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Airbnb lets you vacation in illegal West Bank settlements

Fancy a vacation with breathtaking views of the Holy Land? Airbnb will let you rent out luxurious cottages atop barren hilltops, making no mention of the fact that they are in settlements on occupied land.

By John Brown*

Screenshot of an Airbnb listing in the West Bank settlement of Almon.

Screenshot of an Airbnb listing in the West Bank settlement of Anatot.

Airbnb, it has come to our attention, enables anyone to rent rooms and vacation homes in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Anyone who is not of Palestinian descent, of course.

Without exception, the listings, some which appear to be luxurious cottages and others that are caravans sitting on barren hilltops, make no mention of the fact that they are in settlements on occupied land. Almost all claim to be in Israel, despite the fact that they lie beyond the country’s borders.

Exploring the Airbnb website turns up dozens of cheap rooms and homes with pastoral views and many just a short drive from Jerusalem — all pretty enticing. Especially if nobody tells you that you’re paying to be a settler few days.

Tekoa, Ma'ale Adumim, Nofei Prat, and Kfar Eldad — Airbnb gives its users the opportunity to rent a room in West Bank settlements. (screenshot from Airbnb.com)

Tekoa, Ma’ale Adumim, Nofei Prat, and Kfar Eldad — Airbnb gives its users the opportunity to rent a room in West Bank settlements. (screenshot from Airbnb.com)

Fifteen minutes from Jerusalem

Many of the listings we found appeared similar to the type of rural weekend getaway cabins — “tzimmerim” — one can find throughout northern and southern Israel. But we also found far more troubling listings.

For instance there was the caravan listed in Havat Gilad — “[a] small village really in the nature. It is very private place with a very fresh air and gorgeous view.” The price for one night: NIS 325 ($83).

A photo from the AirBnB listing in Havat Gilad (Screenshot)

A photo from the Airbnb listing in Havat Gilad (Screenshot)

What the listing fails to mention is that Havat Gilad is actually a settlement outpost, illegal even according to Israeli law. Someone making a reservation on Airbnb has no way of knowing that the outpost was — at least partially — illegally built on Palestinian land. There is no mention of the fact that more than one resident of Havat Gilad have been convicted of violent “price tag” attacks against Palestinians and their property.

Similarly, one can rent a room in the “Ma’ale Rehavam” outpost, which was also illegally built on private Palestinian land. The settlement outpost was named after Rehavam Ze’evi, one of Israel’s most famous proponents of population transfer. The “nice place in the Judean desert … about 15 minutes driving from Jerusalem” can be had for just NIS 239 ($60) a night. When we enquired about renting the room, however, the lister declined, citing the fact that “the government has yet to connect it to electricity.”

A photo from the Airbnb listing in Ma’ale Rehavam.

A photo from the Airbnb listing in Ma’ale Rehavam.

It is worth repeating that none of these listing mention the fact that they are located within the borders of the state 135 countries recognize as Palestine.

Declined due to the ‘political situation’

Israeli settlements in the West Bank are almost entirely Jewish-only communities for a number of reasons, including legal and military restrictions. We wanted to know whether Airbnb reservations would adhere to the local segregation regime. In order to test the theory, we created an online persona of an American citizen of Palestinian descent who wanted to come to visit and enjoy the quieter and cheaper option of staying in an Israeli settlement.

We attempted to make reservations at dozens of listings, contacting dozens of Airbnb hosts — and succeeded at securing one single room. Most of the time, Haled, the name we gave our would-be vacationer, was declined for no stated reason. Some hosts, however, were honest enough to say why they wouldn’t rent to Haled.

In the settlement of Tekoa, known for its relative openness, which the hosts described as “a sweet welcoming neighborhood with helpful people,” Haled was politely turned away. The host responded: “I’m very sorry but I don’t think that it’s possible … it’s very sensitive here … [I] hope that in [a] different life we could be good friends.”

Screenshot from Airbnb.com

Screenshot from Airbnb.com

In the settlement of Anatot, for a NIS 690 ($175) unit promoted as “Nature at its Best,” the hosts were more matter-of-fact: “I am sorry but we will not be able to confirm your reservation. Due to the political situation it is not possible at this time. All the best and happy holidays.”

Screenshot from Airbnb.com.

Screenshot from Airbnb.com.

This appears to be thinly veiled discrimination along ethnic or national lines. Even if the hosts reserve the right to refuse service to anyone they want, the decision to do so on an ethnic or national basis is problematic, to say the least.

The only place where our request was accepted was another listing in Tekoa, where Haled was told he would have to undergo a special security check at the entrance to the settlement. The host’s description of the special procedure as a “problem” suggests that it isn’t implemented for guests of other ethnic or national backgrounds:

Screenshot from Airbnb.com.

Screenshot from Airbnb.com.

Who profits?

Not only are settlers directly profiting from the occupation by renting out their rooms and guesthouses online, so is Airbnb, the American company that takes a 3 percent fee from hosts and a 6-12 percent fee from guests. All Israeli settlements are illegal under international law.

Airbnb’s website does not differentiate between rooms in Palestinian cities towns and those in Israeli settlements — its maps of the West Bank display no differentiation between areas under Israeli control, and those under Palestinian control.

The “Green Line” is delineated by an easily missed and not-clearly-labeled dotted line, which means that even a person who does not want to become a temporary settler has no way of knowing what they are getting into. Moreover, a search for units in the Jerusalem area brings up results of several rental options in nearby settlements — beyond the 1949 armistice line.

By charging for listings in illegal West Bank settlements, Airbnb enables Israelis and foreigners alike to financially support the settlement economy and even profits itself off the theft of private Palestinian land. By not clearly distinguishing what is a settlement and what isn’t, the company also runs the risk of misleading its customers into inadvertently lending their hand to that very theft.

