Booking.com plans warning for listings in occupied West Bank

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JERUSALEM — The online travel agency Booking.com said Monday it plans to add warnings to listings in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, becoming the latest foreign company to wade into one of the world’s most contentious debates.

Booking.com said it would caution customers booking accommodations in Israeli settlements that they were traveling to a “disputed, conflict-affected or high-risk” area that “may pose greater risks.”

The company told The Associated Press that it was still working on the language of the safety warning for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and a few other regions around the world. The alert will not take effect when it was announced.

The move comes as violence rises in West Bank with raids by Israeli forces on cities and villages leaving at most 85 Palestinians killed this year. The Israeli army claimed that a vehicle was shot at as it passed through a Palestinian village in northern West Bank. No injuries were reported.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined comment.

The majority of the world considers settlements built on land Israel took in the 1967 Middle East conflict to be a violation international law. Some 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem. These lands are coveted by the Palestinians as part of a future independent country.

Online travel companies like Airbnb and Booking.com long have faced pressure from Palestinian officials, activists and human rights groups to end their listings there. But they face Israeli fury if that happens. Israel and its supporters have accused anyone who supports anti-Israeli boycotts, including products made within the settlements, as antisemitism. After lawsuits were filed in Israel and the United States against Airbnb, it decided to scrap its plan to ban listings in settlements in 2019.

A similar controversy has engulfed Ben & Jerry’s ice cream maker. The Vermont company caused a stir in Israel when it announced that it would cease selling its products in the occupied West Bank.

But a recent agreement will see Ben & Jerry’s ice cream return to shelves in the occupied territory after Unilever, the parent company, sold the Israeli business to a local licencee.

Booking.com’s announcement did not directly question the legitimacy or legality of the settlements, and instead focused on safety. Some Israelis believe the disclaimer shows Israel’s success in putting pressure.

“It is clear that Booking.com has taken into consideration the enormous damage Ben & Jerrys and Airbnb did to themselves by adopting a boycott of Israeli-controlled territories,” Eugene Kontorovich (director of the international law section at the Kohelet Policy Forum), a conservative Israeli think tank, said. “At the same time they want to throw a bone to anti-Israel activists.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the U.S., welcomed the travel warning as a decision to “recognize the reality of the occupation and human rights abuses,” calling on more foreign corporations to do the same.

Booking.com said its safety banner for the West Bank would resemble those currently shown for accommodations in Ukraine or Cyprus. The site’s warning for Ukraine cautions travelers of “an increased risk to customers’ safety in this location” and urges them to “review travel guidelines for this area provided by your government.”

The company declined to say whether the warning would also apply to Palestinian properties in the West Bank, such as in the cities of Hebron or Ramallah.

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