Lawyers in Israel have filed a class-action lawsuit against Airbnb after the company withdrew listings in the occupied West Bank.
The lead plaintiff in the case was reported to be Maanit Rabinovich, an Israeli living in the Kida settlement.
At least one of Rabinovich's properties was identified in a Human Rights Watch report that criticized the global travel business for "facilitating the rental of dozens of properties in settlements in the occupied West Bank."
"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 (ICC), and Palestinian residents of the West Bank enjoy legal protections against forced displacement," the report wrote.
"The business activity that Airbnb and Booking.com conduct helps make West Bank settlements more profitable and therefore sustainable, thus facilitating Israel's unlawful transfer of its citizens to the settlements."
The report identifies properties in Kida as being built without official Israeli authorization, where "Israeli authorities refrain from enforcing Israeli law and instead facilitate the settlers remaining there."
200 listings identified
Shortly after the publication of the report, Airbnb said it would remove about 200 listings in illegal settlements. Rabinovich said Airbnb never contacted her to warn her of its intention.
Airbnb said it "concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians."
"We know that people will disagree with this decision and appreciate their perspective. This is a controversial issue," it said in a statement.
Israel's internal security minister, Gilad Erdan, later called on affected settlers "to consider filing lawsuits against Airbnb."
A spokesman for the lawsuit said they are seeking 15,000 shekels (€3,500/$4,000) in damages for each host whose listing has been removed.
The lawsuit accuses the site of hypocrisy by "discriminating" against West Bank settlers while allowing listings in other disputed territories around the world.
It cites Tibet, northern Cyprus and Georgia's separatist republic of Abkhazia as examples of disputed territories where Airbnb has plentiful listings.
"These partial examples testify to the fact that Airbnb has no policy regarding conflict zones around the world," it added. "It has a policy regarding [Israeli] settlements, and only to them."
Israel first occupied the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War, despite Palestinian claims on the land for their future state. Around 600,000 Israelis live in settlements in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.
aw/cmk (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)