Amnesty International has renewed calls on travel booking websites to ban listings in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
On 30 January, Amnesty International’s Destination: Occupation report revealed online travel booking giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are sustaining tourism to illegal Israeli settlements built on OPT.
Six months later, in spite of international calls to delist properties in Israeli settlements and continued pressure by the humanitarian organisation, Amnesty International’s campaigner for Israel and OPT, Laith Abu Zeyad, said the four companies continue to list accommodation and attractions in the OPT.
“They are promoting these listings, and profiting from them, despite knowing that Israeli settlements in the OPT are illegal under international law and are at the root of a system of institutionalised discrimination and human rights violations suffered by Palestinian communities,” Abu Zeyad told Travel Weekly.
“Their operations in illegal Israeli settlements contribute to and profit from, the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements, which amount to war crimes under international law.”
In its latest call-out, Amnesty International is urging TripAdvisor specifically – the second most visited website (after Google) reviewed by foreign tourists arriving in Israel – to ban listings in OPT. Amnesty has also urged TripAdvisor’s employees to speak out.
“By promoting tourism in these illegal settlements, TripAdvisor is boosting their economy, helping them to expand and contributing to the mass suffering they have caused,” Amnesty said in an open letter to TripAdvisor employees on 10 July.
More than 130 thousand people have signed a petition by Amnesty International urging TripAdvisor to remove its listings in Israeli settlements, according to Abu Zeyad.
TripAdvisor described Amnesty’s allegations as “disappointing rhetoric” and said that it had “inappropriately” conflated business listings by supporting one party over another within an “international dispute”.
The company said it does not remove listings or businesses that remain active and open for business, and believes travellers using the platform should be able to see all “relevant” information about a destination.
“TripAdvisor’s aim is to provide travellers with an apolitical, accurate and useful picture of all travel and hospitality businesses that are open for business, anywhere in the world,” a company spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
“[I]n our role as an information platform, a listing does not constitute an endorsement of a nation’s policies or an endorsement of that business … Our goal is to provide our users with information about these businesses good or bad, so they can make up their own decisions when travelling.
“Amnesty’s accusations are disappointing rhetoric from an organisation that so nobly supports the cause of human rights, rhetoric that we believe threatens to censor the availability of information on the Internet,” a TripAdvisor spokesperson told Travel Weekly.
This isn’t the first time the company has been on the receiving end of accusations of negligence when it comes to how it handles sensitive situations. TripAdvisor was recently criticised for not doing enough to protect traveller safety, following allegations of travellers being raped in hotels that remained listed on TripAdvisor.
TripAdvisor responded to Travel Weekly at the time that: “We believe we play an important role in making sure we provide consumers with useful information. As such, we continue to iterate on new and better ways to make health and safety information more visible and available to better serve our global community.”
After multiple media reports, some 700,000 signatures on a petition from a rape survivor and multiple calls from the public to address the matter, TripAdvisor introduced a safety review filter, allowing travellers to see critical safety information about listings on the site.
TripAdvisor’s president of core experiences, Lindsay Nelson, said at the time that the introduction of this safety review filter was just the start of the company’s commitment to elevating safety information.
So far, Abu Zeyad believes TripAdvisor’s responses to Amnesty International appear to suggest the company has no responsibility to stop advertising activities in or with Israeli settlements or other listings that violate international law.
Amnesty International has urged that it is not calling for a boycott of Israel.
“We want online booking companies to stop pumping money into an enterprise which causes terrible suffering to Palestinians, and violates international law,” it said.
Amnesty International estimates there are some 250 Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, ranging from tiny villages to large towns. Under international law these settlements, established on land occupied by a foreign power, are illegal.
Travel Weekly has contacted Booking.com and Expedia for comment.
In April, Travel Weekly reported that Airbnb would delist some 200 listings in Israeli settlements in a show of solidarity to Palestinians displaced from OPT.
But, after a suit in a Jerusalem District Court and two in a US federal court were raised against the company, it backflipped on its decision and did not move forward with the removals.
Following this, Airbnb said it would not profit from properties in the region and announced it would donate money raised by any host activity in the West Bank to humanitarian aid.
“Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform,” it said. “We have always sought to bring people together and will continue to work with our community to achieve this goal.”
The Human Rights Watch said that Airbnb’s stance showed the company is “complicit in the abuses settlements trigger”.