Last week Tommy Sheppard MP wrote to the chief executive of the Californian-based online company Airbnb pointing out that the Israeli settlements where the homes are situated are illegal under international law.
“It is of deep concern that a company such as yours that prides itself as being a community, is showing such disregard for the communities in the Occupied Territories who are seeing their homes demolished for Israeli settlements to be built,” he wrote to Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky.
“It seems incredible that a company that aspires to have an international reputation should be assisting in the operation of illegal settlements. By facilitating owners to maintain their settlement properties through Airbnb your company is supporting the unlawful occupation.”
Speaking from Westminster Sheppard told The Scottish Six: “Let’s be clear about this. Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine are illegal. Palestinians are regularly subjected to home demolitions to allow for the building of Israeli settlements which are then subsidised by Israel to encourage settlers to move in and take valuable resources, including water, away from Palestinians.”
Andy Murray, convener of SNP Friends of Palestine, also hit out.
“What Airbnb is doing is immoral, unethical and perpetuates the violation of international humanitarian law,” he said. “Illegal Israeli settlements are counterproductive and one the biggest stumbling blocks to a peaceful and just resolution for the Palestinian people.
“Commercial entities such as Airbnb are effectively financially rewarding illegal settlers for the seizure of occupied Palestinian land and encouraging others to do the same.”
One of the properties in the Occupied Territories is a two-bedroomed apartment with a swimming pool in Ofra, available for £50 per night.
One reviewer said: “The view from this place is lovely. The hosts supplied us with a luscious bowl of fruit, and milk and coffee and tea, as well as locally produced soap made of all-natural ingredients. A beautiful tiled terrace greeted us at the top of the stairs. The apartment was spacious, and the walls were lined with bookshelves, a book-lover’s dream.
“The host and his wife were very available to meet any needs that arose. Also, for those whose only language is English, the host is fluent. For a reasonable charge they supplied us with a fresh Israeli breakfast. Ofra is a safe and protected neighbourhood.”
Last night Yopav Sorek, the host of the Ofra property, told The Scottish Six: “Israel never occupied any territory of Palestine, as such a state never existed.” He added:“Every place needs to be defined in some way. Airbnb offers only two options: Israel and Palestine. As we are Israelis in an Israeli settlement, that’s the reasonable description.”
Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb’s online listing service spans 191 countries and 34,000 cities around the world.across the world.
The website connects tourists and travellers in need of a place to stay with locals looking to rent out a spare bedroom or property. Both guests and hosts are rated by the online community.
The company’s stated mission is to allow people to “belong anywhere” and it has been used by nearly 17 million travellers.
Despite being based in California, Europe accounts for more than 50 per cent of Airbnb’s business, with Paris as its busiest city worldwide.
Last year the company launched in Cuba with 1,000 listings, even though Cubans have limited access to the internet. It is also trying to expand throughout Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
A petition created by Jewish Voice for Peace, Codepink, American Muslims for Palestine, the US Palestinian Community Network and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has received nearly 142,000 signatures condemning the listings of homes in Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.