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Monday, 14 October 2019

Digital giants 'profiting' from Israeli settlements: Amnesty International

AFP , Wednesday 30 Jan 2019
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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Airbnb is displayed at an Airbnb event in Tokyo, Japan, June 14, 2018. (Photo: REUTERS)
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Digital tourism giants Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor are profiting from "war crimes" by offering services in Israeli settlements, rights group Amnesty International said in a report published Wednesday.

The London-based organisation's "Destination: Occupation" report called on the companies to stop listing tourist accommodation, activities and attractions in settlements in occupied territories, including east Jerusalem.

"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," said the report.

"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."

Israeli public security minister Gilad Erdan threatened to bar Amnesty from access to Israel over its charge.

"The hypocritical Amnesty International speaks in the name of human rights and in practice promotes boycotts against Israeli citizens as part of the anti-Semitic boycott and delegitimisation campaign," Erdan said in a statement released Tuesday night.

"I instructed the ministry of strategic affairs to examine the possibility of preventing Amnesty personnel from entering, or residing in, Israel, said Erdan who is also strategic affairs minister, charged with opposing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

He said that he had started to act well before the publication of Amnesty's study.

"A few weeks ago I asked the finance minister to end the tax benefits granted to the organisation," he said without giving details.

Israel sees the BDS movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism -- a claim activists deny, saying they want only to see an end to Israel's occupation.

- 'Illegal exploitation' -
Amnesty International accused the online firms of "normalising" settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

"To boost bookings, many listings in settlements boast of their proximity to areas of natural beauty in the occupied territories, such as the Dead Sea, nature reserves and the desert," it said.

"By listing and promoting these natural features and nature-based activities and attractions the digital companies are increasing the attractiveness of the listings, securing greater numbers of tourists and ultimately benefiting financially from the illegal exploitation of Palestinian natural resources."

Amnesty launched a campaign in 2017 calling on governments to prevent businesses based in their countries from operating in settlements.

"Governments worldwide must take action to regulate companies or activities over which they have control," said the report.

In November, Airbnb announced it was removing from its rental listings settlement homes in the occupied West Bank.

But it never said when the decision would go into force.

Israel passed legislation in March 2017 banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country or its settlements.

In November of that year Erdan's office denied entry to a US employee of Amnesty, with an interior ministry spokeswoman giving the grounds as "BDS", without elaborating.

About 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements often in confrontation with the territory's 2.5 million Palestinians, in addition to 200,000 living in settlements in occupied east Jerusalem.

Israeli settlements are considered illegal under international law and major roadblocks to peace, as they are built on land Palestinians see as part of their future state.

*This story was edited by Ahram Online.

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