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Airbnb May Have Caved to Israel’s Settler Movement, but Palestinians Aren’t Giving Up

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In early March, two Palestinian villages and two Palestinian-Americans filed an unusual legal claim in a federal court in Delaware. It represented the first attempt by Palestinians to challenge the Israeli settlement enterprise in the United States.

The challenge took the form of an intervention in a lawsuit that had been filed earlier by a group of Israeli-Americans, with homes in settlements, against the online hospitality giant, Airbnb. That lawsuit charged the company with discrimination after it announced it would no longer list properties in the occupied West Bank. In intervening in the suit, the Palestinians flipped the script: they argued that it is the settlers’ conduct, and not Airbnb’s attempt to reconcile its business practices with basic human-rights law, that discriminates against Palestinians. They further charged the settlers with discrimination on the basis of religion and national origin, trespassing, and unjust enrichment and international war crimes. 

Now, one month later, Airbnb has settled with their pro-settlement critics—but the Palestinian intervenors are continuing to pursue their claim.

On April 9, Airbnb announced that it will not be removing its listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, as it had said it would back in November 2018; instead, it will continue to allow listings throughout the West Bank but will donate its profits to “non-profit organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid that serve people in different parts of the world.” Two days later, on April 11, attorneys for the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the two Palestinian villages and two Palestinian Americans, urged a federal judge to permit their claims against Americans with properties in Israeli settlements to proceed.

“Our clients, Palestinians directly affected by these Airbnb postings, intervened in the lawsuit precisely because they have significant interests at stake, and to prevent an outcome that utterly ignored those interests,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Diala Shamas in a statement. “To dismiss this lawsuit without even considering the intervenors’ claims would be yet another affront to the rights of people who have had their land stolen and who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion and national origin.”

News of Airbnb’s settlement sparked dismay and outrage from a range of human rights groups, among them Human Rights Watch, which, along with several other organizations, had urged Airbnb to remove the settlement listings. “Airbnb cannot wash its hands by donating profits from unlawful settlement listings. So long as they continue to broker rentals on land stolen from Palestinians who themselves are barred from staying there, they remain complicit in the abuses settlements trigger,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch, told The Nation. He added: “They’ve just been bullied into not taking the actions that flow from their own findings and their international human rights obligations.

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