As Airbnb prepares to go public in a multi-billion-dollar Initial Public Offering (IPO) it must withdraw listings of rental properties built illegally on the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), Amnesty International said today.

The San Francisco-based online accommodation company has around 200 properties for rent in the illegal Israeli settlements that are at the heart of systematic human rights violations faced by Palestinians.

Two years ago, Airbnb said it would remove accommodation in the settlements from its listings, before reversing its decision.

Responding to reports that Airbnb is set to become a publicly-listed company after filing IPO documents in the US, Saleh Higazi, Deputy Regional Director for Middle East and North Africa, said:

“These settlements are a war crime under international law. Airbnb needs to do right by future investors and stop benefiting from illegal settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

Shamefully, Airbnb has been promoting and benefiting from a situation that is a root cause of the systematic human rights violations faced by millions of Palestinians on a daily basis.”

Lack of transparency in IPO documents

Earlier this year, Airbnb was one of more than 100 companies around the world listed in a UN database of firms whose business operations linked them to Israeli settlements in the OPT. These settlements are illegal under international law.

However, Airbnb’s Registration Statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ahead of the IPO makes no mention of business operations in the Israeli settlements or the fact that the company appears on the UN database. This information is missing from the “Risk Factor” section of the documents, which informs shareholders of a company’s legal, reputational and other risks.

Airbnb stock is expected to be purchased by investment and pension funds across the world, which could mean that a large number of people will indirectly hold investments in Airbnb without understanding the full ramifications. 

The major global banks that are underwriting Airbnb’s IPO, including Goldman Sachs, Barclays Capital and Morgan Stanley, also have a responsibility to ensure that material disclosure to shareholders is accurate.

Airbnb’s shameful change of heart

Though Airbnb claims to donate the profit it generates through these listings, allowing them to remain in place means that a wider tourist industry is being supported and allowed to flourish at the expense of Palestinian rights and livelihoods.

In January 2019, Amnesty published a major report called “Destination Occupation” showing how Airbnb, TripAdvisor, Expedia and were fuelling systematic human rights violations against Palestinians by listing hundreds of rooms and activities in Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem.

The previous year, Airbnb had announced it would remove listings for 200 rental properties in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem, “at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians”. The company said one of the principles it applied when making the decision had been to “evaluate whether the existence of listings is contributing to existing human suffering”.

However, in April 2019, Airbnb shamefully reversed this decision following a number of lawsuits and said the company would allow the listings to remain but would “take no profits from this activity in this region”.

Settlement expansions feared

There is now concern that Israeli settlements on Palestinian land are expanding, with thousands of new housing units announced in 2020. The surge in settlement-building is widely believed to reflect the broad political support the Israeli authorities have received under the US presidency of Donald Trump.

In November, Mike Pompeo visited a winery in the Israeli settlement of Psagot, the first time a serving US Secretary of State has ever visited an Israeli settlement. This follows his announcement in November 2019 that the US no longer considers Israeli settlements to be illegal under international law.

The expansion proposals come after more than a half century of Israeli military occupation in the OPT, during which more than 50,000 Palestinian homes and structures have been demolished. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been forcibly removed.

In their place, more than 600,000 Israelis have been allowed to move into around 250 mostly purpose-built settlements, many serviced by settler-only roads and guarded by military checkpoints.

Approximately 1,000 square kilometres of Palestinian land has been expropriated by Israeli settlers in the past 50 years.

This has had a devastating impact on Palestinians’ rights to an adequate standard of living, to work, to housing, to health, and to education and has progressively crippled the Palestinian economy.

“No company should be party to human rights abuse and until Airbnb ends its business relationship with the Israeli settlements it will be deeply compromised,” said Saleh Higazi.