Israel to turn to U.S. government over Airbnb removal of settlement listings

Moria Shapira Airbnb's apartment owner outside her apartment in Adei Ad outpost north of the Palestinian village of al-Mughayyir near the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah on November 20 2018. Airbnb said that it will remove such listings from its web

The decision comes two years after +972 and Local Call revealed that the San Francisco-based vacation rentals company included apartments, cottages, and caravans located on West Bank hilltops, while making no mention of the fact that they are in settlements on occupied land.

The property group announced today that it made the decision because settlements were "at the core" of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.

Human Rights Watch said the Airbnb move came on the eve of its publication of a 65-page report it has carried out into tourist rental listings in settlements, including by Airbnb.

Users have been angered because many settlement properties are listed as being in "Israel", and pro-Palestinian groups have pushed the U.S-based company on discrimination grounds, noting that the homes are "off-limits" to Palestinian users.

Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin immediately demanded that Airbnb cancel its "discriminatory decision to remove from its site listings in Judea and Samaria". It was not clear what this would mean.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.

Ideologically driven Jewish nationalists who claim all of historic Palestine have since created outposts there, pushing out Palestinian residents.

Palestinians and the worldwide community view the settlements on occupied land as an obstacle to an enduring peace in the region.

Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan called on Airbnb hosts affected by the decision to file lawsuits against the company in accordance with Israel's anti-boycott law, Haaretz said.

A road sign points towards an airbnb apartment located in the Esh Kodesh outpost near the Jewish settlement of Shilo and the Palestinian village of Qusra in the occupied West Bank
A road sign points towards an Airbnb apartment located in the Esh Kodesh outpost on the occupied West Bank

The response from Israel has been one of strong condemnation.

"National conflicts exist all over the world", said Erdan, whose duties include combating the BDS movement, for boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Around the world, human rights defenders praised the work of grassroots activists that led to Airbnb's decision. According to Airbnb's website, these restrictions were made "to comply with worldwide regulations that restrict the use of our site by residents of certain countries" and are not related to the company's newly announced "disputed region" policy.

Saeb Erekat, the PLO's secretary general, said Airbnb's decision was "an initial positive step".

Israel strongly denounced Airbnb's decision and threatened legal action against the company, while Palestinian officials welcomed it.

The boycott movement, which calls for sanctions against settlement products and companies doing business in the West Bank, has made inroads in recent years, helping to tarnish Israel's global image and prompting it to take retaliatory measures.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said that he would speak with US officials and find out whether Airbnb has violated American laws against Israeli boycotts.

Moreover, Airbnb still allows for listings in other disputed territories, including some where inhabitants have been subjected to ethnic cleansing.

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