According to Airbnb, there is no difference between the Jerusalem area and West Bank settlements. (screenshot: Airbnb.com)

According to Airbnb, there is no difference between the Jerusalem area and West Bank settlements. (screenshot: Airbnb.com)

There is no doubt that the Airbnb units in Israeli settlements feature breathtaking views, but the situation in the West Bank is anything but normal. The red-roofed settlement houses with luxurious pools and manicured gardens are real, but they also function as a facade. Behind every settlement is a village whose land was forcefully taken and Palestinian families whose children were hauled off to military prisons in the middle of the night. Depending on one’s nationality, there are even separate sets of laws in the West Bank.

It is needless to say that none of that information is offered to an unwitting tourist looking to Airbnb in order to find a cheap place to stay on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Radio silence

We had about as much luck getting a response to this article from Airbnb as we did renting a room in a West Bank settlement outpost on the company’s website.

Despite repeated requests over several weeks, the California-based company never responded to our questions. We wanted to know whether the company was worried about the legal liabilities of doing business in Israeli settlements and whether it is concerned by the discrimination almost guaranteed to take place when renting housing units in the settlements.

After several weeks of radio silence, we contacted Airbnb again — this time as Haled, complaining about ethnic discrimination.

Within two minutes of sending that message, the company responded saying that it would put Haled in touch with a “community expert” — Airbnb’s most knowledgeable community members, who are selectively chosen to help hosts and guests with answers to their questions.

Sure enough, within a couple of minutes, a “community expert” sent Haled a message expressing how “upset” he was by the situation, and urging me to me to report the offending hosts to the company.

*John Brown is the pseudonym of an Israeli academic and a blogger. A version of this article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call, where he is a blogger. Read it here.

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    COMMENTS

    1. Nicole

      Sent a msg to Airbnb about this on their site, even though it was hard to get to the area where you could actually leave a message. Do you have an email address that we could disseminate?

      Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      “The settlement outpost was named after Rehavam Ze’evi, one of Israel’s most famous proponents of population transfer. The “nice place in the Judean desert … about 15 minutes driving from Jerusalem” can be had for just NIS 239 ($60) a night. When we enquired about renting the room, however, the lister declined, citing the fact that “the government has yet to connect it to electricity.”

      It is worth repeating that none of these listing mention the fact that they are located within the borders of the state that 135 countries around the world recognize as Palestine.”

      Only 60$ to provide the uninitiated a luxury view of occupied territory without making a full-time commitment and a perfect getaway for wannabee settlers/colonialists. Disgusting.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Baladi Akka 1948

      Well, as only Israelis and other Hebrew-speakers uses “Haled” for Khaled, the owners maybe realized it was a test.
      Not indicating the locations are actually in settlements is just one more reason to BDS everything Israeli.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Ilana Leeds

      I find it fascinating that you choose to rant and rail against the Airbnd ads for the Judea and Samaria listings. And yes, given the uncomfortable actions of some of the Palestinians and the current political environment, names like Ahmed and Mohammed would probably be viewed with suspicion. I know I would given events of the past 60 plus years.
      But that is a small thing to you, isn’t it? Knifings, murders, cutting baby’s throats, driving people over and blowing people up. That is all part and parcel of being a Jew, isn’t it? That is the risk you run. Well well, I hope you have had a look at the listings in Aza or Ramallah or another arab village. Did you look up their listings and try to register under the names of Avi Cohen or Baruch Levi?? They might receive a welcome like these young men did in 2010 and not just a polite refusal for the obvious security reasons? Your piece is disgusting and manipulative.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U5-IVKe5QI

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Poor Ilana. She’s mightily offended. It’s so hard being an occupier. No one understands. The occupation is such “a small thing.” Oh boo hoo. Ilana devotes one sentence to the topic, Airbnb ads for vacations on illegally occupied land, then devotes a manipulative rant to cases of Palestinian violence that ignores massive Israeli violence, and then professes disgust at +972’s supposed “rant.”

        And here we go again with the utterly manipulative just “being a Jew” device deployed by another nationalist extremist. See my response to ‘Brightdarkness’ at “This is how settlers take over Palestinian land.”

        The process by which settlers take over Palestinian land makes you all warm and fuzzy, Ilana, but you’re just disgusted, nauseated, by a writer shining a little sunlight on the corners of your pet project? Your selective disgust is most interesting.

        You know, Ilana, you could give actual anti-Semites ammunition by crudely equating the perpetrating of the occupation with “being a Jew” rather than with being a nationalist extremist. Your use of that device is most manipulative. Because what you’re doing is trying to fuse in people’s minds, as it seems to be fused in yours, the concept of a ruthless, illegal occupation of “Judea and Samaria” with the concept of “being a Jew.” As if “that’s just what Jews do” though of course it is not, just as you want to fuse in people minds the concepts of lynching and baby killing and the concept of being a Palestinian as if “that’s just what Palestinians do,” though of course it is not. Shall I point to the burning alive of the Dawabshe child and say “that’s just what Jews do”? Of course not. It would be monstrous. But you, in a soft-pedaled and cloaked way, are doing just that kind of manipulative stereotyping and linking.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Nicole

      Response from Airbnb:

      Airbnb
      Airbnb Customer Experience

      Marco, Jan 13, 08:25:
      Hello Nicole,

      Thanks for your email.

      We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings.

      We also encourage guests to communicate with their host about their listing long before a trip begins.

      Discrimination has no place on our platform and we investigate any claims we receive.

      Best regards,

      Marco
      http://www.airbnb.com/help

      Reply to Comment
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