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Airbnb in Hot Water Over Illegal Israeli Settlement Listings

The sharing economy now includes land stolen by religious radicals.

Popular room-sharing site Airbnb is listing dozens of properties located in illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, causing controversy among Palestinian and human rights groups. The settlements, long condemned by the international community, are built on Palestinian land beyond the green line, the border defined by the 1949 Armistice Agreements after the 1948 war between Israel and Arab states. The Guardian reports:

The global accommodation bookings website boasts listings in over 190 countries, including Israel and the “Palestinian Territories,” as the West Bank and Gaza are described on the company’s website. But while a search for Airbnb properties in the Palestinian Territories turns up rentals in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah and Nablus, properties in settlements such as Efrat, Ma’ale Rehavam and Tekoa are listed as being in Israel.

"It's not only controversial, it's illegal and criminal," Husam Zomlot, ambassador-at-large for Palestine, told Al Jazeera. "This website is promoting stolen property and land."

Despite a requirement that listings disclose their actual locations, several properties refer to their locale as "Isreal," not occupied Palestinian territories. Airbnb spokesperson Nick Paps told the Guardian, "We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings," though would not respond directly to specific questions about what laws apply to the situation.

Some activists prefer to use the term illegal colonies over illegal settlements because they believe it better conveys displacement and ethnic cleansing.

Itzhak Levit, an Airbnb host in the illegal settlements who is advertising a three-bedroom in Area C—which is under full Israeli military control—told the Guardian the arrangement complied with international law because, "Israel has never agreed to the Geneva Convention resolutions applied to the territories occupied in 1967." Most international law experts, including those who spoke with Al Jazeera and the Guardian disagree, noting the property listings "facilitates the commission of a crime" because they are profiting off illegal settlements. 

The population of Jewish settlers illegally in the West Bank has increased about 25 percent in the past six years to nearly 400,000. The listings generally go from $100-$200 a night. 

Settlement expansion continues to be one of the major barriers to a lasting peace in Israel. Recently, the EU decided to label products that were manufactured in illegal Palestinian settlements, causing increased tensions between Israel and European countries. 

Adam Johnson is a contributing analyst at FAIR and contributing writer for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @AdamJohnsonNYC.

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