On 19 September 2022, it was reported that Booking.com will add a “safety and human rights warning” to the properties of Israeli settlers on illegally constructed properties on appropriated Palestinian lands in the West Bank. The warning is intended to highlight to potential clients that “visiting the area may be accompanied by an increased risk to safety and human rights, or other risks to the local community and visitors”. In addition, the term “occupied” will be added to illegal settler properties in the occupied West bank, on the English version of the Booking.com website.
While Al-Haq welcomes this move by Booking.com, it falls far short of the measures that can be taken by the company to address supporting and sustaining, both the illegal Israeli settlements, and Israel’s settler-colonial regime, across the occupied Palestinian territory through facilitation of tourism. Al-Haq had previously written to Booking.com on the role that business enterprises, such as Airbnb and Booking.com, play in the continuation and expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, in 2018. While this warning and the use of the term “occupied” is a step in the right direction by Booking.com, greater steps must be taken to comply with international law, in particular the requirement to apply enhanced human rights due diligence under the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.
A-Haq recalls the warning of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights to corporations active in Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise, that “business enterprises conducting due diligence should not assume that, by itself, this will automatically and fully absolve them from liability for causing or contributing to human rights abuses”. In this respect, Al-Haq notes that Booking.com’s failure to extend both the warning and “occupied” designation to Israeli settlement properties in illegally occupied and annexed East Jerusalem, is a worrying entrenchment of Palestinian territorial fragmentation and an obvious gap in the enhanced human rights due diligence of Booking.com. Al-Haq sees no reason why these illegal Israeli properties should be exempt from the new labelling that illegal Israeli properties in the West Bank will receive.
Although the labelling of the illegal settlements is a welcome measure to put clients on notice of their engagement in an illegal jurisdiction, the measures do not go far enough. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights has advised that: “A business enterprise that has, or has had, activities in or connected with the settlements should establish or participate in effective operational-level grievance mechanisms for individuals and communities who may be adversely impacted by their operations, taking into account the practical challenges that potentially affected stakeholders may experience in bringing claims or raising concerns.” As such, Booking.com should establish a grievance mechanism to specifically hear and remedy the claims of Palestinian property owners, deprived of access to their lands and properties, for the economic benefit of Booking.com and Israel’s settlement enterprise.
The economic sustainability of illegal settlements entrenches Israel’s occupation, settler-colonial apartheid regime against the Palestinian people. A major factor in this economic sustainability is tourism, and more action must be taken by travel companies to disengage from illegal settlement enterprises that will only further deny the rights of the Palestinian people, including the right of self-determination. The UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights asserts that: “Where an enterprise cannot effectively prevent or mitigate an adverse human rights impact, including through its best efforts to use and seek to increase its leverage, it should consider whether its continued operation can be reconciled with its responsibility to respect human rights and act accordingly”. To this end, Al-Haq calls for Booking.com to resist pressure placed upon it by the Israeli Government, to rescind the warning. In addition, Al-Haq calls for removal of all illegal Israeli settlement listings on Booking.com and other travel websites across the occupied Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem. So long as these properties are listed on their website, Booking.com will remain complicit in the ongoing occupation and is profiteering from the exploitation of the Palestinian people.