LONDON: Digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are profiting from “war crimes” by offering services in Israeli settlements, rights group Amnesty International said in a report published yesterday. The London-based organization’s “Destination: Occupation” report called on the companies to stop listing tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in settlements in occupied territories, including 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.”
Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan threatened to bar Amnesty from access to the Jewish state over its charge. “The hypocritical Amnesty International speaks in the name of human rights and in practice promotes boycotts against Israeli citizens as part of the anti-Semitic boycott and delegitimization campaign,” Erdan said in a statement released Tuesday night. “I instructed the ministry of strategic affairs to examine the possibility of preventing Amnesty personnel from entering, or residing in, Israel, said Erdan who is also strategic affairs minister, charged with opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
He said that he had started to act well before the publication of Amnesty’s study. “A few weeks ago I asked the finance minister to end the tax benefits granted to the organization,” he said without giving details. Israel sees the BDS movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism – a claim activists deny, saying they want only to see an end to Israel’s occupation.
Amnesty International accused the online firms of “normalizing” settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. “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 said. “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.”
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,” said the report. In November, Airbnb announced it was removing from its rental listings settlement homes in the occupied West Bank. But it never said when the decision would go into force.
Israel passed legislation in March 2017 banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country or its settlements. In November of that year Erdan’s office denied entry to a US employee of Amnesty, with an interior ministry spokeswoman giving the grounds as “BDS”, without elaborating. About 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements often in confrontation with the territory’s 2.5 million Palestinians, in addition to 200,000 living in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem. Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and major roadblocks to peace, as they are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.
Meanwhile, Fashion designer Vivienne Westwood and Pink Floyd singer Roger Waters were among dozens of figures from Britain’s creative industries urging the BBC yesterday to oppose Israel hosting this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The 50-strong coalition, which also includes filmmaker Mike Leigh and author Yann Martel, said the broadcaster should “act on its principles” and call for the annual competition to be moved over Israel’s “systematic violation of Palestinian human rights”.
“The BBC is bound by its charter to ‘champion freedom of expression’,” the group stated in a letter published in The Guardian newspaper. “It should act on its principles and press for Eurovision to be relocated to a country where crimes against that freedom are not being committed.” The largely European song competition, which dates back to the 1950s, is typically held in May in the winning country from the previous year.
In 2018 that was Israel and its commercial capital Tel Aviv was chosen to host this year’s event. The creatives’ appeal was timed ahead of the BBC screening a domestic competition on Feb 8 to select the UK’s entry. “For any artist of conscience, this would be a dubious honor,” said the signatories, who also included musician Peter Gabriel alongside several architects and comedians. “When discrimination and exclusion are so deeply embedded, Eurovision 2019’s claim to celebrate diversity and inclusion must ring hollow. Much more in tune with ‘inclusivity’ is the outpouring of support across Europe for the Palestinian call for artists and broadcasters not to go to Tel Aviv,” it said.
A BBC spokeswoman said Eurovision “is not a political event and does not endorse any political message or campaign” and that the broadcaster had no role in choosing the host. “We do not believe it would be appropriate to use the BBC’s participation for political reasons,” she added, noting it would be taking part. The letter follows more than 60 LGBTQ organizations from nearly 20 countries across Europe and beyond on Tuesday urging its global communities to boycott this year’s contest. The signatories alleged Israel was using Eurovision “to distract attention from its war crimes against Palestinians”. – AFP