After home rental company Airbnb reversed its decision to delist illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian campaign is calling on people worldwide to deactivate their Airbnb accounts on Wednesday, May 15.
The date is of particular consequence for Palestinians. It is Nakba Day, when they remember the 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were kicked out of their homes with Israel's founding 71 years ago.
The #deactivateairbnb campaign, organised by the Ramallah-based Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, is one of several fronts Palestinians are pursuing to pressure Airbnb to delist properties in settlements, which are illegal under international law.
In November, 2018, the Palestinians lauded the US-based home sharing company when it announced it would remove about 200 Israeli listings in West Bank settlements — "the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians", as the company described the issue then. Activists had for years been pressuring the company to make this move, arguing it was benefiting from Israeli business on occupied Palestinian land.
The removals, though, never actually happened. In January, a group of Americans filed lawsuits against Airbnb, arguing that the company's policy was discriminatory as it only applied to Jewish Israeli residents of the West Bank and not to Palestinians as well. In one case in San Francisco, two of the five plaintiffs were dual Israeli and American citizens and reside in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, according to The Times of Israel.
In mid-March Palestinians filed a motion to challenge a lawsuit in Delaware, arguing that Palestinians, and not Israelis, were the victims of discrimination due to Airbnb's West Bank settlement offerings. The case is ongoing.
Then, amid Israel’s parliamentary elections in early April, Airbnb quietly announced that it was reversing its decision to remove occupied West Bank settlements from its website in a settlement with lawsuits brought against it.
“We will continue to allow listings throughout all of the West Bank, but Airbnb will take no profits from this activity in the region,” the company said in a statement.
Airbnb said proceeds from settler homes will instead be donated to non-profit humanitarian groups around the world. In its statements announcing the new policy, Airbnb reiterated that it doesn't support boycotts of Israel.
Israel, where Airbnb is a very popular site for tourists, praised the decision. The Palestinian Territories have comparatively far less tourism and Airbnb business.
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The 1994 Oslo Peace Accords slated the West Bank to be part of a Palestinian state; instead, over the last two decades, Israel has extended its physical presence and control over the disputed territory.
The PIPD campaign has so far reached 1.7 million people and 227,000 people have clicked on or engaged with the take action page, Salem Barahmeh, PIPD Executive Director, said.
“It is time to end this culture of impunity that has allowed the occupation, oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people to continue,” Mr Barahmeh said in a statement.
“International companies are complicit in perpetuating this injustice and must be held accountable. Through the #deactivateAirbnb campaign, people can choose whether to be complicit in supporting war crimes or ending them.”