Amnesty International on Tuesday urged a boycott of tourism in Israel’s West Bank settlements and singled out digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, saying they were profiting from “war crimes” by offering services there.
Israeli ministers quickly condemned what they termed an “anti-Semitic” demand by Amnesty, with one castigating an “outrageous attempt to distort the facts, deny Jewish heritage and delegitimize Israel.”
The British-based NGO’s “Destination: Occupation” study called on the companies to stop listing tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
“They are doing so despite knowing that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is governed by international humanitarian law under which Israeli settlements are deemed illegal,” said the report.
“In doing business with settlements, all four companies are contributing to, and profiting from, the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal settlements, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law.”
Israel captured the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War. Today, more than 400,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank. Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel sees the territory as disputed and says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, and considers the whole city the undivided capital of the Jewish state. The Palestinians claim the eastern part as the capital of a future state.
The rights group accused the firms of “normalizing” settlements.
“To boost bookings, many listings in settlements boast of their proximity to areas of natural beauty in the occupied territories, such as the Dead Sea, nature reserves and the desert,” it added.
“By listing and promoting these natural features and nature-based activities and attractions the digital companies are increasing the attractiveness of the listings, securing greater numbers of tourists and ultimately benefiting financially from the illegal exploitation of Palestinian natural resources,” it said.
Airbnb announced in November that it would delist 200 properties and cease its operations in Israeli settlements “that are at the core of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Last week, the vacation rental company delisted properties in South Ossetia and Abhkazia, two contested autonomous areas in the republic of Georgia.
Amnesty said that TripAdvisor “is the main focus of this campaign because of the company’s relative importance to the tourism industry in Israeli settlements.”
There was no immediate comment from the companies.
Amnesty launched a campaign in 2017 calling on governments to prevent businesses based in their countries from operating in settlements.
“Governments worldwide must take action to regulate companies or activities over which they have control,” urged the report.
The campaign launched on its website was accompanied by a parody-style travel clip narrated by a Palestinian and showing scenes from the Dead Sea, Jerusalem and holy sites as well as clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
“Learn how to fight with Israeli army soldiers in illegal settlements on the occupied West Bank,” the video narrator says.
Israeli officials were quick to condemn the Amnesty report.
“Amnesty has become a leader in the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, and tonight’s report on Israel is an outrageous attempt to distort the facts, deny Jewish heritage and delegitimize Israel,” Strategic Affairs and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said in a tweet.
Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin said he regretted that Amnesty chose a “classic anti-Semitic template.”
“Amnesty decided to engage in denial of the historical truth and to act against Jewish heritage sites,” Elkin told Hadashot TV news.
“The last time we saw intentional activity against these heritage sites was the activity of Da’esh in Syria,” he said referring to the Islamic State by its Arabic name.
The Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor blasted the Amnesty campaign, calling it “pure hatred and bigotry reminiscent of some of the darkest periods of the past.”
The @amnesty campaign solely targets these companies working in #Israel and ignores their activity in every other conflict area/disputed territory throughout the world. #China? fine. #Syria? No problem. #Israel? #NoJewsAllowed 2/8
— NGO Monitor (@ngomonitor) January 29, 2019