An Analysis of Lonely Planet’s Israel Travel Guide

Lonely Planet is the brand name of a line of travel guides covering popular destinations worldwide. Several years ago, CAMERA was alerted to potential bias in Lonely Planet’s guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. CAMERA member Richard Shulman has undertaken the task of reviewing travel guides page by page for accuracy and contextual bias. The Lonely Planet guide is the first review to be published by CAMERA.
The following report is an analysis of the 2015 edition of Lonely Planet’s guide book on Israel and the Palestinian Territories. An earlier edition from 2012 was also reviewed in order assess trends in accuracy. Our assessment is that Lonely Planet has made improvements, correcting some of the more obvious bias, but there is still work to be done. It is the nature of such evaluations that problem items outnumber positive items. While Shulman’s evaluation found many problems, CAMERA does not offer an overall judgment about the quality of Lonely Planet’s guide. Many of the items uncovered are commonly encountered in popular media. Until other guides have been subjected to a similar level of scrutiny, it is premature to rate Lonely Planet’s guide or make comparisons with others.
The following report identifies specific items in the 2015 and 2012 editions of Lonely Planet’s Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Those items that accurately convey important information and demonstrate balance are preceded by a “+”. Those items that convey inaccurate information and bias are preceded by a “-“.
Introductory pages
+ Historical Context on P.4: The book acknowledges that ancient sites in the Holy Land were built by Jews and afterwards by Christians. The editor did not equate the faiths as all having the sites from ancient times.
– Contextual inaccuracy on P.4: But the book sloppily refers to the area “since history began” as “Israel and the Palestinian Territories.” The designation of Palestine first became popular under the Romans and is less than two thousand years old. The name was punitively imposed by the Romans in order to detach the land’s history from the Jews. The history of Israel predates this designation by at least a thousand years.
+ Separating myth from established fact on P.11: The editors avoid the error of accepting mythical definitions of sites as factual. For example, it doesn’t state that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the site of Jesus’ burial. It states that is where Queen Helena believed it to be.
– Crucial contextual omissions on P. 22-25: The guide summarizes annual holidays including ones of recent vintage that were concocted by the Palestinians to celebrate violence against Israel. March, April, and May have days during which Muslims commemorate violence against Israel.
Palestinian Prisoners Day – “Palestinians remember their countrymen imprisoned in Israeli jails.” The guide does not address why these “countrymen” were imprisoned, ie. for terrorism.
Naqba Day – “Palestinian commemoration of the naqba (catastrophe) of refugees’ displacement in 1948.” There is no clarification that the “catastrophe” was not simply the displacement of Arab refugees, but the creation of the Jewish state of Israel.   
Land Day – “A Palestinian day of protest against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land.”  While providing a detailed discussion of the allegation that Israeli expropriated Palestinian land might be excessive for a guide book, there should at least be some mention that the claim of “Palestinian land” is rebutted by Israel.
Naksa Day, “Palestinian commemoration of the naksa (setback) of the 1967 Six Day War.” Here again it would be useful to recount that the “setback” was the failure by the combined armed forces of the surrounding Arab states to extirpate the Jewish state.
Recounting Historical Ties to the Land
+ Historical accuracy on P.44:  The book accurately explains that Turkish rulers allowed Jerusalem to fall into neglect before 1,600 CE. The text also states that by about 1850, Jews were a majority in Jerusalem. 
– Contextual omission on P.44:  Each side “sees” Jerusalem as its capital. The statement may be an accurate representation of what both sides desire, but in fact, Jerusalem IS the capital of Israel and no Palestinian state currently or has ever existed to claim Jerusalem as its capital.    
– Contextual inaccuracy on P.44: For political correctness the book refers to “East Jerusalem” as if it were a separate city.  Jerusalem was a divided city for 19 years while under illegal Jordanian occupation.  It would be more accurate to describe “eastern Jerusalem” (no cap for Eastern) as a geographic locator, but not as an official identity.
– Confusing myth with historical fact on P.48:  Muhammad is said to have told his followers that in a dream, he visited Jerusalem.    But the historical evidence indicates that Muhammad never actually visited Jerusalem. Islam had not yet conquered Jerusalem in Muhammad’s lifetime.  There certainly was no mosque there. 
– Selective emphasis on P. 49 of a few violent protests by Jews while ignoring the far more frequent and serious riots there by Muslims.
– Factual error on P.59:  The Western Wall is called Judaism’s most important shrine.  This is a frequently encountered mistake. The Temple Mount is Judaism’s holiest site. The importance of the Wall, which helped hold up the Mount, is that it was the nearest that Muslim and British rulers let Jews come to the
– Contextual bias in describing how paratroopers liberated the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, “and their first action…was to bulldoze the neighboring Arab houses to create the plaza that exists today.”  The missing context is that Israelis cleared the mounds of trash that Arabs had piled up there and reversed the neglect of the area.
– Factual inaccuracy on P.73:  Refers to a street in Jerusalem as the “border” between Israel and Jordan.  It was not a border but an armistice line.  Again, this is a frequent mistake identifying the armistice lines of 1949 as official borders. Similarly on P. 267 in describing the “green line” as border rather than as the armistice line. An armistice line is not an agreed upon border it is a temporary arrangement agreed upon by two warring sides.
Terminology and Facts of the Conflict
+ Improved historical accuracy in the 2015 edition. The 2012 edition claims the Old City of Jerusalem belonged to Jordan between 1948 and 1967. On  P.43 of the 2015 edition the text states that Jordan had seized it.
– Contextual bias on P.167: The text describes Atlit as a British detention center for Jewish refugees “illegally entering Palestine.”  This was by British definition. British barring of Jews violated the League of Nations Mandate, which required “close settlement on the land by the Jews.”  A more balanced choice of words would have described the entry as “clandestine,” but not “illegal.”  The 2015 edition words this better than the earlier edition.
– Historical bias on P.251:  The book asserts that reference to “Judea and Samaria” instead of “West Bank” insinuates improperly that contemporary Israeli policy should be based “on the Biblical boundaries of the Land of Israel.”  When the British drew up the boundaries of the Mandate in 1920, they did so with Bible in hand as well. The term “West Bank” only came into the lexicon as a result of the illegal seizure of the territory by the Jordanian army in 1948. From the perspective of duration, the names Judea and Samaria have far more legitimacy than the West Bank.
– Historical bias: The 2012 edition uses the terms “Occupied Palestinian Territories” or “the Palestinian Territories.”  Those terms incorrectly presuppose that the territories belong to Palestinian Arabs.  But the area has not been allocated to anyone; the Jewish people have at least as strong legal and historical claim to them. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, drawn up after the 1967 war, was carefully worded so that the status of the territories would not automatically assume the Arabs were the rightful possessors.  A balanced terminology would refer to “disputed Territories” or “Israeli-administered Territories.” The 2015 edition does a better job of avoiding the biased terminology.

