JERUSALEM– Online travel agency Booking.com said Monday it plans to add warnings to entries in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, becoming the latest foreign company to plunge into one of the world’s most contentious debates.
Booking.com said it would warn customers booking accommodation in Israeli settlements that they are traveling to a “disputed, conflict-affected or high-risk” area that “could pose greater risks”.
The company told The Associated Press that it was still working on the language of the security alert for the Israeli-occupied West Bank and some other regions around the world. It was not said when the warning would come into effect.
The move would come as violence mounts in the West Bank and raids by Israeli forces on towns and villages have killed at least 85 Palestinians so far this year. On Monday, the Israeli army said a vehicle came under fire as it drove past a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank. No injuries were reported.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.
Most of the world considers the settlements built on land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war to be in violation of international law. About 700,000 Jewish settlers live in the occupied West Bank and in the annexed East Jerusalem. The Palestinians aspire to these lands as part of a future independent state.
Online travel companies like Airbnb and Booking.com have long faced pressure from Palestinian officials, activists and human rights groups to end their operations there.
But they risk Israeli anger if they do. Israel and its supporters have accused those who support anti-Israel boycotts, including products made in the settlements, of anti-Semitism. Airbnb scrapped its plan to suspend listings in the settlements in 2019 after lawsuits were filed against it in the US and Israel.
A similar controversy has engulfed ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s. The Vermont company sparked an outcry in Israel when it said it would stop selling its products in the occupied West Bank last year.
But a new deal will see Ben & Jerry’s ice cream returned to store shelves in the occupied territories after parent company Unilever sold the brand’s Israeli business to a local licensee.
Booking.com’s announcement didn’t directly question the legitimacy or legality of the comparisons, instead focusing on safety. For some Israelis, the disclaimer showed that Israel’s pressure paid off.
“It shows that Booking.com paid attention to the massive damage done by Airbnb and Ben & Jerrys did to themselves when they enacted a boycott of Israeli-controlled territories,” said Eugene Kontorovich, director of the international law department at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative Israeli think tank. “At the same time, they want to throw a bone to anti-Israel activists.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights group in the US, hailed the travel warning as a decision to “acknowledge the reality of the occupation and human rights abuses,” and called on more foreign companies to do the same.
Booking.com said its West Bank security banner would be similar to those currently shown for properties in Ukraine or Cyprus. The website’s warning for Ukraine warns travelers of “an increased risk to the safety of customers in this location” and urges them to “review the travel guidelines provided by your government for this area”.
The company did not want to say whether the warning would also apply to Palestinian properties in the West Bank, for example in the cities of Hebron or Ramallah.