The online travel agency Booking.com said Monday that it plans to add warnings to listings in the West Bank, becoming the latest international company to wade into one of the world’s most contentious debates.
Booking.com said it would caution customers booking accommodations in Israeli settlements that they were traveling to a “disputed, conflict-affected or high-risk” area that “may pose greater risks.”
The company told The Associated Press that it was still working on the language of the safety warning for the West Bank and a few other regions around the world. It did not say when the alert would take effect.
The move would come as violence rises in the West Bank, with raids by Israeli forces in cities and villages leaving at least 85 Palestinians dead so far this year. On Monday, the Israeli army said a vehicle came under fire as it passed by a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank. No injuries were reported.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment but Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov blasted the move in a tweet.
“It is unacceptable for a business company to determine for us what is considered the territory of the State of Israel and what is not,” he said, accusing Booking.com of infusing “political considerations” into its decision-making.
Razvozov said he requested an urgent meeting of officials in his office to determine necessary steps in light of the decision, including ones to protect tourism in Israeli settlements.
While the government has extended its sovereignty to Israeli citizens living beyond the Green Line, it has yet to make a definitive decision regarding the status of the territory, which it recognizes is disputed. In 2020, then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to annex large parts of the West Bank, including Israel’s settlements, but he shelved the globally-condemned plan in exchange for an agreement from the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations with the Jewish state.
Most of the international community considers the settlements, built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War, to be a violation of international law. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem. The Palestinians seek these lands as parts of a future independent state.
Online travel companies like Airbnb and Booking.com have long faced pressure from Palestinian officials, activists, and human rights groups to end their listings there.
But they risk Israeli fury if they do. Israel and its supporters have accused those who support anti-Israel boycotts, including products made in the settlements, of antisemitism. Airbnb scrapped its plan to bar listings in the settlements in 2019 after lawsuits were filed against it in the United States and Israel.
Similar controversy has engulfed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont company set off an outcry in Israel by saying that it would stop selling its products in the “occupied territories” last year.
A recent deal would see Ben & Jerry’s ice cream remain on shelves in the territories, after parent company Unilever sold the brand’s Israeli business to a local licensee. However, the ice cream maker is still seeking to block the agreement.
Booking.com’s announcement did not directly question the legitimacy or legality of the settlements, and instead focused on safety. To some Israelis, the disclaimer showed that Israel’s pressure paid off.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the US, welcomed the travel warning as a decision to “recognize the reality of the occupation and human rights abuses,” calling on more foreign corporations to do the same.
Booking.com said its safety banner for the West Bank would resemble those currently shown for accommodations in Ukraine or Cyprus. The site’s warning for Ukraine cautions travelers of “an increased risk to customers’ safety in this location” and urges them to “review travel guidelines for this area provided by your government.”
The company declined to say whether the warning would also apply to Palestinian properties in the West Bank, such as in the cities of Hebron or Ramallah.