Lonely Planet, Guide to Bias

Lonely Planet’s Guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (5th edition, 2007) by Michael Kohn, Roxane Assaf, Miriam Rephael, Amelia Thomas, Matt Beynon Rees and Alon Tal.
Like its predecessors, the 5th edition of Lonely Planet’s Guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories caters to the rabidly anti-Israel activist, providing a skewed view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and even offering up suggestions about anti-Israel activism.

No section is safe from revisionist attitudes and pro-Palestinian falsities, ranging from the occasional jab at Israeli culture – such as the claim that Israel will not relinquish the Golan Heights “because holidaying Israelis would be left with nowhere to escape the heat” – to outright lies and misrepresentations about historical events.

Unfounded Claims

The guide is marred by numerous unsubstantiated and outright false claims. Following are several examples:

In the decade following the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993, which included a pledge to freeze land claims and settlement building, the settler population more than doubled as construction continued.

The Oslo accords of 1993 included no Israeli pledge to freeze land claims and settlement building.

The writers proceed to make a series of false allegations about a supposed Israeli plan to annex more Palestinian owned lands:

The West Bank’s largest and, in ways, most contentious Jewish settlement, Ma’ale Adumim, sprawls atop the hills outside of Jerusalem. A glance at its magnitude and permanence make it obvious why a final two-state solution with this as Palestine is so complex – especially with Israel’s plans to annex the colony. In so doing, Israel will radically re-draw the boundaries of Jerusalem to include this confiscated Palestinian land, stretching its de facto Jerusalem jurisdiction deep into the West Bank. Some say the plan is to extend “Greater Jerusalem” to the Jordan River.

Can the editors document their claim that Israel plans to include Ma’ale Adumim within Jerusalem’s boundaries? Or their wild assertion that Israel’s plan “is to extend ‘Greater Jerusalem’ to the Jordan River”? The writers incorrectly describe Ma’ale Adumim as a “colony” (an alien community established in foreign territory by an imperial power), and falsely claim that it is “confiscated Palestinian land.” As reported by the Associated Press and International Herald Tribune in March 2007, only 0.5 percent of Ma’ale Adumim is built on private Palestinian land. The rest – more than 99 percent – was owned by the Ottoman state and emir long before the establishment of Israel and is not privately owned Palestinian land.

The guide also levels unsubstantiated allegations at the Israel Defense Forces:

Despite its military prowess, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is one of the least disciplined armies in the Western world… When military campaigns start to go badly, the soldiers bluntly tell reporters what a lousy job their commander-in-chief did in preparing for war and how their commanding officers really didn’t understand about how to fight their enemy.

The IDF is certainly less formal than most armies, but notably, the guide did not include any examples or documentation to substantiate its claim that the Israeli troops are among “the least disciplined armies in the Western world,” or that soldiers freely criticize their commanders to the press.

Some of the guide’s most wildly unfounded claims appear in a section titled “Walls not tumbling.” This section frequently compares the West Bank security barrier to the Berlin Wall, despite the obvious differences – the Berlin Wall was constructed by the East Berlin government to keep its population trapped in, while Israel built its barrier to keep out Palestinian terrorists.

In addition, the section cites a number of one-sided “facts” about the barrier, some of very dubious veracity. They include: “Location – 80% within Palestinian territory,” (in fact, much is located on disputed territory whose status is to be resolved in negotiations); “Area of historic Palestine for 2.3 million Palestinians to live in – 12%” (in actuality, the British severed Mandate Palestine in 1922 , allotting 80 percent of it to Transjordan, now Jordan, and barring Jewish immigration there. Today, the large majority of Jordan’s population is Palestinian); and “Palestinian civilian deaths related to wall construction – 553 as of 2005.” Extensive research did not turn up any evidence to substantiate this bizarre claim.

Tellingly, “Walls not tumbling” ignored statistics about the number of terrorists stopped by the barrier, the reduction in terrorism thanks to the wall, and the number of Israelis killed in terror attacks. The section ends with an endorsement for www.stopthewall.org, the self-described “grassroots Palestinian anti-apartheid wall campaign.”

Another section that emphasizes the anti-Israeli outlook of the guide is entitled “Conversation starters: Religion and politics – Yes” and suggests conversation starters when in the West Bank. These conversation starters include: “Respectfully learn if a person has been in Israeli prisons or ‘administrative detention,’” as well as “ask adult refugees if their homes still exist and if they can enter Israel to see them.” Significantly, it does not suggest that readers query West Bankers about participation in violent anti-Israel activity, about their opinion of the genocidal hate indoctrination endemic to their society, or their involvement in war crimes, such as using ambulances to smuggle terrorists or weapons.

