Digital companies are revolutionizing how the world does tourism. Rather than buying holidays through traditional high street travel agents, consumers can now book everything online. In turn, the likes of Airbnb, Inc. (Airbnb), Booking.com B.V. (Booking.com), Expedia Group, Inc. (Expedia) and TripAdvisor, Inc. (TripAdvisor) offer them an unprecedented choice of places to stay and things to do in almost every corner of the globe. As a result, each of these companies – which dominate the multibillion-dollar global online tourism industry – has become hugely successful. For example, TripAdvisor says that its website is viewed more than 450 million times a month. The parent company of Booking. com has been valued at over US$100 billion.
These companies all also list numerous hotels, B&Bs, attractions or tours in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). They are doing so despite knowing that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is governed by international humanitarian law under which Israeli settlements are deemed illegal. In addition, key acts required for the establishment of settlements, such as the transfer of Israel’s population into occupied territory and the appropriation of property without military justification, amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
These companies also know that the United Nations and independent international organizations, including Amnesty International and many Palestinian and Israeli organizations, have documented, for years, how Israel’s policy of developing, expanding and guarding its settlements is inherently discriminatory and behind a wide range of human rights violations. Any basic preliminary risk assessment by the companies would reveal that any business activity in or with settlements would unavoidably contribute to sustaining an illegal situation, as well as a regime that is inherently discriminatory and abusive of the human rights of Palestinians.
All four companies claim to operate under high ethical values and respect for the rule of law. However, none of these standards appears to influence the companies’ decisions in relation to settlement listings. 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. They are also contributing to violations of human rights law and acting in direct contradiction with their own corporate standards. Their promotion of Israeli settlements in the OPT as a tourist destination also has the effect of “normalizing”, and legitimizing to the public what is recognized under international law as an illegal situation.
June 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, and of the beginning of Israel’s unlawful settlement enterprise. At this time, Amnesty International launched a campaign calling on third states to prevent companies domiciled in their territory from operating in settlements or from trading in settlement goods. As part of this campaign, Amnesty International is now focusing on the digital tourism industry.
Over the last year, researchers examined the ways in which Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are, by listing settlement properties and attractions, participating in Israel’s plans to boost tourism to Israel’s illegal settlements and helping sustain and expand them. Amnesty International researchers also examined the impact that these settlements are having on specific Palestinian communities, and the ways in which the digital tourism companies are contributing to human rights violations. Amnesty International chose to focus on these companies because they dominate the industry, have global coverage, and list numerous properties or attractions in settlements in the OPT. These are clearly defined geographic areas, and Amnesty International researchers were able to identify listings in settlements using the map search function on each website. This makes it possible to differentiate which listings are in Israeli settlements and which are in neighbouring Palestinian communities.