Graffiti depicting Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, on the Israeli separation barrier /AFP
Since Israel entered into new diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates, questions have been raised over how Palestinians can maintain momentum behind their activism for a Palestinian state free from occupation.
The work of The Palestinian Institute for Public Diplomacy (PIPD) is to create new ways of spreading information and stories from Palestine. They are active on social media and have begun to move into virtual reality in the hope of putting the user in the experience of being under occupation into the minds of someone potentially thousands of miles away.
Salem Barahmeh from PIPD recently stated in an LSE podcast that “technology can be a very powerful disruptor. It can determine who controls what message and what information is available to people. For a long time, we didn’t have those means to be able to tell our story. Whether it’s about Palestine VR or another method, we are breaking new ground and we can tell a lot more in a very unapologetically Palestinian method.”
Whether it’s about Palestine VR or another method, we are breaking new ground and we can tell a lot more in a very unapologetically Palestinian method.”
Palestine VR is an app that allows the user to experience walking around the occupied territory, whether it is Hebron or Gaza, and be taken on a virtual tour that can help them understand the plight of those living under Israeli occupation.
One of the main concerns for Palestinians is to reach out beyond the Middle East and beyond the Palestinian diaspora in order to affect who can pressure politicians in their home countries to support the Palestinian cause. There is a risk that the world begins to congratulate itself on an Israel-UAE deal, with Bahrain rumored to be next in line to open up diplomatic relations, while the true reason behind decades of conflict is not addressed.
“We are trying to navigate the cyber-world and try to marry the worlds of activism and technology as best we can.” Barahmeh told LSE, “but we are up against a lot. Israel is a leader in tech, it’s a leader in surveillance and weapons. We don’t operate in a vacuum. When we talk about Facebook or Instagram, we have to remember that they are not mutual platforms.
There is a shrinking space in the cyber-world and, although we’re relatively new as activists, we are feeling the effects of it.
“One example is Bella Hadid who posted a picture of her father’s passport with the birthplace listed as Palestine and it was taken down, for different reasons. There is a shrinking space in the cyber-world and, although we’re relatively new as activists, we are feeling the effects of it. Whether it’s through social media platforms or otherwise. It’s a blessing but it’s also a curse and the way we navigate it is going to be hard. In Palestine that goes for whether you write a post against your own leaders or against Israel. And if you are writing for the world there are other issues you have to navigate.”
In 2007 Israel passed a Bill that allowed mass surveillance of search engine data
Barahmeh’s fears are not unfounded. In 2007 Israel passed a Bill that allowed mass surveillance of search engine data as well as phone call data that could track where calls were made and between which numbers. Much of the data has been collected using racial profiling.