Amnesty International has slammed travel companies and called for an international boycott of Israeli tourism operating in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).
The NGO singled out digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor, saying that they were profiting from "war crimes" by offering services to Israel's illegal settlements.
Amnesty yesterday released a 96-page report – Destination Occupation 2019 – which documented the complicity of digital tourism companies in Israeli war crimes. "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", the report said.
The four tourism giants were accused of "contributing to violations of human rights law and acting in direct contradiction with their own corporate standards" through their promotion of Israeli settlements in the oPt. Their support for Israeli tourism was also criticised for "normalizing, and legitimizing to the public what is recognized under international law as an illegal situation".
Amnesty's report is part of its global campaign – launched in 2017 – which calls on governments to prevent businesses based in their countries from operating in Israeli settlements. While companies profiting from the illegal settlement enterprise have long been the subject of campaigns by human rights group, the past few months have seen a widening of these protests to include digital companies. Amnesty's latest report urged "governments worldwide [to] take action to regulate companies or activities over which they have control".
Explaining its strong opposition to Israel's activities, Amnesty said that "most states and international bodies have long recognized that Israeli settlements are illegal under international law". The organisation cited the European Union (EU), which has stated that: "Settlement building anywhere in the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, constitutes an obstacle to peace and threatens to make a two-state solution impossible."
Amnesty also pointed to the fact that settlements have been condemned as illegal in many UN Security Council and other UN resolutions.
Amnesty denounced Israel, describing its construction of thousands of new housing units as a "flagrant" disregard for international law. Highlighting the impact of Israel's activity on Palestinians, it said:
Palestinian civilians continue to be subjected to forcible displacement, the confiscation of their land and natural resources, the demolition of their homes, properties and infrastructure, and restrictions on their movement. This has a devastating impact on Palestinians' rights to an adequate standard of living, to work, to housing, to health, and to education and has progressively crippled the Palestinian economy.
Amnesty called for the question of digital tourism companies' provision of online services to illegal Israeli settlers to be addressed by the UN, which is currently working on a database of all business enterprises involved in settlement activities. The purpose of the UN database is, among other things, to assist states in ensuring that companies operating in their territory and/or under their jurisdiction, which conduct activities in or related to the illegal settlements, respect human rights.
Amnesty's report follows Airbnb's decision in November to delist 200 properties and cease its operations in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. The company was reported to have made the decision a day before Human Rights Watch (HRW) was due to release a damning report into the company's complicity in the dispossession of Palestinians.
Israeli officials were quick to condemn the Amnesty report, accusing the rights group of being anti-Semitic. "Amnesty has become a leader in the anti-Semitic [boycott, divestment and sanction] BDS campaign, and tonight's report on Israel is an outrageous attempt to distort the facts, deny Jewish heritage and delegitimize Israel," Israel's Strategic Affairs and Public Security Minister, Gilad Erdan, said in a tweet.
Israeli Minister Ze'ev Elkin accused Amnesty of pandering to a "classic anti-Semitic template".