Rights Group: Settler Rentals Are Discriminatory, Settlements Are War Crimes
March 18, 2019, Wilmington, Delaware – Today, Palestinian landowners and West Bank residents filed to intervene in a lawsuit against Airbnb over the booking platform’s decision to remove listings for Israeli settlements in the West Bank in the occupied Palestinian territory. Dual Israeli-U.S. citizen settlers whose listings are to be removed and potential renters filed the original lawsuit against Airbnb, claiming discrimination. Today, a Palestinian-American and two Palestinian villages, whose properties are the very properties that settlers have listed on Airbnb, filed counterclaims against the settlers, arguing that their actions constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and discrimination on the basis of religion and national origin. They also bring claims of trespass and unjust enrichment against the settlers who are on their lands. Another Palestinian-American and resident of the West Bank filed counterclaims against the settlers for discrimination. All four are represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“Anyone looking at the facts can tell that we are the rightful owners of this land, no matter how the settlers try to spin it,” said Ziad Alwan, a Palestinian resident of Chicago who has the document proving that the land is registered in his father’s name, even though a settler runs a bed & breakfast on his land. “I am filing this lawsuit in my father's memory, and for my own children, whom I’ve taught to never forget that this land is rightfully theirs."
Today’s filing argues that the Israeli settlers who sued Airbnb have participated in war crimes by aiding in Israel’s seizure of land in occupied Palestinian territory, including the specific lands on which the Airbnb properties stand. The rentals are in Israeli-only settlements from which Palestinian residents of the West Bank are barred as per Israeli military orders, and which are sometimes surrounded by physical barriers, military bases, and security gates.
“The settlers who sued Airbnb are cynically using the language of discrimination in order to further their own unlawful ends,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Staff Attorney Diala Shamas. “Our clients’ experiences –Palestinians who are directly affected by these settlers’ actions – show where the real discrimination and illegality lies. This case puts the settlers on trial in a U.S. court.”
Several of the settlers who sued Airbnb helped establish the unlawful Jewish settlements in the West Bank where the rental properties are located. They occupied the lands with full knowledge that they were illegally built on or seized. One of the plaintiffs boasts of being one of the “founding families” of a settlement outpost on land belonging to the Palestinian village of Jalud, which is intervening in the lawsuit. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of civilians of the occupying power, Israel, into occupied territory (i.e. Israeli civilians into the occupied Palestinian territory). Settlements are established and maintained on Palestinian land as exclusively Jewish communities; Palestinian residents are forbidden from accessing or residing in the settlements.
In their lawsuit, the settlers have claimed discrimination under the Fair Housing Act—which attorneys for the Palestinian intervenors say turns the law on its head. They note that the properties the settlers wish to list on Airbnb are located in Jewish Israeli settlements that Palestinians are prohibited from entering and that the listings themselves indicate discrimination on the basis of national origin and religion.
“I’m bringing this lawsuit because I want to live in peace with my family and among my community without the constant looming threat of arrests, killings, nightly raids, demolition of homes, restrictions on movement, and so on—all part of the military occupation that serves to protect discriminatory settler practices,” said Randa Wahbe.
Lawyers say that not only has Airbnb not discriminated against the settlers who filed the lawsuit, but that, had it not de-listed the rentals, the company would be contributing to international law violations.
Misty Seemans, Esq. of Wilmington, Delaware is local, pro-bono counsel cooperating with the Center for Constitutional Rights to represent the intervenors.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.