– Contextual omission on P.251: The Oslo accords were supposed to end terrorism in Judea-Samaria (the West Bank).  The narrative states that “violence continued”  but does not specify who continued it.  The book errs by going too far in trying to scrupulously adhere to an apolitical balance. It was the Palestinians who continued the violence.
– Biased terminology on P.253:  “Israeli Jewish colonies set up in the Palestinian Territories are most often referred to as settlements.”  Jewish towns set up in the disputed territories are not colonies.  The terms colony and settlement are pejoratives in this context.  They unfairly imply that Arabs have more legitimacy there than do Jews.  Historically, it was the Arabs who established colonies outside of their indigenous homeland in Arabia.
– The book misrepresents international law, as do most countries which take the Arab side and now call Israel an occupier and its territorial towns as illegal.  Occupation has a specific meaning in international law which is not fulfilled by the circumstances of Israeli administration of the West Bank and before that, Gaza as well.  
– Arabs claim that Jewish towns often were built on privately owned Arab land, and divert water from Arab towns. The facts reveal a different situation. Israeli is a net exporter of water to both the West Bank and to Gaza. The main problem has been the contamination and ruin of the water supply through neglecting sewage treatment. This is a result of the Palestinian refusal to cooperate with Israeli projects for political reasons. With the recent advances in desalinization Israel is now an exporter of usable water.
– Factual and contextual bias on P.257:  Hamas is labeled a “militant turned political group.” This is an example of putting so much emphasis on being even-handed that inaccuracy results. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by the United States government and the European Union. It routinely engages in acts of unequivocal terrorism.
+ Factual accuracy on P. 257: The text states that “many countries considered Hamas a terrorist o
rganization.” This somewhat ameliorates the previous biased statement, but not entirely. 
– Contextual omission and misrepresentation in the earlier version: The 2012 edition includes the statement that “the Palestinians continue to build their institutions and economy – and dream of an independent homeland.”  Such statements should be left out unless Lonely Planet is willing to fully expound on the actual policies and statements made by the main Palestinian political parties. The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly rejected Israeli offers to turn over almost the entire West Bank and all of Gaza to the Palestinians. Both Fatah and Hamas continue to this day to reject the legitimacy of the Jewish state and adhere to their ultimate goal of dismantling it. It is evident by their own statements that the disappearance of Israel is an important component of the fulfillment of their dreams as an independent Palestinian state. The above-cited quote was not found in the 2015 edition.
– Factual context is missing on P.267:  The book describes how the Arabs “see” the security barrier as a “land grab.”  A statement should be included explaining that the security barrier was constructed for the purpose of blocking terrorist infiltrations and that less than 5 percent of the West Bank is on the Israeli side of the security barrier.   

