Human Rights Watch has called on other tourism companies to follow Airbnb and boycott West Bank settlements, including Booking.com, even as settlers urged their supporters to protest such moves by visiting Judea and Samaria.
The popular global vacation site Airbnb said on Monday that it planned to drop its 200 listings in West Bank settlements ahead of a report by international left-wing NGO HRW.
“The decision by Airbnb to stop listing properties in unlawful Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is a positive step that other global tourism companies should follow,” HRW said on Tuesday.
Its report, “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements,” focused on listings both on Airbnb and Booking.com.
In response, Booking.com told HRW that it provided a platform to advertise the properties, which was not the same as supporting settlements.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin sharply attacked the decision, making an unusual statement in English to the media. He said he had written to Airbnb demanding it rescind its decision, and pledged to help residents of Judea and Samaria who were harmed as a result.
“We will encourage them and help them to pursue Airbnb in the US and in other places, in order that the company will pay for the racist decision [it] has taken, and apart from that we will restrict the ability of Airbnb to work here. If you have a policy of discrimination against Israelis, you cannot earn money in Israel. We will probably put a very high tax in Israel on the activities of Airbnb,” Levin said.
As of Tuesday night Airbnb had yet to remove its settlement listings.
Settlers urged their supporters to protest with their feet, and head to Judea and Samaria.
According to the Yesha Council deputy head, some three million tourists visit Area C of the West Bank annually, with some 40% coming from abroad.
The newly appointed Binyamin Regional Council head Israel Ganz published a video of himself in a vacation apartment in the outpost of Adei Ad, near the settlement of Shiloh.
“Don’t boycott, invite,” Ganz said. “How fun it is to be here!” he exclaimed as he jumped on a guest bed, next to a jacuzzi. “There are people who do not want you to see what there is here,” he said as he walked out to the back porch with its view of the hills.
“If you oppose racism and you want to enjoy a vacation, this is the place,” Ganz said.
To the people of Airbnb, he added, “We’re not going anywhere.”
David and Tehila Adler from the Revava settlement said they were certain that people would continue to come in spite of Airbnb’s decision.
Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan said that tourism had increased in Samaria in the past five years by 200%.
His spokeswoman Esther Alush filmed a number of tourists in the Samaria Region, including a Dutch couple, Richard and Wilma, who said they had no issue with visiting the West Bank.
Richard said this is the first time they used Airbnb so they could stay in the Har Bracha settlement.
“We want to stay in homes of Jewish people to see how life is here. We find it important to see it with our own eyes. We think that Airbnb has to support this, because this is a part of Israel. It is not occupied,” Richard said. The Adlers said they were certain that people would continue to visit despite Airbnb’s decision.