Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation



Contributing to gross human rights abuses is compliance

On 24 March 2016, at its 31st session, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted resolution 31/36 entitled “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in the occupied Syrian Golan”.

In accordance with the resolution, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) invited all interested persons, entities and organizations to submit relevant information and documentation that will assist in the implementation of the mandate.

Together with Code Pink, women for peace, Scales for Justice (S4J)  submitted a report on companies complicit in specific activities that contribute of help to maintain the Israeli occupation. The report focuses on settlement tourism and home sales and lists Airbnb, Expedia, TripAdvisor, Opodo, Priceline, RE/MAX LLC.

Below some key points of the report:

Introduction
Since 1967, the international community has designated the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as militarily occupied. An occupying power is bound by international law, particularly the 1907 Hague Regulations and the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The almost 50 year old Israeli occupation has resulted in multiple serious human rights violations against Palestinians, particularly in relation to settlements. Settlements are illegal under international law, as confirmed by numerous UN resolutions including Security Council resolution 2334 dating from 23 December 2016, stating that Israel′s settlement activity constitutes a "flagrant violation" of international law and has "no legal validity". 

Over the past decades, Israel has ignored all UN resolutions regarding its illegal settlement enterprise and has continued to encourage their expansion. Until this day the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has surpassed 765,000. Recent statistics have further revealed that the number of demolitions and confiscations by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2016 have increased by 450%, in comparison to 2015. 

Companies that are connected in any way with Israeli settlements help entrench the occupation. On January 19, 2016, Human Rights Watch released a report titled Settlements Inc. outlining how companies and businesses involved in the settlement economy contribute to and benefit from Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ rights and international humanitarian law .

Settlement tourism and home sales
Tourism in Israel is one of Israel's major sources of income and Israeli settlers are using tourism as a means in their battle for legitimacy. They are offering a sampling of “the good life,” welcoming biblical tourists who want to visit ancient sites that appear in the Old Testament and Torah. The 1.5 million annual visitors to the West Bank now encounter 15 new multilingual settlement visitor centers, 20 boutique wineries and some 200 bed-and-breakfasts.

Travel companies enable settlement tourism and real estate companies, such as Airbnb and RE/MAX LLC, assist in settlement expansion by filling the settlement homes.

Airbnb
According to its website, Airbnb is a vibrant, global movement equipped with tools for learning and advocating, make belonging anywhere a solution available everywhere. Pretending to contribute to intercultural understanding, Airbnb considers itself “a particularly positive force for communities that have been underserved by traditional hospitality providers. 

There are 13,000 Airbnb listings in Israel, with many of these being in settlements  in the West Bank. In 2014, the company’s rentals were used by 128,000 guests . Airbnb earns guest and host service fees profiting from Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian land and helping facilitate settlement activity.

By listing homes in Israeli settlements and outposts, Airbnb directly contributes to the Israel’s settlement enterprise. Not only does it fail to indicate that rooms offered on its website are located inside settlements, their site is also clearly used by hosts living inside settlements for ideological purposes.

Some examples:

Alon Shvut is an Israeli settlement located southwest of Jerusalem, one kilometer northeast of Kfar Etzion, in the West Bank. Established in June 1970, Alon Shvut became the prototype for Jewish communities in the region. Airbnb offers rooms inside Alon Shvut, described as “in a lush garden among fruit trees and flowers “.  Another host in the area offers a “rustic caravan in the middle of the vineyards with stunning views!” , belonging to Gush Etzion. A closer look at this Airbnb listing reveals that the home is in fact located outside of Alon Shvut, in the surrounding illegal outpost of Givat Hahish. The Airbnb listing does not acknowledge that the home is in an outpost that is considered illegal under both, international and Israeli law.

Bat Ayin: Bat Ayin is an Israeli settlement in Gush Etzion in the West Bank, located between Jerusalem and Hebron. It contains roughly 200 settler families. It has a reputation for being particularly extremist and callous towards local Palestinians. Airbnb offers 4 locations in this settlement. One of their hosts writes” You’ll love my place because of The beautiful open views of Israel.” Another host writes: “Fully furnished guest house with all the facilities needed for a large family, surrounded by wild nature and lots of natural flowing springs that can only be found in the village areas near Jerusalem.”  By allowing this listing, Airbnb is promoting ideological and economic settler activities.

Havat Gilad: Havat Gilad is an Israeli outpost in the West Bank established in 2002. It is considered an unauthorized outpost by the Israeli government and is on a list of outposts that Israel promised the US it will dismantle. The outpost was dismantled several times in the past and there have been a number violent incidents involving Havat Gilad settlers. Airbnb offers a studio house  in the area, describing it as a “very private place with a very fresh air and gorgeous view.” The Airbnb listing does not acknowledge that the home is in an outpost that is considered illegal under both, international and Israeli law.

Susya: The Palestinian community of Susiya is located in the southern Hebron hills. It has a population of around 350. After the Israeli settlement of Susyia was established, Israel declared that the area was an "archaeological site." Since then approximately 60 Palestinian families have been forcibly displaced from their homes. Airbnb lists a room inside the Israeli Susiya settlement. The host describes that, “you’ll love my place because of its special location and unique atmosphere. My place is good for couples and solo adventurers. We can also arrange hospitality for big groups.” The owner further offers “As a licensed tour guide I can guide you to visit local winery, goat milk plant, farms, vineyards and the famous ancient town of Susya”. By allowing this listing, Airbnb is promoting ideological and economic settler activities and is contributing to human rights abuses against the Palestinian community of Susiya.

