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Airbnb lists homes in illegal Israeli settlements

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Dozens of listings on the online accommodation service Airbnb show immaculate cottages, elaborate breakfasts and rolling hillside views “in Israel” – but what is not stated is that the properties are located in Jewish settlements and outposts on occupied Palestinian territory.

One shows a tidy, three-bedroom rental home with an idyllic courtyard framed by a lush green grapevine, for the price of 800 shekels ($205) in Tekoa, a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.

The listing promises “three rooms, a balcony, a grape arbour, an orchard and a sitting area overlooking the spectacular Judea desert landscape. Well equipped, decorated, beautifully and tastefully furnished in authentic oriental style.”

The accommodation is listed as being located 15 minutes from Jerusalem, and “inspiring”.

This and similar listings for property rentals in settlements and outposts deemed illegal under international law have sparked condemnation from the Palestinian community.

“It’s not only controversial, it’s illegal and criminal,” Husam Zomlot, the ambassador-at-large for Palestine, told Al Jazeera. “This website is promoting stolen property and land.”

Airbnb does not list any safety and security concerns in relation to the listings, despite a recent escalation in violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

“We follow laws and regulations on where we can do business and investigate concerns raised about specific listings,” company spokesman Peter Huntingford told Al Jazeera. He would not say whether the listings in question had been targeted for investigation.

When hosts list a property, they are required to accurately list the location, and can be investigated if they do not. Some of the listings in question state outright that the properties are in Israel as opposed to the occupied Palestinian territories.

Settlement expansion has long been viewed as a major roadblock to a viable Palestinian state, and under Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, settlement expansion has surged.

The Jewish settler population throughout the West Bank has grown by about 25 percent since 2009, to nearly 400,000 people, compared with the overall population growth rate of about 10 percent inside Israel during that time.

Itzhak Levit, who listed the property in Tekoa, told Al Jazeera: “Israel has never agreed that the Geneva Convention resolutions applied to the territories occupied in 1967.

According to Israeli law, Tekoa, and the vast majority of settlements in the West Bank, are authorised settlements, therefore entirely legal and consistent with national law.”

Tekoa is located in Area C, which is under full Israeli military control. Under the Oslo Accords, it was intended to be returned to the Palestinian Authority by 1999, but this never happened.

Fadi Kattan, who handles the tourism portfolio for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, said the listings were unethical and that it was “bizarre” that Airbnb would allow them on its website.

Activist Dror Etkes, who follows Israel’s settlement policy, said those who oppose the policy must denounce commercial entities that entrench the occupation. Airbnb should not allow hosts in West Bank settlements to state that their properties are located inside Israel, he said.

“This is obviously a common factual mistake which many commit, mainly in Israel, but apparently also abroad. Airbnb should be corrected regarding this mistake, and if they still insist on misleading their clients, they should be denounced for it and pay the full public price for it,” Etkes said.

In another of the controversial listings, an attractive cottage with a tidy garden is offered for 471 shekels ($120) a night in the settlement of Efrat, established in 1983 on occupied Palestinian land south of Jerusalem.

“Efrat is a beautiful, residential and lush town close to Jerusalem, surrounded by historical sites and nice walking paths in nature,” Lily, who issued the listing but did not provide her last name, told Al Jazeera. A resident of Efrat for the past three decades, she maintained that her property was “part of the state of Israel”.

“People come to us knowing that Efrat is part of the state of Israel, and are not concerned with safety and security issues… There are risks everywhere in Israel and in the world – Paris, California, Tel Aviv, Chicago,” she said. “This is our country and we mean to stay.” Al Jazeera

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