– An unbalanced presentation of the current conflict in the West Bank between settlers and Arabs on P.274:  The book asserts that Jewish “settlements” often are in the news for attacking Arabs or Israeli troops. The book fails to mention the far more numerous and lethal Arab attacks.  
– Inappropriate citing of biased human rights groups in the 2012 edition: International human rights organizations monitor for breaches of human rights in Gaza.   Such groups have a political agenda that is one-sided. This agenda comes from the highly biased United Nations Human Rights Council that is stacked with oppressive nations that are hostile to Israel and relentlessly condemn Israel while giving their own deplorable human rights records a pass. A proper handling of the topic goes beyond the depth of a travel guide. Either the travel guide should cover this topic completely or just leave it out entirely.

– Unbalanced and factually inaccurate description of the problem with Gaza on P.279: The discussion of Gaza is superficial and tends to put the burden on the Israeli security regimen. In fact, Israel has let in plenty of cement, Hamas diverts the material for use in building terror tunnels. 

– Erroneous information on P.281:  Israel does not “routinely break” ceasefires in Gaza.  It it Hamas and other terorist entities that disrupt the ceasefire by launching rockets into Israel. Israel responds by suppressing the rocket launchers. 

– Biased conjecture on P.283:  Gaza reconstruction is said to be impeded by Israeli politics.  How this is the case is not shown.

– Imbalanced discussion of the unrest on the West Bank on P. 345:  The explanation about Jewish “price tag” youth is misleading. Omitted from the alleged motives of the youth is anger at the Israeli government’s perceived tepid protection of Jews and their crops from Arab raids. In fact, Arab violence against Jews in settlements on the West Bank far exceeds violence against Arabs by Jews.
– A biased recounting of vandalism on P.345:  Jewish youth are said to destroy Arab crops. This charge bears scrutiny as it is often unclear who is actually carrying out the vandalism. In fact, the most blatant vandalism of the land was the campaign by Arabs some years ago of setting fires to burn the forests Israelis had planted. Most recently, Arab vandals burned Joseph’s tomb, a religious cite of importance to the Jews.
– The books’ discussion of Hebron is unbalanced, characterized by a general tone that treats the Jewish presence there as a provocation.  Hebron has great historical importance to the Jews. Jews living there were forced to flee as a result of a pogrom instigated by Arab leaders in 1929.  Jews now there live on property they bought or inherited from which they had been evicted in 1929. 
– Inappropriate use of a highly biased source in the 2012 edition: The book cites the Israeli protest group, Breaking the Silence, in discussing allegations of Israeli army brutality. The group’s claims are spurious and have not been validated under any serious scrutiny. In fact, the group refuses to provide information that would make it possible to check on the validity of the claims. The allusion to “Breaking the Silence was not found in the 2015 edition.
– Recommending biased sources in the 2012 edition: Readers are referred to the leftist Peace Now and B’Tselem and to the religious rightist, which has little political news. These groups all have highly charged political agendas and are not reliable purveyors of factual information.   
– Misinformation in the 2012 edition: The book describes refugee camps as places of wholesome education.  What isn’t described is the routine indoctrination to hate Jews and incitement to acts of violence.
– Misrepresentation of history on P.353:  Arab opposition to Jewish immigration is described as nationalist.  This reflects a Western perspective. In fact, the main instigators against the arrival of Jewish immigrants to the Palestine Mandate was a political-religious leader, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. His incitement against the Jews was rooted in interpretation of Muslim religious beliefs and racial doctrines imported from Europe.  
The text also misleadingly states, “few Israelis were able to see the political, moral, and demographic difficulties Israeli control of the Palestinian Territories would entail.” In fact, Israelis were aware and concerned about these issues from the outset.

