As I walked around the village, I was immediately struck by the poverty of its inhabitants. Most live in flimsy wood frame shelters and dusty tents. Across the arid landscape, just over a kilometre away, lies the Israeli settlement of Susya. This quiet, well-maintained town housing 1,000 people reminded me of the wealthy suburbs in the West that so often symbolize inequality.
Susya was established in 1983 on land belonging to the Palestinian residents of Khirbet Susiya, displacing a community that had lived around the ancient ruins of Susya and the surrounding farmland for decades. In 1986 the Israeli authorities declared the ruins and village land an archaeological site and forcibly evicted all its Palestinian inhabitants. The dispossession of the Palestinian community and the establishment of the settlement are war crimes; the very existence of the settlement is a violation of international law.
This same archaeological site, along with a winery and vineyard inside the settlement of Susya, are listed as tourist attractions by TripAdvisor. The visitor centre at the archaeological site sells goods and produce grown or manufactured by settlers in the settlement and surrounding area, including wine, liquors, herbs, honey, chocolate, olive oil, creams and handicrafts.
By promoting these sites to tourists around the world TripAdvisor is profiting from boosting the economy of a settlement built on stolen land that is driving human rights violations against Palestinians.Sabrina Tucci, Amnesty campaigner on business and human rights
By promoting these sites to tourists around the world TripAdvisor is profiting from boosting the economy of a settlement built on stolen land that is driving human rights violations against Palestinians.
The displaced families of Khirbet Susiya were not offered alternative accommodation or compensation. While most moved to nearby villages, the Nawaja family decided to remain in the area living between the Israeli settlement and the archaeological site.
The community has lost vast swathes of farmland and had to cut back the size of its herds – a main source of income. Israeli authorities have refused to connect the village to water, electricity and the sewage system forcing people to pay for water to be trucked in. By contrast, residents of the nearby settlement have an abundant water supply and even a municipal swimming pool.
The Palestinians of Khirbet Susiya also live in constant fear that their homes or other property could be demolished at any time, because they have been forced to build without permits, which they are routinely denied by the Israeli authorities. Those that live in the houses that have a demolition order against them are living in a state of constant anxiety. Many are mentally affected by this. At night a bulldozer could destroy everything. Children here live in fear”, one of the women who hosted me, Fatma, a social worker and mother of two said.
They also face systematic violence and harassment at the hands of Israeli settlers who regularly vandalize and damage olive trees, saplings and other property owned by Palestinians, fly drones above their tents to intimidate them, and physically and verbally assault them.
Ola, a mother of four, described how her three daughters, at the time aged seven, 12 and 13, were attacked by two settlers, who threw stones at them as they returned from school: “Here in the village, mothers are scared for the children to go outside to the paved road as they may be attacked by settlers.” Her older daughter added: “I do not like going to school because of settlers. They are armed with weapons. They are more dangerous than the army.”
One year since my visit to Khirbet Susiya and the surrounding area, TripAdvisor continues to promote the two settlement-linked attractions in Susya despite the well documented, ongoing human rights violations they have caused. By doing so, TripAdvisor is choosing to continue contribute to, and benefit from these violations.
Companies have a responsibility to respect human rights and comply with international law wherever in the world they operate. This includes a responsibility to avoid causing or contributing to violations and the obligation to address such violations when they occur.
Yet Amnesty International’s calls to TripAdvisor to stop listing attractions in illegal settlements like Susya have been ignored.
It is very difficult to hold powerful corporations to account and I doubt this single piece of writing alone will convince TripAdvisor or other booking companies to change their behaviour. But I hope that it will at least help to inform the holiday decisions of those reading it, and that through collective activism we can eventually stop Israel from continuing to violate the human rights of Palestinians in the OPT.
In the meantime, the villagers of Khirbet Susiya have vowed to continue their struggle for survival. As Ola said:
“This is our land and we will not leave. They will destroy, and we will build: we will stay.”