Airbnb may be the next high-profile target of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, following media reports this week that the online accommodation service includes listings from settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are advertised as being in Israel.
Anyone staying in an Airbnb-listed settlement property “facilitates the commission of the crime of establishing settlements and therefore aids and abets the crime,” said John Dugard, professor of international law, and a former Special Rapporteur to the UN on Palestine.
“The same applies to making money from property built on illegal settlements.” Airbnb takes a commission on property rentals, and so is profiting from Israel’s colonisation of Palestine.
Hosts who list properties via the company are required to provide accurate locations. As such, stating that settlements are located in Israel – when they are in fact illegal under international law because they are built on occupied territory – is a violation of the company’s terms.
Airbnb not answering the question
Palestinian officials have pledged to take action, though it is as yet unclear what this will entail. On Tuesday, BDS cofounder Omar Barghouti told Al Jazeera that the movement was “still deliberating on the best course of action.”
Airbnb has been tight-lipped about the issue. Its spokesman Nick Papas said: “We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business, and investigate concerns raised about specific listings.”
Given the determination and growing successes of the BDS movement, Airbnb would be wrong to hope that this will put people off complaining.
However, he did not answer questions over which laws and regulations the company considers itself bound by. Papas’s response suggests an inadequate investigations procedure regarding this issue, which may entail a cumbersome, endless process of individual complaints about specific properties.
Given the determination and growing successes of the BDS movement, Airbnb would be wrong to hope that this will put people off complaining. Instead, it should investigate settlement listings in general – this is not only more equitable, but far less hassle for the company than countless individual probes.
However, it is not enough, as some are suggesting, for Airbnb to simply stop settlement listings as being described as located in Israel. If settlers choose, or the company opts, for their properties to be listed as in the West Bank, for example, this could confuse people as to whether they will be staying in a settlement or a Palestinian property. This could potentially have major legal, security and political consequences.
More fundamentally, however, continuing to list settlement properties – even if they are not allowed to be described as in Israel – still means that Airbnb will not only be doing business with, but promoting an illegal, military colonial enterprise and apartheid system that is systematically robbing Palestinians of their national and individual rights.
Listing settlement properties serves to facilitate a campaign launched in 2011 by settler councils to try to boost the number of visitors to settlements.
Airbnb is legally obliged
The situation is akin to the EU’s decision in November to label some – not all – settlement products as coming from settlements rather than from Israel. This does not go far enough. The EU should not be trading with settlements at all, and Airbnb should refuse to list their properties.
Simply providing greater clarity on settlement products and accommodation will make it easier for those who want to support the colonisation of Palestine. It certainly does not send a strong enough message to Israel that it cannot continue its settlement enterprise without consequence.
Barghouti said Airbnb “is not only legally obliged to immediately exclude all Israeli settlements from its offerings, since Israeli settlements constitute war crimes under international law.
“It also makes the most business sense for it to do so, as much larger corporations – of the calibre of Orange, Veolia and CRH – have been eventually compelled by BDS campaigning to end their complicity in Israel’s human rights violations after losing massive contracts.”
Dugard says Airbnb “could in theory be prosecuted” in an EU country “with aiding and abetting the commission of a crime” due to “making money from property built on an illegal settlement”.
Whatever courses of action are taken, it is clear that it can no longer be business as usual for Airbnb. Besides the moral bankruptcy of aiding, abetting and profiting from the illegal colonisation of Palestine, the company will soon have to decide whether the price it will pay for continuing to do so is worth it.
It is incumbent on supporters of the Palestinian cause specifically, and of human rights in general, to raise that price as high as possible.
Airbnb describes itself as a “trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world”. However, it cannot be trusted as long as those “unique” accommodations include stolen properties, or those forcibly supplanted on another people’s land.
Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.