The Root of the Conflict
– Historical vagueness on P.355:  The book is unclear how many Arabs were deported by Israel in the 1948 war. According to prominent scholar Efraim Karsh, relatively few were deported, and those mostly for military necessity. 
+ The guidebook accurately explains that the Arabs of Safed and (on another page) of Jaffa tried to oust or kill their Jews, lost, and the British escorted the Jaffa Arabs away. 
– Historical controversy presented as fact on P.355:  The guide introduces the alleged massacre at Deir Yassin as fact. As CAMERA has previously written about, admissions by Arab officials and evidence presented over the years indicate that the Israeli forces at Deir Yassin encountered stiff resistance and that the number and circumstances in which Arab non-combatants were killed was exaggerated.     
– Historical misinformation on P.355:  The book leaves the mistaken impression that Israel got the lion’s share of the Mandate.  The book refers to Judea-Samaria as 22% of Mandatory Palestine (implying that Israel has the other 78%).  The Mandate started in the early 1920s.  It included Judea, Samaria, Gaza, (even the Golan) and what now is Israel and Jordan.  Jordan got 79% of the total Mandate area, when it became independent in 1946.  The other 21% is Israel and Judea-Samaria. Based on the original Mandate, Judea-Samaria is about 4% of the Mandate area and Israel, 17%. 

 – Biased recounting of history on P.356:  Ariel Sharon is accused of using a pretext for attacking the PLO in Lebanon.  He didn’t need a pretext, just a last straw.  The PLO had taken control of South Lebanon and was using it as a launching point for rocket barrages and terrorist infiltrations of Israel. 
– Incomplete recounting of history on P. 356. The book adopts the narrative that the Arab refugees main objective was to return to their lost homeland. It does not explain that the reason for the perpetuation of the refugees in camps was to insure that there would never be a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
– Equating both sides at the expense of accuracy. The 2012 edition states that some people on both sides “opposed the compromises necessary for peace.”  In fact, the two sides have had very different responses to the need for compromise. The Israelis made offers in 2000 and 2008 that would have given the Palestinians all of Gaza and nearly the entire West Bank despite the fact that the Arabs were the ones who initiated the conflict and Israeli land acquisitions from 1949 onward were the results of successfully repelling Arab aggression.
– Inappropriate reliance on a partisan source on P.358:  The book cites B’Tselem as its authority on the 2008 Gaza battle, and questions Israel’s claims that most of the Arabs killed were fighters.  As CAMERA has demonstrated in several reports, B’Tselem’s figures misrepresent civilian and combatant casualties. Recently, more serious charges have emerged connecting B’Tselem with turning in Palestinians who sold land to Jews. In the Palestinian Authority, selling land to Jews is punishable by death.    
– Distorted information on P.358: The book makes much of extremist Jewish settlers like Baruch Goldstein, the single instance of a Jew committing a large-scale massacre of Arabs. Meanwhile it plays down the much more pervasive and recurrent terrorism and violent extremism of the Palestinians. It also tends to adopt the political perspective of the left.
– Biased description in the 2012 edition: Joseph’s Tomb is described as a “source of considerable friction between Jews, who come here to pray under IDF escort…and local Arabs.”  What the book calls “friction” actually involves Arabs attacking Jewish visitors to the Tomb.   
– Missing context on P.359: Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount is said to have been provocative, leading to the Intifada. Evidence has emerged that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat and his closest confidants had already planned an escalation of violence as a response to the peace plan offered by Israel and the United States in 2000. Sharon’s visit served as a useful pretext.
– Insufficient context and misleading information on P.361:  The book makes a point of differentiating casualties as troops or civilians. The insinuation is that Israel acted wrongly because the majority of Israeli casualties are military and many of the Palestinian casualties are civilians. In fact, frequently cited casualty reports identifying mainly Palestinian civilians are not reliable as they are provided by Hamas affiliated sources. Those civilian casualties that do result are the responsibility of Hamas which intentionally situates its rockets and fighters in civilians areas in order to provoke an Israeli response.  