Tekoa: Tekoa is an Israeli settlement of approximately 3500 settlers in the West Bank, 20 km northeast of Hebron and 16 km south of Jerusalem. It is in the immediate vicinity of the Palestinian village of Tuqu'. Airbnb is offering not less than 9 locations in the area, one of them a “Yurt facing the desert” . The description of the house hides the fact that it is located in an illegal outpost stating,e love our house because it’s totally comfortable and full of ambiance which we created with our own hands. It is a serene and quiet spot in the beautiful Judean hills.” In fact the yurt is located in Tekoa E, a recently constructed outpost near Tekoa.  The Airbnb listing does not acknowledge that the home is in an outpost that is considered illegal under both, international and Israeli law.

The above given examples are only few in a huge number of locations inside settlements or outposts offered by Airbnb. Looking at the map of locations offered by Airbnb, it becomes clear, that Airbnb’s site is deliberately used by Israeli settlers to promote and legitimize settlements.

Since January 2016, over 150,000 signatures have been collected asking Airbnb to end their practice of listing settlement homes. These signatures have been delivered to Airbnb and Airbnb investor Fidelity Investments. A coalition of organizations, including Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK, Sum of Us, and others have attempted to communicate with Airbnb about their practice of profiting from and contributing to settlements . They have not yet been able to receive a direct response from Airbnb.

RE/MAX LLC

Through its franchise, RE/MAX Israel, Denver CO based RE/MAX LLC assists Israel in maintaining its settlement enterprise. RE/MAX Israel sells and advertises homes in all the major Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. RE/MAX Israel even maintains an office in the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim.
RE/MAX LLC earns a 1% fee on all homes sold around the word by its franchises.

In June 2016, the Presbyterian General Assembly passed a resolution calling on RE/MAX LLC to stop selling homes in settlements. Prior to that resolution RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger released a statement that RE/MAX LLC would no longer receive income from settlement properties . However, RE/MAX Israel responded to the Presbyterian resolution and Liniger’s statement by stating to a Haaretz  reporter that they would be continuing “business as usual.” 

RE/MAX LLC is yet to release any evidence that they have in fact stopped receiving profits from settlements properties to how they will identify such properties. Moreover, regardless of whether or not RE/MAX LLC continues to receive settlement property revenues, the company will be continuing to allow its Israeli franchise to operate within the RE/MAX network, to use the RE/MAX logo and trademark, and to benefit from brand recognition, trainings, and real estate conventions. RE/MAX remains intricately involved in Israel’s settlement enterprise and implicated in the corresponding human rights abuses. As such, it should be included in the UN database.

Booking.com, Expedia, Tripadvisor, Opodo

As international operators, travel agencies and booking websites bear a special responsibility when it comes to the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. It is particularly concerning that travel agencies not only promote hotels located in settlements, but also give the impression on their website that these locations are within the UN recognized legal boundaries of Israel Israel. The following travel companies should be included in the UN database:

Expedia is a US company that owns and operates several international global online travel brands, promoting hotels in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. A random search on Expedia reveals listings of hotels in the West Bank, including, among others, the Almog Kibbutz Hotel and the Kalia Kibbutz Holiday Village. Both of these hotels are located inside illegal Israeli settlements in area C of the West Bank.

Opodo is an online travel agency which offers deals in regular and charter flights, low-cost airlines, hotels, cruises, car rental, dynamic packages, holiday packages and travel insurance. Opodo promotes hotels in West Bank Israeli settlements. A random earch on its website finds, among others, the Bed and breakfast Bikta BaKerem, located in an illegal outpost. Also,Opodo provides false information to travelers  that BaKarem is located inside the legal boundaries of  Israel, rather than an illegal outpost, that is even considered illegal under Israeli law.

Priceline Since 2005 Priceline has owned the Amsterdam based company Booking.com. Booking.com has over 1,000,000 properties globally under contract and deals with more than 900,000 room reservations each day. Booking.com falsely identifies  hotels located in settlements as being inside the legal UN recognized borders of  Israel. A random search on booking.com finds, among others, the Villa in Kokhav and Metzoke Dragot Hostel. Both of these are located in the West Bank settlements but identified by booking.com as being located as Israel.

TripAdvisor is a US online travel company that provides reviews of travel-related content. It also includes interactive travel forums. TripAdvisor promotes settlement hotels and censors travelers who complain about such complicity with illegal settlement activities. One traveler reported that they wrote a critical review on TripAdvisor about the Kalia Kibbutz Hotel, being listed as located in  Israel, when in fact it is located inside an Israeli settlement. The traveler reported that a few days later they received a letter from TripAdvisor, saying that the company would not publish their comments because the traveler had not complied with the website’s guidelines.

Conclusion
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights states that companies should “treat the risk of causing or contributing to gross human rights abuses as a legal compliance issue wherever they operate.” By selling settlement homes and advancing settlement tourism Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia, Opodo, Priceline and RE/MAX LLC, are directly advancing Israel’s settlement enterprise and preventing a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Since 1967, the UN has been clear to Israel that Israeli settlements are obstacles to peace and flagrant violations of international law. UN Security Council Resolution 2334 and US Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent speech illustrates how urgent the timing is for Israel to immediately and finally halt settlement construction.

It is imperative that companies reinforce this urgency and the illegality of settlements, rather than contribute to settlement proliferation. Until they cease doing business in Israeli settlements, RE/MAX LLC, Airbnb, Priceline, Expedia, Tripadvisor, and Opodo should be included in the UN database of companies complicit in specific activities that contribute to or help maintain the Israeli occupation.