Lonely Planet Steers Travelers Astray, Fodor’s Offers Sound Guidance

Budget travelers frequently rely on the Lonely Planet series to guide them in thrifty and educated choices for journeys to exotic locales. Unfortunately, the series’ Israel & The Palestinian Territories (3rd Edition) by Andrew Humphreys and Neil Tilbury (1996) is anything but edifying. The volume is filled with half-truths and innuendo, and displays a generally disagreeable attitude toward Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.

This decidedly biased tone pervades the book and colors the authors’ rendering of historical detail. The legacy of Israel given in the ‘Facts about the Country’ section reflects the traditional Arab version of events almost from start to finish. For example, rather than describing the newborn Israel as being attacked by five well-equipped Arab armies, as well as British-supplied Palestinian militia groups, the authors write that “fighting erupted between the Arabs and the Jews” and “Palestinian Arabs, primarily a peasant society, were no match for the Jewish immigrants with modern weaponry and strategy.”

Similarly, the authors place the number of Palestinian refugees at the extremely high figure of 750,000, a statistic typically cited by Arab sources but disputed by many scholars who put the total at approximately 500,000. Ignored entirely by the guide are the hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees forced out of Arab countries after Israel’s birth. Nor are the organized Arab riots of the British Mandate period described accurately. The authors omit the 1929 Hebron riots in which fifty-nine Jews were murdered. The Jerusalem riots of 1921 and those orchestrated there by Grand Mufti Haj Amin al Husseini in 1929 and 1936 are only mentioned obliquely, in a passage that reads: “[I]n these times of fervent Arab and Jewish nationalism, the city [Jerusalem] became a hotbed of political tensions.” At least sixty Jews died in these disturbances.

The guidebook again severely distorts the facts and covers up Palestinian aggression against Jews when claiming that,

In 1974 the Palestinian National Council … decided that their [terrorist] policy was not working, and resolved to settle for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip [which] would exist alongside, and not in place, of Israel. It was also decided to achieve this goal through diplomacy, not force.

Lonely Planet misrepresents entirely the June 8, 1974 “phased plan,” in which the PLO articulated a strategy of acquiring as much land as possible through diplomacy and using that territory as a launching pad to overrun the remainder of Israel. The plan said nothing at all about aiming to “exist alongside, and not in place, of Israel.” Article 8 states, for example, that, “The Palestinian national authority, after its establishment, will struggle for the unity of the confrontation states for the sake of completing the liberation of all Palestine soil … ”

It is equally absurd to suggest an abandonment of “force,” or terrorist activities, by the PLO in 1974. Terrorism continued intensively, without letup, in the wake of the PLO resolutions. Terrorists came ashore on Israel’s northern coast within weeks and murdered a mother and two small children at Nahariya. Numerous other attacks that year killed innocent people in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Beit Shean. In 1975, terrorists took over the Tel Aviv Savoy Hotel, killing eighteen civilians, while bombs exploded in Jerusalem killing twenty-two and maiming scores of others. In 1978 thirty-nine Israelis died and eighty-two were wounded when terrorists landed on a beach and commandeered a holiday bus on the coastal road. And so on. None of these are mentioned by Lonely Planet.

Likewise, Israel’s current security concerns are treated mockingly by Lonely Planet. In an explanation of the prevalence of weapons in the hands of Israel’s youthful soldiers, the guide passes quickly over the terrorist threat the citizen army guards against to say that guns “double as crucial fashion accessories” and are worn in social settings for reasons of “narcissism.” Military service is said to conclude when Israelis reach their mid-30s and “have finally grown out of teenage things like guns.”

About Israeli airport security measures, designed to protect passengers against terrorist violence, the guide writes “middle-aged American couples with names like Weintraub can waltz through this in minutes … everyone else … ought to bring a long engrossing novel.”

Myriad other inaccurate and offensive passages about Israel mar Israel & The Palestinian Territories and undoubtedly mislead thousands of tourists who make the mistake of relying on this guide.

Fodor’s Exploring Israel (Second Edition) by Andrew Sanger (1998) is the mirror opposite of the Lonely Planet guide. While acknowledging the controversies within Israeli society and between Israel and its neighbors, the author conveys as well the dramatic successes of the nation.

An introductory chapter describes Israel’s struggle for existence, its absorption of hundreds of thousands of destitute immigrants despite an economy crippled by war and boycott, the pioneering of the land, the birth of Israeli culture, and the renaissance of the Hebrew language. In contrast to the hostile message about Judaism in Israel & The Palestinian Territories, Sanger presents the mosaic of many traditions that make up Israel.

In the ‘Politics’ introduction, the author comments on widespread media hubris as it applies to Israel:

As always, different people lay claim to the same patch of earth …. The world’s press certainly has plenty of easy answers, as do governments around the globe. Politicians and pundits, concerned about their own national interests, are all too ready to instruct Israel in the error of its ways. Visitors often come up with quick solutions. Israelis know it is not so simple, and that their whole survival is at stake.

Fodor’s treats Israel’s security issues seriously, giving the reader an understanding of the historical and political complexities of the nation’s position in the Middle East. The Intifada and the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict are also presented accurately. While acknowledging that Israel was indeed trying to contain armed and organized resistance to its presence in the West Bank, the author also emphasizes that the IDF had to police a “chaotic and menacing state of unrest where activists—often hooded teenagers and rock-throwing children—frequently attacked and killed fellow Palestinians.” He goes on to explain the history of the Arab military and economic campaigns against Israel.

Descriptions of tourist destinations in the book are punctuated by “Focus On” inserts that examine more deeply a particular aspect of Israeli society. They include a piece on Israel’s wine industry, one about the ideological background and practical experience of the kibbutz movement, a section on Israel’s flora and fauna and narratives on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Bedouin. The ‘Focus On’ segment about the PLO accuratel
y depicts the organization’s ideology and activities and the conflict between the violent imperatives of the movement’s historical aims and its commitments in the peace process.

Fodor’s Exploring Israel by Andrew Sanger (not to be confused with Fodor’s Israel: The Complete Guide) is, in short, an enlightening and balanced travel guide for travelers on any budget. CAMERA recommends this book for its accurate and fair portrayal of Israel and Israeli society.

Comments are closed.