'You can’t boycott the Bible,' say settlers on Airbnb controversy

The Palestinian Authority has asked Airbnb to remove from its site Israeli listings over the Green Line, in Jewish neighborhoods, east Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.

Airbnb listings of homes in the West Bank (photo credit: Courtesy)
Airbnb listings of homes in the West Bank
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A Jewish, a Christian and a Muslim family slept in the same building, is not the opening line to a joke.
It’s Shalom Tal’s description of what happened after he rented two guest suites of his West Bank home in the Kfar Adumim settlement to Israeli and foreign tourists though Airbnb.
So he and his wife, Drorit, were surprised this month to discover that their home, located close to Jericho and between Jerusalem and the Dead Sea, was the topic of controversy.
The Palestinian Authority has asked Airbnb to remove Israeli listings over the Green Line, in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem and in West Bank settlements from its site.
To date, Airbnb, which boasts that it helps people rent vacation rooms or apartments in 190 different countries, has not complied or responded.
The site allows those who post their apartments to self describe their location. It shows a corresponding map. Those who know something of the region, can discern the Green Line and see where the properties are located.
There are more than 300 properties that are listed as being part of Israel, including settlements in Judea and Samaria. There are also more than 80 in the Palestinian territories, including Gaza.
Shalom and Drorit are among a number of Kfar Adumim residents who capitalize on their desert location.
They have used Airbnb for close to two years, hosting people from the United States, Europe and Israel.
“It’s an ideal place for people who are touring with a car,” Drorit said. “These are people who want to enjoy both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea area including Masada.”
Mostly they are returning tourists or Israelis who already know something about the area, she said.
Those who come from Europe tend to be Protestants who want to visit Qasr el-Yahud, Jesus’s baptismal site in the nearby Jordan River, or they are en route to the Sea of Galilee.
“People come here because we are Israeli,” she said.
That includes Muslims, particularly Druse from the area of Majdal Shams on the Golan Heights, Shalom said.
“Our doors are open to everyone,” he said.
Last week, PLO Secretary- General Saeb Erekat sent a letter to Brian Chesky, a co-founder and CEO of Airbnb, a website for people to list, find and rent lodging.
The letter complained about Airbnb’s promotion of apartments in settlements.
In his letter, he expressed outrage over the advertisements published by company through its branches around the world.
“We were shocked that the advertisements of your firm were not only limited to promoting one or two settlements in the West Bank,” he wrote.
“The large number of these advertisements regarding illegal settlements in occupied Palestine is a clear sign of what you seek to achieve and is not the result of an inadvertent error on your part.”
Erekat said in his letter that the “Israeli industrial settlement bloc was the essence of illegal settlement in Palestine and constitutes a grave violation of international law, specifically the fourth Geneva Treaty and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”
He said that by encouraging the advertisements through the website, Airbnb was “consolidating illegal Israeli colonialism of the land of Palestine by force.”
He said that “as a company that boasts of its 190 branches worldwide, Airbnb bears legal and moral responsibility to provide credible, legal and safe services to its clients in accordance with international laws and regulations.”
He demanded that Airbnb halt its operations in “illegal Israeli settlements immediately.”
Airbnb provided The Jerusalem Post with a vague explanation of its policy.
It said, “We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings. We also encourage guests to communicate with their host about their listing long before a trip begins. Discrimination has no place on our platform and we investigate any claims we receive.”
Miri Maoz-Ovadia, a spokeswoman for the Binyamin Regional Council said that hundreds of Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria rent out rooms or homes to tourists, including those who use the Airbnb platform.
The drive to remove people from these websites is unfortunate and counter productive, she said.
“Platforms of this type should not go into politics. If they start, there will be no end to it,” she said, adding that there are many territorial conflicts in which homes could be listed in many ways. “Should we be listed as Israel? Of course we should. This is the Land of Israel and that is why people are coming here.”
Many tourists, she added, come to see the biblical sites, such as Shiloh where the Tabernacle was once based.
“Shiloh is Shiloh and there is no way to change it,” Moaz-Ovadia said. “You can not change the fact that this is where Jewish history happened. You can not boycott the Bible.”