Human Rights Due Diligence of Tourism Platforms in Palestine and Israel
Tourism in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including the Old City of Jerusalem, also referred as East Jerusalem, and its surroundings, the Dead Sea and Jordan Valley areas is strongly affected by Israeli annexation policies and practices that are illegal under international law. On the one hand, worldwide promotion of tourism activities in the OPT by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism uses distorted place names and information. The use of such maps and materials by tourism businesses contributes to the tendency to erase the existence of Palestinian heritage, identity and host communities. On the other hand, full Israeli control over all access points to the OPT, from land, sea and air, limits Palestinian stakeholders’ ability to participate and to control tourism sector in the OPT.
Acknowledgement of the local context
As stated in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs), businesses of every size and scope, including digital tourism companies, have a responsibility to respect human rights. Companies should avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and should seek to prevent those that are “directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts”. In a situation of occupation such as the one in the OPT, businesses are also expected to respect international humanitarian law.
Human rights due diligence means to respect the interests of the occupied population, as rightful owners of the land, as well the right of customers to accurate information about the service or product. By taking advantage of the asymmetry of power resulting from the occupation, the international tourism industry grows on environmental, social and economic injustice against Palestinian people.
The role of booking platforms
Over the years, several human rights organisations have been highlighting the role of corporations in sustaining and legitimising illegal Israeli settlements. With growing numbers of tourists using global booking platforms, special attention is given to companies such as Airbnb, Booking.com, Expedia and TripAdvisor.
Booking platforms that do not recognize the Palestinian host population and its rights to self-determination are contributing to negative human rights impacts. Using inaccurate geographic description such as “Name of the Israeli settlement, Israel”, “Israeli settlement, West Bank” or “Jerusalem, Israel” for the places in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, is misleading and not coherent with the applicable international law standards.
A number of listings from illegal settlements are still advertised as being in Israel. For example, at Booking.com platform several offers are listed as being in Israel, while in fact the properties are located in settlements, e.g. Kedem Ofra, Zufim, Kokhav Ya’ako, and therefore placed in the OPT. In East Jerusalem, properties at Booking.com or Airbnb are listed as being in Jerusalem without any indication that it is a part of the OPT.
Accurate information about the advertised offerings is crucial. In 2019, Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided about mandatory labelling of products originating from Israeli settlements in the OPT. It enforces the position published in 2015 by the European Commission. It required produces originating from Israeli settlements in the OPT to be labelled as such. Labels such as “product of Israel” or “product from the West Bank” are misleading consumers. The omission of additional geographical information, that the products come from Israeli settlements in the OPT is concealing the true origin of the product.
Additionally, in February 2020 the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has published a database report containing 112 Israeli and international companies operating in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory. Major booking platforms, like Booking.com, Expedia, Airbnb, Tripadvisor and Opodo are on this list. Adding and removing companies from the database during yearly reviews may create for them a necessary incentive and deterrent against engaging with Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise.
Differentiation is required
A context of belligerent occupation requires an approach, which takes into consideration the disproportion and asymmetry of power between the occupied population and the occupying power pursuant IHL. Some touristic destinations in the OPT have been appropriated and are administered by Israel Nature and Parks Authority as natural and heritage sites in Israel. Just to mention the most popular: “City of David” in Jerusalem, Qumran, Herodion or Nebi Samuel Park.
Despite the fact that this may confuse many visitors and tourism entrepreneurs, international law clearly indicates a significant difference between Israeli property in Israel and illegal settlements in the West Bank. This distinction should be the first step towards respecting human rights by tourism companies.
Dr. Ania Kdair is researcher in business and human rights in the Legal Research and Advocacy Department at Al-Haq, an independent Palestinian non-governmental organisation. Established in 1979 to protect and promote human rights and the rule of law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.