Airbnb offers rooms with a view in Israeli settlements

Image: Gayle Wohlgemuth Atias stands at the entrance to her rental property listed on Airbnb in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Dolev February 23, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Lianne Back

DOLEV, West Bank (Reuters) – Overlooking picturesque villages, the rental property listed on Airbnb is nestled in what seems like a peaceful setting of birdsong and sunshine.

But political reality can cloud the view.

Shimon Yitzhaki’s wooden cabin is located in the Jewish settlement of Dolev, in the occupied West Bank that is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“This is our land, this is our country,” said Yitzhaki, a retired business executive who owns two cabins in Dolev. He said he and his wife hoped foreign tourists would “enjoy the view” and take home a new perspective on settlement life.

Across the way from Dolev, Ayed Mathloum, a resident of the Palestinian village of Al-Janiya, said promoting accommodation in settlements contributed to an Israeli effort “to stay on the Arabs’ lands”.

Mustafa Bargouthi, a West Bank-based Palestinian politician, called any bid to direct tourism toward settlements a violation of international law.

Most countries view settlements that Israel built on territory occupied in a 1967 war as illegal. Israel disputes this and says their final status should be determined in any future talks on Palestinian statehood.

San Francisco-based Airbnb, which offers “unique places to stay from local hosts in 190+ countries” on its popular website, did not respond to Reuters’ request for a comment.

There are dozens of Israeli and Palestinian listings in the West Bank, and the territory’s pre-1967 war boundary with Israel is marked on a map dotted by rental properties with a wide range of prices.

Miri Maoz-Ovadia, spokeswoman for a regional settler council in the West Bank, said about 250,000 foreign tourists visit what she described as the “biblical heartland of Israel” every year.

“Everybody can come here, even Christians, Muslims, everybody. The only thing that they have to know is that they are coming to a settlement here, religious, so you cannot be free,” Yitzhaki said, in apparent reference to guest behaviour that could clash with its Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

Business has not been great: in the two years since Yitzhaki built the cabins, only a Jewish family and a Christian family, both from the United States, have come to stay.

Another settlement property, a house in Tekoa that sleeps eight near Bethlehem, offers “privacy and amazing view of the Judean desert”, as well as a kosher kitchen for $200 a night.

(Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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