Profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine: Spotlight on Booking.com
This digital tourism company Booking.com supports and benefits from Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, as do three other digital tourism companies Airbnb, the Expedia Group, and Trip Advisor. All four companies are on the so-called ”UN-list”, the UN Database of companies having a strong negative impact on the human rights of Palestinians living in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) including East Jerusalem. The article below focuses on Booking.com.
- Palestinian Civil Society: Do no Harm! Palestinian Call for Ethical Tourism / Pilgrimage
- Digital Tourism Companies colluding with Israeli occupation
- Israel’s settlements are illegal and constitute a war crime
- Tourism contributes to the profitability of the illegal settlements>
- Five case studies
- Booking.com is a major partner for the settlements
- Investing in the occupation
- positive developments
- Take Action
Tourism is a vital pillar in Israel’s endeavour to normalize the apartheid system and occupation of Palestinian territory. Palestinian sites attracting many visitors such as in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron are located in territories occupied by Israel. Israelis, not Palestinians, reap the benefits from tourism to such sites, while visitors remain ignorant of the injustice being done to Palestinians. In its call “Do no harm!” in 2019, PACBI therefore called on tourists to avoid services and products offered by Israeli service providers, whether or not in collaboration with international (digital) companies.
The four digital tourism companies Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Airbnb and the Expedia Group bear a heavy responsibility for using Israeli services in occupied Palestinian territory including East Jerusalem, such as vacation homes and hotels in illegal settlements, and attractions in places from which Palestinian residents have been displaced. Travelers are usually not or hardly informed about this. Tourism to illegal settlements promotes their profitability and viability.
Who Profits and human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have published investigative reports on the practices of digital tourism companies, urging them to stop offering products and services associated with the illegal settlements. Amnesty considers Booking.com to be the main partner in tourism to the illegal settlements.
The report “Don’t Buy into Occupation” published in 2021 by a coalition of 26 civil society organizations pays special attention to financial flows to digital tourism companies, such as loans and investments. These should be subject to strict conditions.Booking.com’s parent company Booking Holdings is registered in the US. Its head office, however, is based in Amsterdam. As a Netherlands based organisation BDS Netherlands’ primary focus is on Booking.com
Palestinian Civil Society: Do no Harm! Palestinian Call for Ethical Tourism / Pilgrimage
In 2019 PACBI (the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) issued its call “Do no Harm! Palestinian Call for Ethical Tourism/Pilgrimage” . The statement asks international visitors, especially pilgrims, and people of conscience to “do no harm to our nonviolent struggle for our rights under international law by respecting our ethical guidelines”.
PACBI issues a reminder of the UN World Tourism Organisation statutes that it aims at “the promotion and development of tourism with a view to contributing to […] universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.
The statement reminds us of the escalating grave Israeli violations of Palestinian and Syrian rights and freedoms, the forcible displacement of Palestinians from their homes, and the entrenched apartheid through the adoption of the “Jewish nation-state law”. It points out that Israel’s tourism sector ”benefits from and drives Israel’s unlawful policies and practices in the occupied West Bank, including the confiscation of Palestinian land and exploitation of Palestinian natural resources, unlawful excavations at archeological sites…”, denying Palestinians their right to sovereignty over their own culture and heritage.
PACBI calls on visitors to avoid historical or religious sites in the OPT that are run by Israeli authorities or that are promoted as Israeli sites; to avoid all products and services provided by Israeli or international companies that are complicit with Israel’s human rights violations; and to pressure online tourist companies, such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Expedia and TripAdvisor to stop listing Palestinian homes unlawfully taken under Israel’s ‘Absentees’Property Law’
Digital Tourism Companies colluding with Israeli occupation
The four digital tourism companies Booking.com, Airbnb, the Expedia Group, and Trip Advisor were included in the UN database A/HRC/43/71 (the so-called “UN list”) listing business enterprises that have a strong negative impact on the human rights (political, economic, social, and cultural) of Palestinians in the oPt, including East Jerusalem, by promoting tourism to Israel’s illegal settlements.
