Trip Advisor… is hiding a terrible secret

Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com accused of turning ‘war crimes into a tourist attraction’ with hundreds of listings in settlements

Airbnb still offering holidays in settlements despite recent pledge to pull out

‘Tourists coming here are brainwashed, they are lied to’ – Palestinian farmer

Online tourism giants Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com are fuelling human rights violations against Palestinians by listing hundreds of rooms and activities in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, Amnesty International said today.

Israel’s settling of hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians in the Palestinian territories violates international humanitarian law and is a war crime. Despite this, online booking companies are operating in the settlements and profiting from their illegality.

In its 96-page report, ‘Destination: Occupation’, Amnesty shows how online booking companies are driving tourism to illegal Israeli settlements and actually contributing to their existence and expansion.

The four companies highlighted by Amnesty have numerous listings in settlements located in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), including in East Jerusalem. At the time of writing these comprised:

*US-based Airbnb – lists more than 300 listings of properties in settlements in the OPT
*US-based TripAdvisor – lists more than 70 different attractions, tours, restaurants, cafés, hotels and rental apartments in settlements in the OPT
*US-based Expedia – lists nine accommodation providers, including four large hotels, in settlements in the OPT
*Booking.com, headquartered in the Netherlands – lists 45 hotels and rentals in settlements in the OPT

Last year, Amnesty visited four Palestinian villages close to Israeli settlements, as well as the Silwan neighbourhood of East Jerusalem and a Palestinian community in Hebron. All these are locations close to lucrative tourist attractions run by settlers. Amnesty found that Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com not only play a significant role in driving tourism to the illegal settlements, they also mislead their customers by failing to consistently indicate when listings are located in Israeli settlements.

“Tourists coming here are brainwashed, they are lied to, they do not know this is our land”, said a Palestinian farmer living next to Shiloh settlement, where the Israeli government is funding a large visitor centre to draw tourists to an archaeological site.

The two Palestinian villages next to Shiloh have lost more than 55 square-kilometres of land since the late 1990s. Many people have moved away, and those remaining say they’re frequently attacked by armed settlers. Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor all feature listings in Shiloh, but only Booking.com indicates that it’s located inside an Israeli settlement.

In recent years, the Israeli government has invested heavily in the tourism industry in settlements. It uses the designation of certain locations as tourist sites to justify the takeover of Palestinian land and homes, and often deliberately constructs settlements next to archaeological sites to emphasise the Jewish people’s historic connections to the region. Amnesty’s report highlights how the Israeli government allows and encourages settlers to exploit land and natural resources that belong to Palestinians – and how Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com also benefit from this exploitation.

In November, Airbnb said it would remove its listings in settlements in the West Bank, following investigations by Al Jazeera and Human Rights Watch. However, it made no commitment over East Jerusalem (where it has more than 100 settlement listings) which is also occupied territory. Amnesty is calling on Airbnb to implement what it announced and also de-list in East Jerusalem. It is calling on TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com to remove all their listings in the OPT.

Under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, companies have a responsibility to respect international humanitarian and human rights law wherever they operate in the world. Until they remove listings in the settlements, these four companies are in breach of these responsibilities, as well as their own corporate standards.

Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s Director of Global Thematic Issues, said:

“Israel’s unlawful seizure of Palestinian land and expansion of settlements perpetuates immense suffering, pushing Palestinians out of their homes, destroying their livelihoods and depriving them of basics like drinking water.

“Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor model themselves on the idea of sharing and mutual trust, yet they are contributing to these human rights violations by doing business in the settlements.

“It’s time for these companies to stand up for human rights by withdrawing all of their listings in illegal settlements on occupied land. War crimes are not a tourist attraction.”

Kfar Adumim settlement v Khan al-Ahmar Bedouin village

Amnesty has documented the stark contrast between the tourist experiences on offer in the settlements and the human rights violations inflicted daily on Palestinians in the same areas.

Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and Booking.com all provide listings for holiday rentals and desert camping “experiences” run by settlers in or near Kfar Adumim settlement, a growing tourism hub. “Desert Camping Israel”, promoted by Airbnb, Booking.com and Expedia, invites prospective guests to pay up to £180 a night to “experience the tranquillity of the desert and get a taste of warm Israeli hospitality”. TripAdvisor also lists a national park, a museum, a desert tour and a Bible-themed attraction on land near Kfar Adumim.

Meanwhile, some 180 residents of Khan al-Ahmar, a Bedouin village approximately a mile from the Kfar Adumim settlement, are at risk of being forcibly evicted by the Israeli army to make way for Kfar Adumim’s expansion as well as other settlements in the area. The Israeli authorities have offered the villagers a “choice” of two possible destinations: a site close to the former Jerusalem municipal garbage dump, near the village of Abu Dis; or a site next to a sewage plant near the city of Jericho.

Such forcible transfers of people in occupied territory constitute war crimes. Notwithstanding, Israel’s Supreme Court recently ruled that Israeli forces could demolish Khan al-Ahmar.

Susya settlement v Khirbet Susiya Palestinian village

In Khirbet Susiya village, Palestinian residents are living in temporary shelters after being forcibly evicted from much of the area to make way for the expansion of the neighbouring Susya settlement. The Israeli authorities have blocked the village’s water cisterns and wells, and in 2015 the UN estimated that a third of villagers’ income was spent paying for water. Susya is built around the ruins of an archaeological site, which at the time of writing was featured on both Airbnb and TripAdvisor sites, along with photographs of places travellers could visit – including the ruins, an olive grove, a winery and a vineyard, as well as a large swimming pool in the settlement.

Other businesses

It is not just the tourism industry that is profiting from, and contributing to, illegal settlements. Hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of goods produced in Israeli settlements are exported internationally each year, despite the fact that most countries around the world have officially condemned the settlements as illegal under international law.

As well as calling on individual companies to stop doing business in and with the settlements, Amnesty is calling on governments to make this mandatory through regulation, and to introduce laws prohibiting the import of settlement goods. The Irish Parliament is currently in the process of approving a landmark bill which would prohibit trade in goods and services with settlements, and Amnesty is calling on other countries to do likewise.

Company’s responses

Prior to publication, Amnesty wrote to the four companies and provided each with an opportunity to respond to the report’s findings. Booking.com and Expedia provided responses, but Airbnb and TripAdvisor did not. Amnesty reviewed the responses in detail and took appropriate account of information provided in updating its findings. Copies of the companies’ responses can be found in the annex to the Destination: Occupation report (see below).

Destination occupation online.pdf