Palestinians challenge US lawsuit against Airbnb settlement policy

Palestinians challenge US lawsuit against Airbnb settlement policy

Motion to intervene in settlers’ legal action against vacation rental giant asserts that Palestinians, not Israelis, are subject to discrimination in West Bank

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

In this photo from January 17, 2016, Moshe Gordon sits outside his guest house advertised on the Airbnb international home-sharing site in Nofei Prat settlement in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)
In this photo from January 17, 2016, Moshe Gordon sits outside his guest house advertised on the Airbnb international home-sharing site in Nofei Prat settlement in the West Bank. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, File)

A pair of Palestinian local municipalities in the West Bank have filed a motion to intervene in a US lawsuit against Airbnb.

The motion is directed at the group of 18 American Jews and American-Israelis who filed the original lawsuit at a Federal court in Delaware last November, arguing that the vacation rental company’s new policy barring listings in Israeli settlements is discriminatory.

The Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive NGO that filed the motion Monday on behalf of two Palestinian-Americans along with the central West Bank localities of Anata and Jalud, wishes to bring counterclaims against the plaintiffs suing Airbnb, some of whom are settlers living on land that Palestinians assert belongs to them.

Thee plaintiffs in the November Silber et al v. Airbnb Inc. lawsuit said they own or wish to lodge at settlement homes affected by the vacation rental giant’s decision. They argued that Airbnb’s policy change violates the Fair Housing Act by redlining Jewish-owned properties while continuing to allow Muslim and Christian homeowners in the rest of the West Bank to rent out theirs.

Rights group Amnesty stage a demonstration outside the UK headquarters of US travel company Tripadvisor in London on January 30, 2019. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP)

For its part, Airbnb released a statement shortly after the lawsuit against it was filed, downplaying its significance. “We don’t believe this lawsuit will succeed in court, but we know that people will disagree with our decision and appreciate their perspective,” the company said.

However, the Center for Constitutional Rights argues that some of the homes listed on Airbnb are located on land that belongs to their clients, who as Palestinians are barred from entering settlements without special permits that are almost exclusively granted to those working — not lodging — in those Jewish communities.

Since Israel gained control of the West Bank in 1967, the Israel Defense Forces has expropriated parcels of Palestinian land for what it has argued are security purposes. Those land seizures have affected the villages of Anata and Jalud, represented in the Monday motion, as well as the neighboring town of Ein Yabroud, where another Center for Constitutional Rights client is from.

In its motion to intervene, the Center for Constitutional Rights asserts the property rights and legal interests of its Palestinian clients in the lawsuit against Airbnb. In addition, the left-wing organization argues that “as the settlements are both unlawful and inherently discriminatory, the (Jewish-American and Israeli-American) plaintiffs are in effect claiming that Airbnb is discriminating against settlers’ ability to dispossess Palestinians and exclude them from their own land.”

The motion also seeks to submit counterclaims against the 11 Israeli settlers who filed the lawsuit against Airbnb for their “unlawful trespass and occupation of this land, for their displacement and persecution of Palestinians, and for the discriminatory advertising of these properties through platforms like Airbnb.”

A picture taken on January 15, 2017 shows the security barrier separating the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev (foreground) from Palestinian neighborhood of Anata (background). (AFP Photo/Ahmad Gharabli)

The Center for Constitutional Rights claims the motion is the first time Palestinians are directly challenging Israeli settlers in a US court.

The District of Delaware court is expected to respond to the motion in the coming weeks.

Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg & Ellers, the law firm representing the group of Jewish American and American-Israeli plaintiffs, did not respond to a request for comment on the Palestinian motion to intervene in the case.

Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal and an impediment to the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Israel says the fate of the settlements must be resolved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Airbnb announced on November 19 that it would remove the listings of some 200 listings in the settlements, but not in Palestinian communities. The decision infuriated the Israeli government, whose ministers accused the company of joining forces with the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement — a charge that Airbnb has refuted. The vacation rental said it consulted with experts to learn about the historical disputes in the region to decide whether it should be doing business in “the occupied territories.”

Airbnb operates in 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities. It announced in January that it would delist two contested Russian-backed autonomous areas in the republic of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abhkazia.

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