Israeli lawyers are suing Airbnb for removing listings from West Bank settlements

Lawyers in Israel have filed a class action against home rental firm Airbnb, following the firm’s decision to pull its rental listings of Jewish settler homes in occupied West Bank.

Airbnb said last week that they are pulling their nearly 200 listings from Israeli occupied West Bank, acknowledging that the occupation is at the “core” of the decades-long conflict.   

“[We] spent considerable time speaking to various experts — including those who have criticized our previous approach — about this matter,” it said in a statement on Monday. “As a global platform operating in 191 countries and regions and more than 81,000 cities, we must consider the impact we have and act responsibly.”

Following the announcement, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan asked those affected “to consider filing lawsuits against Airbnb,” Agence France Presse reports.

The lawsuit, filed on Thursday, is led by Maanit Rabinovich of Kida settlement in the West Bank, according to AFP, and accuses Airbnb of “discrimination” for not taking similar measures in other occupied territories such as Tibet and Northern Cyprus.

Rabinovich told AFP she was not warned of the decision to take her property off the site and is seeking compensation worth 3,500 Euro ($3,970) for herself as well as other hosts who would potentially be affected if the listings were withdrawn.

One of Rabinovich’s properties was identified in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report criticizing organizations like Booking.com and Airbnb for promoting listings in occupied territories.

“Settlements of civilians in occupied territory are unlawful under international humanitarian law regardless of the status of the land on which they are built,” the HRW report reads. “The presence of the settlement properties triggers serious human rights abuses against Palestinians, including blocking their access to nearby privately-owned plots of land, restricting their freedom of movement and, because of those travel restrictions, limiting their right to access education and health services and protections for keeping families intact.”

The company, today worth an estimated $38 billion, has come under scrutiny in the past for not taking a stance on this issue. In 2016, more than 140,000 petitioners called on Airbnb to stop advertising its listings owned by Israelis in Palestinian territories.

In its statement last week, Airbnb acknowledged why it operated in these locations before, and why it’s changing its stance now.

“In the past, we made clear that we would operate in this area as allowed by law. We did this because we believe that people-to-people travel has considerable value and we want to help bring people together in as many places as possible around the world,” it said.

“We also explained that going forward we would ask questions, listen to experts, seek out our community for their thoughts, and continue to learn.”

H/T BBC

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque