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Airbnb complicit in ‘plunder of Palestinian refugee properties’ says new report

MEMO | October 29, 2019

Online accommodation and tourism giant Airbnb has been accused of “complicity in the plunder of Palestinian refugee properties”, in a new report published last week.

According to Who Profits, an independent research centre focused on exposing corporate involvement in the “ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Syrian lands”, their new update sheds light on a “largely overlooked” dimension of Airbnb’s “complicity”.

Taking the Old City of Yafa (Jaffa) as a case study, the new report “aims to highlight the ways in which Israel confiscated and controlled Palestinian properties, leading to their privatisation”.

“Israel has transformed properties into economic assets that benefit both the state and private actors, thus undermining Palestinians’ legally enshrined Right of Return,” stated the research centre.

“Serving as a platform for showcasing the homes that once belonged to Palestinians, Airbnb plays a role in strengthening the Israeli hold over Palestinian refugee properties,” Who Profits added.

During the Nakba of 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes and lands – property that was subsequently appropriated by the Israeli state “through legal mechanisms that formalise their confiscation and turn them into economic assets”, Who Profits explained.

According to the centre, this “privatisation” of refugee properties has benefitted market actors and Jewish Israelis, “whilst further threatening the possibility of Palestinians reclaiming ownership of their properties in the future”.

In the case of Jaffa, what was once the largest Palestinian city was almost entirely ethnically cleansed during the Nakba (five per cent of its Palestinian residents remained post-1948). Today, the Old City is one of the most popular sites in Israel for tourists, where Airbnb lists more than 40 properties.

In its new report, Who Profit notes that “while the issue of listing settlement properties [in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem] has gained worldwide attention, the issue of listing refugee properties ‘abandoned’ in 1948 remains largely overlooked.”

“The act of plundering and privatizing refugee properties by the Israeli state, which started during the Nakba and continues to this day, has transformed the refugee properties in Yafa into commodities that can now be listed by hosts on platforms such as Airbnb,” the report concluded.

“In serving as a platform for these properties, as well as those in settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem, Airbnb is profiting from the ongoing dispossession of Palestinians.”

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October 29, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Let’s talk about the lawsuit against Airbnb

By Kathryn Shihadah | Palestine Home | December 2, 2018

The global tourism company Airbnb decided this week to de-list properties it has offered for rent in Israeli settlements. Amnesty International has been pushing for Airbnb to make this move and praised it as “a stand against discrimination, displacement, and land theft.”

Ha’aretz reports that a group of American Jews now plan to sue Airbnb for religious discrimination.

Since the plaintiffs are Jewish, the lawsuit implies a charge of anti-Semitism – an accusation that has become more and more common lately.

A great deal of controversy has sprung up around the “Israel-centric” definition of anti-Semitism that essentially forbids even legitimate criticism of Israel.

This restrictive definition has even found its way into Congress as the (widely criticized) “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” and similar bills in a number of states and even countries.

While America awaits Airbnb’s court date in Delaware, the court of public opinion is already in session. If we are going to judge this case, we’d better get familiar with the details. Drawing conclusions without understanding context would be irresponsible.

The charges

According to the lawsuit, Airbnb is in violation of the U.S. Fair Housing Act by discriminating on religious grounds.

Robert Tolchin, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained: “Airbnb has made a religion- and nationality-based decision…’We will not list for Jews in the West Bank.’” He elaborated, “It should be equal access for all.”

Some of the plaintiffs, among them Israeli-Americans, claim to own homes in West Bank settlements, and want to rent them out; others say they want to be future clients. All view Airbnb’s policy as “redlining” – targeting only Jewish-owned properties to be de-listed, while allowing Muslims and Christians in the West Bank to continue renting their homes.

They insist that this amounts to Airbnb taking sides in the dispute over the West Bank, where Palestinians hope to establish a state and which Israel captured in 1967, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The plaintiffs are seeking an injunction against Airbnb to “block future discrimination against Jews and Israelis,” plus damages to cover lost rental income and legal fees.

Let’s talk about the charges.

