As a user of Airbnb’s services and a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights, I am grateful that Airbnb has de-listed Israeli settlements in the West Bank. People have a right to know if their business is supporting human rights violations.
The West Bank is not sovereign Israeli state territory. Since the 1967 Six-Day War, the West Bank has been under the control of Israeli military law. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this year that both the Israeli Civil Administration and the Palestinian Authority’s Population Registry shows that there are currently 3 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank. Furthermore, Haaretz investigative reporting has found: “The Jewish population in the West Bank has increased by more than 330,000 people and eight settlements have been built in the West Bank over the past three decades. More than 380,000 settlers currently live in the West Bank, over 40 percent of them outside the settlement blocs.”
Israeli settlers enjoy all the same privileges as citizens living within Israel proper, while their Palestinian neighbors do not have citizenship rights and instead live under Israeli military law. Living under military law, among other problems, systematically deprives Palestinians of rights such as the right to vote for the government that exercises state power over them. Israeli military law also constricts Palestinian mobility with roadblocks, checkpoints, and other barriers to movement.
Reports by the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem show that Israel has and continues to confiscate Palestinians’ farmland and grazing areas in the West Bank in order to build more Jewish settlements. In so doing, Israel appropriates water sources for the settlements and prevents Palestinians access to their previously relied upon sources. In 2015 the United Nations reported that between 2010 and 2014, Palestinians in the West Bank submitted over 2,000 applications for building permits to Israeli authority and only 33 (1.5 percent) were approved. B’Tselem reports that from 2006 to 2018, Israel demolished at least 1,397 Palestinian residential units in the West Bank, causing 6,186 people — including at least 3,124 minors — to lose their homes.
What about China? What about Turkey? In the Dec. 10 edition of the Star, Lawrence J. Haas correctly points out that there are a number of other places that Airbnb has listings that are complicit in human rights abuses. However, what such “what aboutism” claims also do is evade the reality of an overwhelming imbalance of power between Israeli citizens and stateless Palestinians who live side by side.
Beyond the “what aboutism” strategy, U.S. lawmakers are trying to pass legislation that would criminalize constitutionally protected boycotts and certain speech targeting Israel by redefining anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act (HR 1697/ SB 720), better known as the “Gag Bill,” is currently being included in must-pass appropriations legislation in the lame-duck session. On Dec. 3, the ACLU issued a letter expressing its opposition to the Senate version of the bill on the grounds that it “would unconstitutionally target political boycotts for criminal penalties, thereby infringing on First Amendment protected activities.”
Israel has the power to enfranchise Palestinians with full and protected equal rights. Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, avowed proponent of settlements, claims to speak on behalf of all Jewish people. In fact, he does not. Jewish supporters of Palestinian self-determination want an end to military law and unjust settlement construction in the West Bank. We believe Palestinians deserve to live in dignity with equal rights. If not now, when?