Caving to pressure from Israeli government officials, settlers and US politicians, Airbnb has announced on Tuesday it is reversing its decision to de-list rental properties in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land.
Amnesty International called Airbnb’s U-turn a “reprehensible and cowardly move that will be another devastating blow for the human rights of Palestinians.”
Airbnb announced last November it was dropping nearly 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, acknowledging that this was the result of years of steady campaigning by human rights activists.
All Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, are illegal under international law.
Since then the vacation rental company has faced heavy pressure by Israeli and US officials who claimed that the move was “discriminatory” against Israeli settlers.
The governments of Florida and Texas directed all state contractors to cease doing business with Airbnb in retaliation for its decision to respect international law.
Palestinians who live under occupation and confinement in the West Bank – or elsewhere in exile – cannot rent Airbnb properties in nearby Israeli settlements. Under Israel’s legalized discriminatory system, Israel bars Palestinians from accessing the areas merely because they are not Jewish.
In January, Airbnb appeared to reiterate its decision to remove the settlement listings.
But Israeli settlers – who rent out properties on land stolen from Palestinians – had filed a suit against Airbnb, claiming discriminaton under the Fair Housing Act.
The US law protects people against discrimnination on the basis of race, religion and national origin when buying or renting a home.
It obviously was not applied to Palestinians whose land the settlers illegally occupy and profit off.
The Center for Constitutional Rights recently filed a countersuit against the settlers on behalf of two Palestinians in the United States for profiting from property stolen from their families in the occupied West Bank, by listing them on Airbnb.
CCR slammed Airbnb’s decision to cave “to the legal bullying of Israeli settlers,” calling it an “alarming lack of commitment to human rights.”
“When we filed counterclaims on behalf of the Palestinians who actually own the land the listed properties unlawfully sit on, we laid out the international and domestic law violations committed by the settlers, including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” the group stated on Tuesday.
“In backing down from its decision not to list properties in occupied Palestinian territory, Airbnb is in breach of its international human rights obligations, and is discriminating against Palestinians,” CCR added.
Airbnb absolves itself
In its announcement this week, Airbnb said it would not take any profit from the settlement listings but would instead donate the money to unnamed not-for-profit organizations “dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.”
But Amnesty International’s researcher on business and human rights remarked that Airbnb was merely attempting to absolve itself from scrutiny and responsibility over its complicity in human rights violations.
The move “fails to change the fact that by continuing to drive tourism to illegal settlements they are helping to boost the settlement economy,” Mark Dummett stated.
“In doing so, they are directly contributing to the maintenance and expansion of illegal settlements, a breach of the Geneva Conventions and a war crime under [the] Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” Dummett added.
Airbnb has already been warned by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights that it could be included in an as yet unpublished database of firms doing business with Israeli settlements.
“Airbnb had a clear opportunity to make the right decision to uphold human rights and use their influence to set a precedent in the tourism industry,” Amnesty’s Dummett said. “Instead, they have chosen to bury their heads in the sand – ignoring blatant evidence that they are helping to fuel violations that cause immense suffering to Palestinians.”
He noted that Airbnb’s reversal “demonstrates why we can’t just rely on companies to take the right decisions,” adding that governments must make sure corporations respect international law and human rights.
Going back to organizing
Human rights activists say that they will ramp up organizing against Airbnb, continuing their #StolenHomes campaign.
The coalition of groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, CODEPINK, American Muslims for Palestine, SumOfUs and the US Palestinian Community Network has held actions at the Airbnb headquarters and created a petition signed by more than 150,000 people from around the world, urging the company to de-list settlement rentals.
“If Airbnb wants to continue to allow rental suites on the ruins of Palestinian lives and land then they will continue to get pressured to do the right thing,” Granate Kim of Jewish Voice for Peace said.