Is Airbnb complicit in occupation of Palestinian land?
Airbnb, the online rental service that allows travelers to “book unique accommodations around the world,” has come under scrutiny for listing homes located in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Properties in settlements like Ariel and Ma’ale Adumim, while outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, are explicitly listed on Airbnb as being in “Israel,” with many more listings not specifying a country but appearing in search results for accommodations in Israel.
Jewish-only, Israeli government-subsidized communities in the West Bank were declared illegal by the United Nations in (among others) UN Security Council Resolution 242. The Israeli military, vigilante violence, and the complicity of private companies have all contributed to the continuing encroachment of ethnically-exclusive settlements into the remaining Palestinian communities and properties.
Many of the listings advertise the properties’ proximity to Jerusalem: This is no surprise, as a priority of the Israeli government’s settlement project has been to make the city accessible to residents of West Bank settlements.
In their postings, settlers who host via Airbnb emphasize this accessibility while still appealing to travelers’ colonial wanderlust, the exotic allure of the frontier.
One listing in the settlement of Tekoa includes the following description:
“15 minutes from Jerusalem. Wonderius [sic] location on the edge of the desert. Camel tours to the Dead Sea.” Candidly, the house appears under the heading “Breath-taking elegance. Political.”
Another listing, also a 15 minute drive from Jerusalem, boasts of a “sitting area overlooking the spectacular Judea desert landscape” (Judea and Samaria are what the Israeli government calls the West Bank), adding that the house is “tastefully furnished in authentic oriental style.” From the promises of “authentic oriental style,” desert spectacles, and “camel tours,” it is clear that the listings, like the settlements themselves, attempt to tame and repurpose the indigenous landscape and culture for the exclusive pleasure and (safe) consumption of others.
Even if Palestinians were willing to return as “tourists” to their homeland, they would not be welcomed in these settlements. This makes Airbnb a party to ethnic discrimination that falls under the UN’s 1973 definition of the “Crime of Apartheid.”
Furthermore, the occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank is itself illegal, so too are the individual homes built on that land—having acquired it unjustly, the current occupants are not its rightful owners, and thus, have no right to profit from it.
Airbnb did not respond to PiA’s requests for comment, but told Al Jazeera, “We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings.”