Palestine: A Traveller's Guide
by Mariam Shahin, Photography by George Azar
Northampton, Mass.: Interlink, 2004. 500 pp. $27.95, paperback.
Reviewed by Daniel Pipes
Middle East Quarterly
Shahin, described as journalist and author, has written a most curious guidebook. The genre normally aspires to help the traveler find his way, but this one has the grander aspiration to "search for all things Palestinian—past and present—in historic Palestine." In other words, its goal is political, not touristic. The guidebook dimension is nominal with no street addresses, much less opening and closing hours, evaluations of hotels and restaurants, or other practical advice.
Perhaps the book's strangest aspect is the pretense that Israel does not exist—symbolically eliminating the Jewish state in anticipation of the PLO, Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad actually doing so. Thus, Jaffa fills up a chapter of twenty pages while the vastly larger city of Tel Aviv is barely mentioned, and then through gritted teeth. On the other hand, what Shahin refers to as the "massive and horrific" Wall (always with a capital "W") has a chapter of its own.
Conceptualized as a propaganda tool, the guidebook contains more than its share of inaccuracies. The first page falsely informs that "Palestine is a Holy Land to Muslims." The assertion that "archeologists have yet to verify the historic existence" of the Temple of Solomon is laughable nonsense. And Lord Balfour was hardly "of Jewish descent."
More surprising are the candid assertions that spring up between the tired anti-Zionist tropes. Palestinians are said to include Jews as well as Muslims and Christians, a rare inclusion. The comparison of Palestinians in Jordan to Jews in the United States got me thinking. "Many Lebanese blamed the PLO and its policies for the destruction of their country" must have slipped in when someone was not looking. And one sentence required three readings before I could believe my eyes, stating that the Arab population of Palestine grew in the 1930s partly because "the British and Jewish capital infusion to the country created jobs." That's a thesis, first articulated by Joan Peters (and forwarded in this journal by Fred Gottheil) that anti-Zionist elements vehemently deny.
As I say, it's a curiosity, an artifact unique to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Related Topics: Daniel Pipes | Spring 2006 MEQ
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