Three of the world's most famous travel websites are treating the illegally occupied Golan Heights as if it were genuinely a part of Israel, research by a Syrian human rights group has found.
The Golan Heights is a sector of Syria which was invaded by Israel in 1967 and has been colonised in violation of international law ever since.
Israel's annexation of the territory in 1981 was condemned by the UN at the time. Security Council Resolution 497 stated that
the Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdiction and administration in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights is null and void and without international legal effect.
According to Al-Marsad, a Golan-Heights-based Arab human rights group, Booking.com, Airbnb and Lonely Planet all present the occupied territory as part of "Israel" and promote accommodation and tourism in Israeli colonies there.
All Israeli settlements are in fact illegal under international law.
In the case of Lonely Planet, the company makes it clear in its information on the West Bank that the territory is occupied by Israel. As Al-Marsad puts it, this "calls into question why it treats the Golan differently".
Booking.com and Airbnb both list places for tourists to stay on their websites which are in Israeli colonies in the Golan Heights. Neither website tells visitors that these places are located in settlements classified as illegal under international law.
Al-Marsad contacted both Booking.com and Lonely Planet to express its concerns. While Booking.com failed to reply at all, Lonely Planet gave a wholly unsatisfactory answer claiming that it had provided "relevant information in the introduction to the Golan Heights section". This is simply not good enough.
Under the fourth Geneva Convention, Israel's transference of its civilian population into the territory of another people – occupied in the course of a war – is a war crime. Colonialism is never a victimless crime.
While decades of Palestinian campaigning and struggle has led to the status of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza being better understood in the West, understanding on the issue of the occupied Golan Heights still lags.
Israel occupied the Golan during the same 1967 war of aggression which led to its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It managed to steal two-thirds of the Golan, and immediately kicked out 95 per cent of the native Syrian population – some 130,000 refugees. Some 340 Syrian villages were then razed to the ground by the Israeli invaders.
This injustice must be reversed, and the rightful inhabitants permitted to return.
Today, around 25,000 Syrians remain in the Golan, but they are dominated by 23,000 Israeli settlers. According to Al-Marsad, the Syrians live in "five severely overcrowded villages located in the extreme north of the Golan" and control just five per cent of the land, while the Israeli settlers control 95 per cent of it.
Racist Israeli policy means they are not allowed to expand their villages according to their normal population needs. A very similar situation under which Palestinians in both the West Bank and even inside present-day Israel live.
Tourism has been a major boon to the colonial Israeli economy in the Golan: an injustice that companies like Airbnb, Booking.com and Lonely Planet are now helping to sustain.
As Al-Marsad outlines:
Lonely Planet kindly warns potential visitors that accommodation 'prices rise in winter because of heating costs'. However, it fails to mention that Neve Ativ is an illegal Israeli settlement built on the ruins of Syrian village, Jubata Al-Zeit. Jubata Al-Zeit was demolished by the Israeli authorities to develop a ski resort following the occupation of the Golan
It is a modern day obscenity that this is viewed as an attractive tourist venue. This must not be allowed to stand. Just as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip is opposed the world over, so too must be the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights.
These occupations all must end and the land returned to its rightful inhabitants. Israel must be compelled to end its colonial and racist policies, with full equal rights being given to all.
Update: A spokesperson for Lonely Planet responded that their guidebook chapter and web entry for the Golan Heights mentions that it was "unilaterally annexed by Israel" so that readers are aware of its "disputed status". But the spokesperson once again failed to mention Israel's military occupation, something which is undisputed in international law.
The spokesperson continued that the "variance" in Lonely Planet coverage between the West Bank and the Golan Heights was an editorial decision "not a political one". He also claimed that "the reason that the Golan Heights appears under the Israel taxonomy online is an editorial and not a political decision."
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.