+ Improved historical accuracy on P.362:  The book correctly refers to Jews during the Palestine Mandate as “Palestinian Jews.” In fact, the Jews often were called “Palestinians.”  When local Arabs acquired national consciousness, they were initially inclined to consider themselves southern Syrians or simply as Arabs.
– Unbalanced political overview on P.368:  The section titled “Understanding Israel and the Palestinian Territories” contains false assumptions: (1) Popular opinion determines policy-making in the Palestinian Authority (2) Palestinians believe all the strident allegations they make against Israel are true and not simply propaganda (3) Israel or its government is impugned as “extremist” and “right-wing.”  The Palestinian Authority has some components of democracy, but it is quite evident that it does not abide by the norms of civil rights common to the West or to Israel. 
It was the conservative government of Menachem Begin that negotiated the peace treaty with Egypt and the government of current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly offered to negotiate with the Palestinians without preconditions. It is the Palestinian leadership that refuses to meet with the Israelis.
In discussing the reasons that Palestinian resent Israel, it focuses only on complaints about Israel’s policies and behavior. It says nothing about fundamental tenets of Islam and the refusal to accept Jewish sovereignty anywhere on the land as legitimate. It ignores the incessant incitement against Jews revved up by the state-run media, government officials, mosques and schools. For example there is the recurring false charge that Israel intends to demolish or sieze control of the Al Aksa mosque in Jerusalem.
– Incomplete presentation of facts on P.375:  Roadblocks and checkpoints also are said to make Palestinian residents lose hope for peace.  The book acknowledges that many roadblocks have been removed in the past few years. However, it does not delve sufficiently into questions of responsibility on the part of the Palestinians. It was the relentless Palestinian terrorism that necessitated security measures like roadblocks.
– Unbalanced context on P. 375: The book attributes the Palestinian Authority’s pessimism to the “right-wing composition of Israel’s current government.” The current policies of the Israeli government are consistent with the policies of preceding governments. It is the Palestinian Authority that rebuffs any overtures by Israeli governments of both the left and the right.  
– Misleading characterizations of Fatah and Hamas on P.379:  Fatah is called nationalist and secular.  It is secular only in comparison to Hamas.  Its policies discriminate against Jews, oppress homosexuals, and repress women. 
– The 2012 edition gives outdated figures for Arab fertility rate. The figure of seven children per woman comes from years ago. It is currently much lower.
– Misrepresenting the facts about Fatah on P.379:  The book notes that Fatah “outwardly” renounced terror. It also states that Fatah recognized Israel’s right to live in peace without explaining the ambiguity of such statements.  The PLO from which Fatah draws its authority has never changed its covenant, which does not recognize Israel’s right to peace. This was reconfirmed in the party’s general congress in 2009. Palestinian Authority President Abbas refuses to recognize the Jewish people’s right to their country.
– The 2012 edition omits crucial information about Islamic beliefs. A similar passage was not found in the 2015 edition: The guide establishes that Islam considers Jews and Christians (and Zoroastrians} as peoples of the book. That does not mean that it respects the rights of the adherents of these faiths. Sharia law contains many discriminatory provisions, relegating the peoples of the book to the status of second class citizens. Contemporary Islamists have adopted extreme racist and violent positions on Christians and Jews.
– The 2012 edition claims that Israeli security forces go easy on Jews and harshly on Arabs. This was not identified in the 2015 version. Such claims do not account for the different behavior of most Jewish protests, which are usually non-violent, whereas many Arab protests are violent and endanger the security forces.
Those who have purchased the Lonely Planet’s guides should use the above list – which is not exhaustive, other examples
may be found – as a resource. Contact the editors of Lonely Planet and politely request that corrections be made to the erroneous or biased information. Provide corrected information. Since the 2015 edition appears improved over the earlier edition, Lonely Planet may be willing to make further corrections.

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