Palestinian Studies

2019 Workshop

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins

Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Bard College

Airbnb in Palestine

Use of Airbnb and similar online short-term “home sharing” rental platforms has boomed in Israel/Palestine over less than a decade. Airbnb in particular has gained widespread attention for its use on settlements and has been listed in the call to boycott companies that support the occupation. Yet West Bank Palestinians are also increasingly using the platform to rent out their own properties, usually to foreign nationals visiting Palestine for short periods, in order to, among other things, pay back loans or to support family members in prison. Others, for example refugees who manage to travel from West Bank camps into Israel but are unable to obtain Israeli permits to do so, are using Airbnb as a means of evading identity checks at Israeli hotels and staying overnight across the Green Line, often for the first time in decades and often in Jewish Israeli homes. To use Airbnb, which requires credit cards most West Bank Palestinians lack, many Palestinian “hosts,” as the platform calls them, must secretly partner with relatives abroad who wire guests’ payments back to them. And those who use Airbnb to evade Israeli police while staying overnight in Israel do so with the help of foreign nationals. The latter book homes on Airbnb on behalf of Palestinian friends and perform “check-ins” with Israeli hosts, concealing unpermitted Palestinian guests. In Israel, Airbnb provides greater anonymity than hotels for Palestinians seeking a taste of free movement and an opportunity to linger and develop relationships on otherwise inaccessible territory. Meanwhile, Airbnb generates uncomfortable intimacies for West Bank Palestinian Airbnb hosts who worry about the use of their properties for illicit sexual relationships among Palestinians, since Palestinian hotels require Palestinian couples checking in to prove their married status. At the same time, refugees who stay in Jewish Israelis’ homes through Airbnb experience the intimacy of those spaces and glimpse both what return might look like and the materialities of the settler colonial lives that obstruct it. Drawing on four interviews I conducted to develop new ethnographic research on how Palestinians experience the “sharing economy,” this paper will explore how Airbnb is helping to shape Palestinians’ relationship to property, kin, and home, on the one hand, and how, as colonized subjects without a state, Palestinians’ engage, and end up informing, what “home sharing” looks like in this twenty-first century context.

Sophia Stamatopoulou-Robbins is an assistant professor of anthropology at Bard College. Based on long-term fieldwork in Palestine, her first book, The Waste of Palestine (Stanford University Press, forthcoming), explores what happens when, as Palestinians are increasingly forced into proximity with wastes, waste is transformed from “matter out of place” into matter with no place to go. Her new book-length project investigates how Airbnb is transforming the relationship between subjectivity, real estate and work in Greece as a way of understanding the world-making of austerity governance. She has published in American Ethnologist, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, Arab Studies Journal, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and the Jerusalem Quarterly, among others. She holds a Masters in Forced Migration (University of Oxford) and a PhD in Anthropology (Columbia University). The National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the Wenner Gren Foundation have supported her work.