Taking Their Word for It

Throughout the guide, the writers recommend various outside sources of information such as movies, books, and Web sites. There is a section on “pre-departure reading,” and the page margins are full of various anti-Israel sources. In addition to citing controversial Israeli scholars Benny Morris and Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the authors recommend rabidly anti-Israeli sources, such as Muhammad Bakri’s discredited propaganda film Jenin Jenin, and books such as Drinking at the Sea at Gaza by Amira Haas (who is guilty of repeating the “Jewish-only roads” lie on the pages of Ha’aretz) and Richard Ben Cramer’s How Israel Lost.

Ben Cramer’s book asserts, among its many lies, that Palestinian violence against Jews began “only after the Jewish state stepped up its program of settlements, expropriations, assassinations” post-1967, failing to mention the Arab pogroms of 1920, 1921, 1929, and 1936-1939, as well as the terrorist raids in the 1950s launched by Palestinian groups based in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon.

The guide suggests fringe anti-Israel Web sites such as alternativenews.org and electronicintifada.net. It also recommends volunteering at the Israeli Committee Against House Demolition, which routinely describes Israel as “apartheid,” actively promotes academic boycotts against Israel and advocates a “one-state” solution, meaning the dismantling of the Jewish state. Another suggested volunteer option is the rabidly anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement (ISM), whose activities have included disrupting IDF counter-terrorism operations by, for example, serving as “human shields” in the homes of suicide bombers as well as in the Church of Nativity during a 2002 stand-off involving Palestinian terrorists.
The history section of the guide covers the land of Israel from prehistoric time (around 10,000 BCE) until modern time. Interestingly, the section excludes three major events that help explain the deep roots of the conflict — the 1920, 1921, and 1929 Arab riots in Palestine, which resulted in roughly 175 Jewish dead and over 700 wounded.
The writer continues his selective account of Israel’s history by referring to the 1948 War of Independence as a “two-month Arab-Israeli War,” despite the fact that it was an assault on the nascent Jewish state by five Arab armies that lasted more than a year. He then cites controversial Israeli historians such as Benny Morris and Yeshayahu Leibowitz and credits them for acknowledging unspecified “Israeli atrocities” allegedly carried out during the 1948 war. He includes no mainstream Israeli perspective on this issue.
The author likewise skews his account of the Six Day War, writing that Israel launched “a pre-emptive attack on its Arab neighbors, devastating the armies of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan.” In truth, Israel attacked only the Egyptian air force in its pre-emptive strike (nicknamed “Operation Focus”). Israel’s decimation of the Egyptian air force was followed immediately by Syrian, Jordanian and Egyptian attacks on Israel by forces which had spent months before the war amassing along Israel’s borders.
An editorializing tone, critical mostly of Israel, permeates much of the guide, including a section on the Jewish Law of Return. Comparing the Jewish Law of Return with the so-called Palestinian Right of Return, which Israel rejects, he comments:

This Arab “Right of Return” is unthinkable for most Jews, as it would threaten the Jewish majority. This double standard runs counter to Israel’s declaration of democracy, although the chances the policy will change is slim to none.

Aside from the obviously editorializing nature of this quote, it is also a gross misrepresentation of the situation. While Israel has allowed tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees to settle in Israel under a family reunification plan, and has permitted another 165,000 to enter the West Bank and Gaza Strip following the 1967 war, it rejects the notion that millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants should be allowed to enter Israel, thereby bringing an end to the Jewish state by either democratic or militaristic means. Instead, Israel supports the two-state solution, wherein Israel would remain the homeland and place of return for Jews from around the world, and a future Palestine would likewise be the homeland and place of return for Palestinians from around the world.

Moreover, the Jewish Law of Return is hardly unique in Western democracies. Several, including Mexico, Finland, Greece, Poland, Germany, Italy and Denmark, have similar laws granting easier citizenship for certain ethnic groups with ties to the country.

Unless your plans to visit Israel include a stint with the ISM or a like-minded group, you are better off picking up a copy of Frommer’s Guide to Israel, or the equally good Fodor’s Guide to Israel. Both manage to provide a bevy of useful information about the country without catering to pro-Palestinian activists.

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