Salem Radio Network News Thursday, October 6, 2022

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The Media Line: Some Shriek, Some Shrug at Booking.com Israeli Settlements ‘Warning’

Some Shriek, Some Shrug at Booking.com Israeli SettlementsWarning’

Veterans of Israeli tourism industry tell The Media Line that the impact of the decision will be minimal, tourism minister vows ‘diplomatic war’ and Palestinian hotelier says he wants the world to follow suit

By Sara Miller/The Media Line

International travel accommodation giant Booking.com is planning to introduce a warning on listings located in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying it is company policy to add such a disclaimer to all areas considered to be a “conflict zone.”

The decision announced this week caused outrage among Israeli politicians, while industry experts in the country were less pessimistic about its impact.

The Booking.com website allows travelers to reserve their own accommodation independently, choosing from what it says are more than 28 million listings in 228 countries and territories around the globe.

Local media reported that beginning on Thursday the website will feature a warning on all accommodations in West Bank settlements, stating 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.”

“Certain areas affected by conflict may pose a greater risk to travelers, so we provide our customers with information that helps them make decisions and encourage them to check their government’s official travel guidelines as part of the decision-making process,” the company told Israeli news outlet Ynet, explaining the rationale behind the move.

The company said that the warning would also appear for “other conflict zones” around the world. According to reports, the website is also planning to add the alert to accommodations in east Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after its capture from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War, a move not recognized by the international community.

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov told the Ynet news website that he is determined to fight the move. He said the Israeli government will wage “diplomatic war” to overturn what he termed a “political” decision.

Booking.com says it facilitates more than 1,550,000 overnight stays every day. According to respected analytics website SimilarWeb, the travel website has had an average of 675 million visits per month over the last three months.

There are some 140 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including dozens of tourist sites. Some human rights groups have lobbied for years for websites such as Booking.com to remove their listings.

Airbnb, which allows people to rent out their own homes to guests, introduced a ban on settlement listings in 2018, but overturned it some six months later after Israeli lawyers brought a class action lawsuit.

Israeli tour guide David Haivri, who lives in the West Bank, doubts that the move willadversely affect resorts in the settlements in a significant way.

“I’m skeptical how many such businesses in Judea and Samaria are actually relying on Booking.com for their business,” Ha’ivri told The Media Line, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

“It’s really a political thing what they are doing,” he said, pointing out that the controversy surrounding the decision also put a spotlight on the settlement resorts themselves.

“Just by doing it … they are highlighting the fact that there is a tourism industry and tourism services in Judea and Samaria,” Haivri said.

“That being said, I think it’s wrong for Booking.com to jump on the political bandwagon. They should put their focus on promoting businesses and not on boycotting businesses for any political agenda, he said.

Elias Al Arja, a Palestinian hotelier from Bethlehem, told The Media Line that he supports the decision by Booking.com.

“Hotels in Palestine are good and safe under our government. In the areas where the Israelis built some hotels and try to market it as Judea and Samaria it is something else,” he said.

“It’s not Palestinian, it’s not as safe as the Palestinian areas,” Al Arja added.

Booking.com is “right” to label settlement hotels, he said.

“I am looking for the world to do something like that, not just Booking,” the hotelier told The Media Line.

“Israelis are having subsidies to build in the area like Moscow has done in Donbas, helping the people to build some project and sell it as Russian and that’s what the Israelis do here,” he said, comparing Israel to Russia and the Palestinians to Ukraine. “They are destroying our [industry] and building alternatives in the areas that they occupied.”

Veteran Israeli tourism industry expert Ron Sinai also is unperturbed. This decision has nothing to do with any anti-Israel sentiment, it is purely Booking.com making its policies consistent, he told The Media Line.

“It is not done out of anti-Israel or pro-Palestine [sentiment], but a desire to present the information to their customers,” he said.

“Their approach is that someone who is not familiar with the issue and is looking for a hotel in the area will receive this warning before they make their reservation,” Sinai said.

There are very few settlement resorts that will be affected by the decision, and those that are do not actually rely on Booking.com for their business, he said.

“Almost the only places that could be hurt by this are two kibbutzim, Almog and Kalia, which are over the Green Line” border between Israel and the West Bank, Sinai said.

According to Sinai, these two locations in the northern Dead Sea area are not associated with being in the West Bank unlike places such as Maale Adumim, Modiin Illit or Kiryat Arba, whose visitors know where they are and do not care.

He reiterated his belief that the step by the travel site is not motivated by any anti-Israel sentiment and posited that the anger expressed by Israeli politicians has more to do with the upcoming Knesset elections.

“This is not just us, [Booking.com] are doing this throughout the world,” he told The Media Line.

“I’m not a victim here,” he said. “You decided this is dangerous? Fine, it’s your prerogative you’re the one who’s selling it.”

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