For many people, summer is a time for travel and visiting new places. In anticipation of this, Airbnb recently launched a new marketing campaign urging travelers to use the online accommodation service to rent people’s homes instead of staying at hotels so that they don’t just “go there,” they actually “live there.”
This idea becomes particularly fraught when we’re talking about where I live: the occupied West Bank. My hometown, Hebron, has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967, more than a decade before I was born. I have never known freedom or equality in my homeland, and, over the years, things have gotten worse. Today, Israeli settlements are scattered all over occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, including in and around Hebron. Settlements, which are illegal under international law, are widely considered one of the biggest roadblocks to a lasting peace.
So it may come as a surprise to readers to learn that some of these settlements are among the places where Airbnb lists rental properties—and encourages travelers to not just “go” but to “live.”
A quick trip through the Airbnb website reveals rentals in the settlements of Ma’ale Adumim, Ariel, Efrat, Ma’ale Rehavam, Tekoa, and Havat Gilad. “3 rooms + balcony, a grape arbor, an orchard and a sitting area overlooking the spectacular Judea desert landscape. Well equipped, decorated, beautifully & tastefully furnished in authentic oriental style,” boasts a host named Itzhak of a Tekoa listing that goes for $166 a night. Another host, Howard, promises a “wonderius [sic] location on the edge of the desert” and “Camel tours to the Dead Sea” at his $515 per night Tekoa lodging. In El’azar, a settlement founded in the 1970s by a group of New York expats, Eilon offers guests a “spacious, stunning home” in a “safe gated Community.”
All these listings fall outside the Green Line (used to delineate the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank), but they are listed as being in “Israel.” In fact, Airbnb’s maps do not draw attention to the Green Line, making it difficult for the unfamiliar user to distinguish. Guests may not even realize they are actually staying in a settlement until they see the checkpoints and segregated roads.
This practice helps Israel normalize its control of Palestinian land and the apartheid system it has in place. Earlier this year, +972 magazine created an online persona: an American citizen of Palestinian descent who wanted to stay in a settlement rental. “Haled” attempted to make reservations at dozens of listings, but was declined at all but one, and rarely given a reason. In one case, the host responded: “I’m very sorry but I don’t think that it’s possible…. it’s very sensitive here.… [I] hope that in [a] different life we could be good friends.” In another example, the response was: “I am sorry but we will not be able to confirm your reservation. Due to the political situation it is not possible at this time.”