Discrimination?

Tolchin claims that Airbnb’s decision to de-list settlement rental properties was “religion- and nationality-based,” and that Muslims’ and Christians’ homes are not subject to the policy. Among the West Bank population, only Jews are subject to the policy.

Airbnb insists that those specific properties – Jewish-owned homes in the West Bank – “contribute to human suffering.” Tolchin does not address this point in his statement, but it is an important part of the context.

The West Bank is part of occupied Palestinian Territory, not Israel. The land under question was confiscated from Palestinians and appropriated by Israelis. In violation of international law, Israel transferred some of its citizens into occupied territory to live on Jewish-only settlements.

To be clear, only Israeli Jews – not Israeli Christians or Israeli Muslims – live on these settlements. Airbnb’s “redlining” targeted not a religious group, but a body of people who live illegally on someone else’s land.

All Israeli Jews living on West Bank settlements – not just Airbnb hosts, but all 600,000 – live illegally on someone else’s land.

Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes, businesses, farms, and orchards due to settlements; settlers do indeed “contribute to human suffering.”

Christians and Muslims in the West Bank are not subject to the de-listing policy – not because Airbnb is showing religious preference, but because these groups are casualties of injustice, not perpetrators.

Equal opportunity?

The plaintiffs are either rental home hosts in settlements, or potential customers. Thanks to Airbnb’s new policy, it will not be possible to arrange rentals on their website.

Conversely, thanks to Israel’s policy, Palestinians have not been allowed to live in their homes or farm in their fields for over 50 years. Instead, they live as refugees.

Attorney Tolchin’s plea for “equal access for all” drips with irony, as the whole point of settlements is that they are Palestinian-free zones on Palestinian land. “Equal access” in this context means “all Jews are equally welcome, and non-Jews are equally unwelcome.”

Likewise the “damages” the plaintiffs seek – lost rental income – pale in comparison to the damages Palestinians experienced in the loss of their homes, the decades of lost income, and the casualties of justice, innocence, and hope.

Taking sides?

The other accusation Tolchin mentions is Airbnb’s sin of taking sides.

Airbnb had a moral obligation to take sides when it learned the facts. Airbnb did not choose to pick on Jews, but took action against oppression, knowing that to stay neutral would be to side with the oppressive regime.

The summation

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit against Airbnb are not able to substantiate the accusation of religious discrimination, since Airbnb’s policy is in reality based not on religion, but on international law and human suffering.

The allegation of unequal access is likewise feeble: no one has less access to the properties in question than the Palestinians who actually own the land.

As for the accusation that Airbnb has taken sides, that one is true – it is just not illegal or punishable. In fact, it is a moral imperative.

The verdict

The court of public opinion, having explored context, is now free to deliberate.

How do you find the defendant?


RELATED READING:

Action Alert: tell Booking.com to follow Airbnb in de-listing Israeli settlement properties

The humanitarian impact of Israeli settlements in Hebron city

Israeli settlers, with IDF complicity, have destroyed 800,000 olive trees since 1967

December 2, 2018 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli Minister Urges US Governors to Punish Airbnb for Settlement Delistings

Sputnik – November 28, 2018

Israel’s Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who heads the government’s response to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, wrote a letter to five US governors asking them to take action against the home-renting service Airbnb after the company removed listings on its platform for properties in the illegally occupied West Bank.

Israeli listings in East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, which are also illegally occupied, were left in place.

Erdan responded almost immediately to Airbnb’s decision by condemning it as “racist.”

“US law permits companies like Airbnb to engage in business in these territories,” the company said in a statement at the time. “At the same time, many in the global community have stated that companies should not do business here because they believe companies should not profit on lands where people have been displaced.”

“It is thanks to the hard work of activists in this coalition and around the world that Airbnb will no longer be profiting from Israeli apartheid in the West Bank,” Ariel Gold, national co-director of the anti-war group Codepink and pro-BDS activist, told Sputnik News following Airbnb’s announcement. “Israeli settlements are not only illegal under international law, but they contribute directly to the daily human rights abuses Palestinians face.”

