Tourism should not be at the expense of Palestinians

Israel must not be allowed to whitewash its crimes in the occupied territories by merely organising cheap travel packages.
Sunday 17/03/2019
Turning up the heat. Two models stand on a “barbed-wire beach” outside the offices of TripAdvisor in Soho Square, January 30. (DPA)
Turning up the heat. Two models stand on a “barbed-wire beach” outside the offices of TripAdvisor in Soho Square, January 30. (DPA)

Advertisements for vacationing in Israel have taken various forms. They include scenes of golden beaches along the Mediterranean, green fields and valleys, barren mountains, camels in the Negev, holy places in Jerusalem and tasty falafel and shawarma. All are attractive to holidaymakers.

However, during times of military escalation and attacks on Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation, the attractive imagery in the advertisements may not appeal to all tourists. Still, many miss obvious human rights violations during times of calm.

This is why Amnesty International sparked fear and anger in the corridors of power in Israel. The 96-page report “Destination: Occupation” aims to remind digital tourism companies such as TripAdvisor, Expedia, and Airbnb that they are profiting from businesses built on the suffering of others.

“They are doing so despite knowing that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is governed by international humanitarian law under which Israeli settlements are deemed illegal,” the report said.

“In doing business with settlements, all four companies are contributing to and profiting from the maintenance, development and expansion of illegal settlements, which amount to war crimes under international criminal law.”

Accompanying the Amnesty International report is a campaign that includes petitions, online naming-and-shaming, protests and posters highlighting how Palestinians are being hurt directly by tourism in the occupied territories. Indeed, tourists and Israeli settlers can visit areas that Palestinians cannot reach in their own land.

The human rights group called on would-be holidaymakers to pressure digital tourism companies to cancel packages to the occupied territories. One social media campaign, a video titled “Ever Wanted a Dream Holiday in Israel?” focused on TripAdvisor.

The Amnesty International campaign was welcomed by Palestinians and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. BDS was established in 2005 by Palestinian academics to pressure Israel to comply with international law and end its military occupation of Palestinian territories.

Israel threatened to ban Amnesty International from Israel.

“I instructed the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to examine the possibility of preventing Amnesty [International] personnel from entering or residing in, Israel,” said Gilad Erdan, Israeli public security minister and is strategic affairs minister, charged with opposing BDS.

“A few weeks ago, I asked the finance minister to end the tax benefits granted to the organisation,” he said. Erdan accused Amnesty International of promoting BDS “as part of the anti-Semitic boycott and delegitimisation campaign.”

In November, Airbnb announced it would cease operations in Israeli settlements “that are at the core of the dispute between the Israelis and Palestinians.” It promised to delist 200 properties there.

The move prompted five Jewish-Americans — two of whom are Israeli citizens living in West Bank settlements — to file a lawsuit against Airbnb alleging the company discriminates against Jews.

The Yesha Council, which represents Israeli settlers, accused Airbnb of becoming “a political site” and accused the company of participating in either anti-Semitism or capitulation to terrorism.

Visitors who are suspected of being sympathetic to Palestinians are threatened with being denied entry upon arrival to Israeli airports.

Amnesty International is not the only rights group to highlight the thorny issue of doing business with Israeli settlements.

A report by Human Rights Watch stated: “Settlements are unlawful under international humanitarian law; the transfer of civilians of the occupying power into the occupied territory is a war crime under the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court.”

The construction and expansion of illegal settlements are among reasons cited by the Palestinian Authority to freeze peace talks with the Israelis.

Digital tourism companies are feeling the heat. They are under public pressure not be viewed as being complicit to war crimes but they also face Israeli accusations of being anti-Semitism advocates until they back off.

Enjoying the “wonders of the Holy Land” at the expense of the Palestinians’ suffering living under decades of military occupation and humiliation must not be tolerated. The deprivation of Palestinian farmers from planting or harvesting their fields as well as uprooting and burning their olive trees by illegal settlers under the watchful eyes of Israeli occupation forces is only one example of violations raised by human rights organisations.

Others include destruction of numerous residential homes, forceful evictions and revoking residency permits of Palestinians residing in Jerusalem.

Israel must not be allowed to whitewash its crimes in the occupied territories by merely organising cheap travel packages.