Several Human Rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch together with Kerem Navot (“Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land”) and Amnesty International (“Destination: Occupation; Digital Tourism and Israel’s Illegal Settlements In the Occupied Palestinian Territories”) (2019) have described how digital tourism companies such as Booking.com can be seen as colluding with the Israeli occupation and benefitting from Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
Israel’s settlements are illegal and constitute a war crime
Amnesty International in its 2019 report describes digital tourism to illegal Israeli settlements in the oPt and its devastating impact on the lives of Palestinians living under occupation. The report explains the status of the Israeli settlements under international law as amounting to war crimes, for “as the occupier, Israel is forbidden from using state land and natural resources for purposes other than military or security needs or for the benefit of the local population. The unlawful appropriation of property by an occupying power amounts to “pillage”, which is prohibited by both the Hague Regulations and Fourth Geneva Convention and is a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and many national laws”. The sole purpose of the settlements is to permanently establish Jewish Israelis on occupied land.
Amnesty points to the duty of corporations such as Booking.com to respect human rights and to “avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities and address such impacts when they occur.”
Tourism contributes to the profitability of the illegal settlements
Amnesty’s report describes the role of businesses, involving both Israeli and foreign companies, in sustaining the illegal settlements, and quoting a UN report published in 2018, that tourism activities “ensure the sustainability of residential settlement communities” and “contribute to the profitability of the settlements”. The world’s leading digital tourism companies such as Booking.com not only play a significant role in driving tourism to illegal settlements, they also mislead their customers by failing to consistently indicate when listings are located in Israeli settlements.As far back as 2015 Palestine activist Mieke Zagt described to Electronic Intifada from her personal experience how Booking.com has been aiding Israel’s warcrimes. Searching for a place to stay while planning a trip to the Dead Sea she found the Kalia Kibbutz Hotel on the website of Booking.com.
“Rather than making a reservation, I drove to one of these hotels. Although the address given for the Kalia Kibbutz Hotel on Booking.com indicates that it is inside present-day Israel, the truth is quite different. It can “be found within Kalia, a settlement in the West Bank that is one of the main shareholders in the cosmetics company Ahava.”
In 2017 Mieke Zagt wrote in Electronic Intifada that the Kalia Kibbutz Hotel was listed as being ”in an Israeli settlement”.
“The change was more than likely made in response to European Union guidelines. It would not be clear to anyone unfamiliar with Middle East geography or politics that the hotel is situated on occupied Palestinian land. Booking.com does not elaborate on what exactly “located within an Israeli settlement” means. It does not specify that the settlement has been built in violation of international law. Unsuspecting tourists may simply think that the hotel is in an attractive location, a short drive from the Dead Sea.The photographs of manicured lawns and a spacious swimming pool would not alert prospective visitors that by reserving a room here, they would be entering the scene of a war crime.”
Five case studies
In five case studies Amnesty’s report describes how digital tourism companies are contributing to violations of the rights of specific Palestinian communities.
- The Palestinian bedouin community of Khan al-Ahmar lost access to grazing land, and has been under pressure for years to leave the area while inhabitants are threatened with the imminent demolition of their houses. Meanwhile, digital companies lure tourists to come and visit the camping site, or other listings in the nearby Kfar Adumim settlement, as well as a national park, museum, and Biblical theme attractions on land nearby. Palestinians’ rights to freely pursue their economic development , to use and enjoy their land, territories and resources, and to enjoy their means of subsistence, are jeopardized.
- In the Palestinian villages of Qaryut and Jalud residents have lost access to farmland and the main road leading to their homes. They often come under attack from settlers. Tourism companies list properties in the settlement of Shilo and surrounding settlements, while settlers from nearby Shiloh manage tourist attractions in the vicinity such as an archeological site and visitor attraction. Palestinians are leaving the village and many of them sold their lands and houses and moved out to Ramallah.
- In Khirbet Susya Israel forcibly evicted Palestinian residents to make way for a visitor attraction. The construction of the Susya settlement resulted in Palestinians losing access to farmland. Meanwhile digital tourism companies list a property and a winery in the settlement, as well as an archeological site run by settlers.
- Silwan is a Palestinian neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem. In an effort to “Judaize” East Jerusalem hundreds of Palestinians are threatened with forced eviction, while settlers exploit the City of David National Park, a popular tourist attraction that lies in Silwan, with TripAdvisor acting as a booking agent.