Airbnb’s move came just one day before Human Rights Watch was scheduled to release a report on home rentals facilitated by Airbnb and Booking.com in the West Bank, which the UN considers to be illegally occupied by Israel.

Erdan called on former hosts on the platform to band together and sue Airbnb following the announcement of the company’s decision. He also promised to complain to senior officials in the US and ask them to check whether Airbnb’s move violates laws against boycotting Israel that “exist in over 25 states,” Sputnik News reported.

In Erdan’s letter to the governors of Illinois, New York, Florida, Missouri and California, he said Airbnb had adopted “the anti-Semitic practices and narrative of the boycott movement.” Of the five states the governors represent, four have laws against the BDS movement, the exception being Missouri. Airbnb is headquartered in California.

According to the Israeli TV news outlet Kan, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner requested the state’s investment board to consider divesting from Airbnb, while Florida’s incoming Governor Ron DeSantis vowed to take similar action.

Erdan’s letter forebears a government-wide Israeli response to the de-listings from an inter-ministerial committee comprising officials from Erdan’s Strategic Affairs Ministry as well as the ministries for foreign affairs, tourism, justice, finance and economy.

While Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called last week for a “special and high tax” on Airbnb, such an action could wind up hurting the owners of the 22,000 Israeli homes that are allowed to continue renting on the platform, something officials would prefer to avoid.

Meanwhile, lawyers in Israel have already heeded Erdan’s call, filing a class action lawsuit against the company last Thursday on behalf of illegal West Bank settlers.

November 28, 2018 Posted by | Economics, Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UN warns to blacklist firms working in lands occupied by Israel: Report

Press TV – September 28, 2017

The United Nations human rights office has reportedly threatened to blacklist nearly 150 Israeli and international companies for operating in the Israeli occupied territories, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem al-Quds and Golan Heights.

Israeli daily Haaretz cited anonymous Israeli officials as saying on Wednesday that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein notified the companies through letters two weeks ago.

In response, several of the companies assured Hussein that they do not plan to renew their current contracts or to enter into new ones.

The letter said that due to the companies’ activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, they may be added to the blacklist being compiled by the UN of companies “that operate in opposition to international law and in opposition of UN resolutions.”

According to an unnamed western diplomat, over half of the companies that received the letter were Israeli, nearly 30 were American and the rest were mainly from Germany, Norway and South Korea.

The copies of Hussein’s letter have reportedly been sent to the respective countries of the firms and seen by the Israeli cabinet.

The companies include giant international corporations such as Coca-Cola, TripAdvisor, Airbnb and Caterpillar as well as major Israeli firms, including pharmaceutical giant Teva, the national phone company Bezeq, bus company Egged, the national water company Mekorot and the regime’s two largest banks, Hapoalim and Leumi.

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council voted, with 32 nations in favor and 15 abstentions, to a proposal by the Palestinian Authority and Arab states to compile a database of all businesses enabling or profiting from development of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The proposal also condemned Israeli settlement construction and urged companies not to do business with Israeli settlements.

In June, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley slammed the blacklist as “the latest in this long line of shameful actions” adopted by the UNHRC, warning that the US may withdraw from the 47-member UN body unless it is reformed, end condemnation of Israel and cancel the membership of what she called notorious human rights violators from the council.

Since 2007, Israel has been the only entity whose human rights violations have been regularly discussed in the framework of a single permanent item on the Human Rights Council’s agenda.

Since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump in January, the regime in Tel Aviv has stepped up its construction of settler units on occupied Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

Less than a month before Trump took office, the United Nations Security Council had adopted Resolution 2334, calling on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem” al-Quds.

About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.

Israel also seized the Golan Heights from Syria after the 1967 Six-Day War and later occupied it in a move that has never been recognized by the international community. The regime has built dozens of settlements in the area ever since and has used the region to carry out a number of military operations against the Syrian government.

September 28, 2017 Posted by | Ethnic Cleansing, Racism, Zionism, Illegal Occupation | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment