Photo: Chris McGrath (Getty)

Airbnb just reversed a decision to remove home rentals of properties of Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank region. It says all profits will go to charity. 

The move comes five months after the Silicon Valley startup originally declared it would remove 200 listings of West Bank settlement homes “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians.” The listings were never fully removed and now they’re here to stay permanently.

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The announcement this week came after four lawsuits in the United States and Israel against Airbnb were settled out of court. Profits from the listings will be donated to “non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world,” the company said.

“Under the settlement terms, Airbnb will not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank,” the company said in a Tuesday blog post. “Airbnb has always opposed the BDS movement. Airbnb has never boycotted Israel, Israeli businesses, or the more than 20,000 Israeli hosts who are active on the Airbnb platform.”

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Israel’s West Bank settlements are viewed by most of the world, including the United Nations, as a violation of international law. Expanded continuously since the 1967 Six Day War, the West Bank territory is ruled by the military and includes Israeli settlements that even Israel’s government has deemed illegal. The Airbnb listings in those settlements will be allowed to stay.

Airbnb’s back and forth on this issue provoked outrage from Israeli and Palestinian officials and observers around the world. After the 2018 decision to ban the listings, Israeli officials threatened to restrict Airbnb’s operations in the country.

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After the company’s 2018 announcement that it would ban West Bank listings, Israeli officials urged the lawsuits that eventually led to today’s decision. Within a month, Airbnb suspended its initial decision until fully reversing it this week.

From Airbnb’s blog post:

Under the settlement terms, Airbnb will not move forward with implementing the removal of listings in the West Bank from the platform. We understand the complexity of the issue that was addressed in our previous policy announcement, and we will continue to allow listings throughout all of the West Bank, but Airbnb will take no profits from this activity in the region. Any profits generated for Airbnb by any Airbnb host activity in the entire West Bank will be donated to non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.

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Last year, Human Rights Watch released a 65-page report on Airbnb’s settlement rentals entitled “bed and breakfast on stolen land.” The report actually tracked down Palestinians who owned property now occupied and owned by Israelis who are renting it out on Airbnb. Here’s an excerpt from that report:

Airbnb and Booking.com for example list rentals in the Ofra settlement, northeast of Ramallah. One Airbnb listing is on a parcel that the Israeli Civil Administration, the Israeli military branch in charge of civilian affairs in the West Bank, lists as belonging to the family of Awni Shaaeb, a 70-year-old resident of the adjacent Palestinian village of Ein Yabroud. Shaaeb told Human Rights Watch that Israeli settlers began to seize the land in 1975 to establish Ofra. Aerial photos obtained by Kerem Navot show that rental property on his land now listed on Airbnb was built in 2006 or 2007.

Shaaeb said he has never been given the opportunity to consent to rentals on his land or profited from them. Despite being a US citizen who lived in the US for more than three decades, Shaaeb cannot enter Ofra to visit the rental property because he holds a Palestinian ID. “For someone to occupy your land, that’s illegal,” he said. “For someone to build on your land, rent it out, and profit from it – that is injustice itself.”

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After Airbnb’s announcement to keep the West Bank settlements, Human Rights Watch quickly condemned the Silicon Valley company’s decision:

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The same approach is going to be taken by Airbnb in two other disputed areas: South Ossetia and Abkhazia, two regions in the Caucuses that declared independence from the nation of Georgia and are at the center of decades-long disputes between Georgia and Russia. Georgia and most of the international community view both as Russian-occupied territories.