- In the Palestinian city of Hebron are several Israeli settlements, to which TripAdvisor lists a guided tour run by settlers. It also lists a museum run by settlers. Hebron’s settlements are the main driver of a wide range of human rights violations suffered by the Palestinian population of the city.
Booking.com is a major partner for the settlements
Amnesty International found that in 2018 Booking.com listed 45 accommodation providers in settlements, up from two in 2010. These were in East Jerusalem as well as 20 other locations across the West Bank. Most properties are rental apartments and homes. But Booking.com also listed 11 hotels, six of which have more than 50 rooms. Therefore, according to Amnesty International “Booking.com is likely to be responsible for more visitors to Israel’s illegal settlements than Airbnb and to make a greater contribution to settlement economies even though it lists fewer individual properties.” Booking.com even has a wholly owned Israeli subsidiary. This “support company”, with offices in Tel Aviv, has staff members who manage relations directly with accommodation providers in settlements.
Investing in the occupation
The 2021 “Don’t Buy Into Occupation”, a report commissioned by a coalition of 26 civil society organizations, exposes financial flows into illegal Israeli settlements. The report shows that 672 European financial institutions, including banks, asset managers, insurance companies and pension funds had financial relationships with 50 businesses that are actively involved with Israeli settlements. As of May 2021, European investors also held US$ 141 billion in shares and bonds in these companies.
The 50 companies are involved in one or more of the “listed activities that raise particular human rights concerns”, which constitute the basis for inclusion in the UN database of business enterprises that are involved in Israeli settlements, published in 2020.
The report focuses on three case studies: One European financial institution (BNP Paribas) and two multinationals domiciled in the EU (Booking Holding through Booking.com and Heidelberg Cement).
As for Booking.com, German, French and UK creditors provided the lion’s share of credits ($ 2,171 million) while the total top-20 of European investors provided $ 12,195 million in investments. Various Dutch financial companies als held shares and bonds in Booking Holdings, Booking.com’s parent company in the US: ING group, ABP, NN group, Aegon, PFZW, ABN Amro, and Van Lanschot Kempen, totalling 229 million Euro’s.
The Israel-Palestine conflict: Daily Life in Occupied Palestine
- To visitors: avoid historical or religious sites in the oPt includiing East Jerusalem that are run by Israeli authorities or that are promoted as Israeli sites; to avoid all products and services provided by Israeli or international companies that are complicit with Israel’s human rights violations;
- To enterprises/financial institutions/European Governments & Institutions: Adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, ensure that businesses do.
- Digital tourism companies such as Booking.com must adequately inform travellers to accommodations in Israel’s illegal settlements as to their location in occupied Palestininan territory, so that customers can make an informed decision. Above all, these companies must stop listing tourist accommodations, activities and attractions in settlements or run by settlers in the oPt, including East Jerusalem, and stop profiting from war crimes.
To (local) governments/NGO’s:
- pressure online tourist companies such as Booking.com, Airbnb, Expedia and TripAdvisor to stop listing Palestinian homes unlawfully taken under Israel’s ‘Absentees’ Property Law’
- review investments by pension funds and financial institutions and exert pressure for divestment.
- Booking.com excluded from Dutch trade mission: Dutch Trade Minister Sigrid Kaag excluded Booking.com from a 2019 trade mission to Israel, arguing that Booking.com had not indicated its willingness to adhere to the OECD Guidelines, see video clip.
- Airbnb announces removal of 200 listings in Israeli settlements On 19 November 2018 the privately owned US-based company announced that it would remove approximately 200 listings in Israeli settlements in the “occupied West Bank”. However, this commitment did not extend to its 100 listings in settlements in East Jerusalem, even though this too is occupied territory. The company did not explain to Amnesty International why it had made this exception. At the time of writing (January 2019), Airbnb had not yet implemented its announcement and was still listing properties across the OPT.
- Send an e-mail to Bookings CEO Glenn Fogel: Booking.com: Stop Profit From War Crimes
- Profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine: Spotlight on Booking.com
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