Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

REFERENCE AND TRAVEL GUIDES: Palestine and Palestinians: Guidebook/Palestine: A Guide

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

REFERENCE AND TRAVEL GUIDES: Palestine and Palestinians: Guidebook/Palestine: A Guide

Article excerpt

Palestine and Palestinians: Guidebook, by Sabri Giroud et al. Tr. by Carol Scheller-Doyle and Walid Shomali. Beit Sahour: Alternative Tourism Group, 2005. 435 pages. $32.

Palestine: A Guide, by Mariam Shahin. Photography by George Azar. Northampton, MA: Interlink Publishing, 2005. xi + 471 pages. Appends, to p. 500. $27.95.

The late Professor Edward Said explained how colonial perceptions guide much of the literature written "about" other people (usually described as exotic or inferior). Western readers are led to selective historiography (ignoring 5,000 years of history), romantic illusions, distorted images, and/or even outright racist characterization. My own memories of life in Palestine include encounters with American and European tourists carefully "shepherded" by Israeli tour guides. Their books and pamphlets included titles little relevant to a Palestinian teenager (e.g., Israel: A Guidebook, In the Footsteps of Jesus, and A Guidebook/Travel Guide to the Holy Land).

Little has changed some 30 years later. I went to our local Barnes & Nobles bookstore and found literature that openly "guides" visitors to a static (and imaginary) "Holy Land" whose natives are little mentioned and whose only redeeming value is as setting for (usually distorted) versions of the Old and New Testament events told from a perspective supportive of political Zionism. Since none of these books are written by native Palestinians, readers are led to a fabricated image of a deserted "Holy Land" with selected historical sites: the Temple Mount, Masada, the Western Wall, Church of the Sepulcher, etc. Most of these authors, politically motivated, discard the majority of Palestinian history (Canaanite, Philistine, Islamic) and ignore Palestinians, thus boosting the myth of a desert made green by Zionist settlers.

Two newly published books now shatter these illusions and bring English readers closer to the real, dynamic, living, and fertile Palestine. This is the Palestine that the current inhabitants and the displaced Palestinians love. It is also the country that readers of these two books will appreciate and fall in love with. Published by the Alternative Tourism Group (ATG), the first book is titled Palestine and Palestinians: Guidebook (hereafter ATG Guidebook). ATG authors Sabri Giroud and others distilled their experiences gained over many years of providing reality tours. The French version appeared in 2003 and the English version in 2005. Carol Scheller-Doyle and Walid Shomali provided the English translation and the text was edited and updated by Angela Godfrey and Jawad Musleh. The book is organized into two parts: a) Introduction to the land, people, history, and current status, and b) "Itineraries" that basically provide classic guidebook information on various parts of Palestine.

The first three chapters in the introductory part set the stage by covering Landscape (with subsections on Geography, Fauna and Flora, and Climate), History, and "Population & Society" (Identity, Palestinian Refugees, Society, Education, Economy). Chapter 4 of this part deals with culture including arts and food (including sample recipes). Chapters 5 and 6 describe the ramifications of the colonization/occupation of Palestine (including the segregation walls and barriers) on travel, accommodation, and access. Throughout the book, the political situation is dealt with realistically; neither engendering excessive fear nor glossing over the harsh conditions of occupation and colonization. It was a good idea to include, throughout the book, selected Palestinian poems and short biographies of influential Palestinians (e. …

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