By Stuart Littlewood- London
The Israel lobby here in the UK is creating a storm in an advertising teacup in a bid to throw a spanner in the works of Palestinian tourism
The Jerusalem Post reports that Britain’s advertising watchdog has launched an investigation into "a barrage of complaints" over a ‘Travel Palestine’ advert in the National Geographic magazine because it "appears to blot out the existence of the State of Israel".
The Palestinians’ modest attempt to attract tourists to their country was promptly met by the Israel lobby’s ‘usual suspects’ squealing their indignation and making fatuous territorial claims.
The advert was published by the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. According to the Jerusalem Post, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said it had received 60 complaints. The Zionist Federation of the UK, for example, grumbled that the advert was misleading as it gave the “false impression” that Palestine is a country; that Jerusalem is part of Palestine; and that Palestine extends from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan.
“The ad would mislead tourists, since on traveling to territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, they would not find the sites and facilities which the advertisement promotes,” said the ZF.
One London lawyer wrote to the ASA that the claim that Palestine lay between the Mediterranean the Jordan “implies that ‘Palestine’ has a Mediterranean coastline; but while this is true as regards to Gaza, that territory is not within the de facto jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. More seriously, it implies that Palestine occupies the whole or the bulk of the territory between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, ignoring the existence of Israel”.
Another complainant said the notion that Palestine lies between the Mediterranean and the Jordan was racist. “This echoes the racist chant of ‘From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free’ sung by anti-Israel activists. It is a racist statement.”
Yet another lawyer said the ad refers to Jerusalem in the same context as other cities in the West Bank. “It implies that Jerusalem is in Palestine. In fact, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel. East Jerusalem is also under Israeli governance; while East Jerusalem may presently be disputed territory, it cannot be said to be part of ‘Palestine’.”
And still another insisted that "the ad promotes the city of Gaza, but fails to mention that the Palestinian territories comprise two non-contiguous areas, one the West Bank and the other Gaza, and that it would be very difficult if not impossible for a tourist to travel between the two areas, or to get into Gaza either via Israel or Egypt”.
Today The Guardian also ran the story, reporting that the Board of Deputies of British Jews had welcomed the launch of an official investigation, calling the advert "deeply disturbing" and "an affront to international law".
Here’s what he advertisement actually said:
"Palestine is a land rich in history with a tradition of hospitality. From the famous cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jericho, Nablus and Gaza, the Palestinian people welcome you to visit this Holy Land. Important to the three major religions around the world, Palestine has been a meeting point for diverse cultures since prehistoric times. Starting from the earliest religious pilgrims, the country has seen famous visitors come and go.
"Palestine lies between the Mediterranean coast and Jordan River, at the crossroads between Africa and Middle East. The individual faces in any Palestinian town remind you of this rich history of cross-cultural influences.
"Today Palestine is proud to offer comfortable, stylish accommodation, fabulous restaurants, refined artists, and galleries, exquisite handicrafts, innumerable archaeological and religious sites, and antiquities from all ages.
"It takes a visit to this wonderful country to appreciate the most palpable facet of its culture: the warmth and humour of the Palestinian people. Join a long list of visitors over the centuries who have seen the beauty of the land."
What is wrong with that? It could have said a great deal that was detrimental to Israel, without breaching the guidelines, but it didn’t. It is substantially honest and truthful, and quite harmless.
The complaints, such as the accusation that the Palestinian tourism advert is "an affront to international law”, are laughable. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are internationally recognised as one integral territory. Israel’s responsibility under the Oslo Agreements to “respect and preserve without obstacles, normal and smooth movement of people, vehicles and goods within the West Bank, and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip”.
In 1999 Israel and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement establishing a 28 mile road corridor giving Palestinians safe passage between the two parts of Palestine. Israel reneged on it.
The problem, as always, is that Israel’s administrative ‘laws’ are framed to ride rough-shod over citizens’ rights enshrined in international law and to entirely disregard its own obligations.
Furthermore East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, is Palestinian territory. Israel’s capital is Tel Aviv and the international community does not recognise Israel’s claim to an undivided Jerusalem. The capital of a future Palestinian state to expected to be in East Jerusalem, which is not "disputed territory" however much Israel would like it make it so by continuing to steal and ethnically cleanse it.
As for Gaza, it comes under the legitimate and democratic authority of a Hamas government, which would have played a leading role in an inclusive Palestinian Authority had it not been for US/British/EU meddling. In any event, tourists should be free to access the Gaza Strip by sea or air or through the land crossings with Egypt and Israel, but their rights are still denied by the cowardly Western powers in cahoots with their lawless “ally” in Tel Aviv.
Palestine Wiped off the Map
Besides getting its facts straight in future, Israel ought to put its own house in order and pay attention to previous ASA rulings. Last year, as The Guardian reminds us, two Israeli government tourist ad campaigns fell foul of the watchdog. "One included images of the Palestinian-run West Bank in a holiday advert. The ASA said it featured various landmarks that were in East Jerusalem, which were part of the occupied territories, and ordered that it not be used again. The other depicted the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights – also part of the occupied territories – as part of Israel.”
But Israel takes no notice. Check the Israeli travel section within the current National Geographic and you’ll see that the main picture features the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, which of course is not in Israel but is part of the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem.
The accompanying ‘Israel Map’ doesn’t mention Palestine and depicts the whole of the West Bank, including Gaza, as belonging to Israel, literally wiping Palestine off the map..
The section even includes an article, ‘Nablus: Tourists Welcome’, implying that this Palestinian town is in Israel.
I spoke to Matt Wilson in the ASA’s press office and asked if, for the sake of balance, informed comment from the Palestinian side would be considered in the investigation process. He suggested that information, provided it’s strictly relevant to the scope and context of the complaint, be submitted through email@example.com.
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.