JERUSALEM (AP) — The online travel agency Booking.com added warnings on Friday to listings in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, following years of pressure from Palestinian officials and human rights groups.
The new alert urges customers searching for rentals in Israeli settlements to review their government’s travel advisories before booking in the area, “which may be considered conflict-affected.”
Foreign tourism companies like Airbnb, Booking.com and TripAdvisor long have sparked controversy for allowing West Bank settlers to post places for rent, with no mention that these settlements are considered a violation of international law. Many rental sites, from suburban-type settlements near Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem to far-flung outposts deep in the occupied territories, list their location only as Israel.
Some half-million Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. The Palestinians seek these lands as parts of a future independent state.
Human Rights Watch described the travel warning on Friday as a “welcome step” to help prevent customers from unwittingly landing in illegal settlements. But the group urged tourism companies to go further by removing their listings in West Bank settlements.
“Notification in and of itself doesn’t end Booking’s contribution to serious rights abuses,” said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director for Human Rights Watch. “The company should stop brokering rentals in illegal settlements in places like the occupied West Bank.”
But stopping risks Israeli uproar. Israel and its supporters have accused those who support anti-Israel boycotts, including products made in the settlements, of antisemitism. Airbnb scrapped its plan to remove listings in the settlements in 2019 after lawsuits were filed against it in the United States and Israel.
Booking.com’s safety warning also appears for a few other conflict-ridden regions around the world, including the separatist Nagorno-Karabakh region within Azerbaijan.