What happens when it is widely acknowledged that a people are being marginalised, a community’s human rights abused, a race or nationality discriminated against, and nothing shifts? What happens when a country or government is in clear violation of international codes of justice and does not take the necessary steps towards change?
History tells us that it is through the actions of a small and creative minority that change comes about. Change, real tangible change in a situation of discrimination and oppression has rarely come about as a result of an unprovoked change in government policy. Rather it has happened as a result of the hard work of organised, dedicated minorities that have risen up and put pressure on their governments to force positive change for their communities.
In 2011, the Arab world erupted, rising up against decades of oppressive regimes that took away people’s right to self-determination and dignity. And the battle continues to rage in 2012, a year that marks the sixty-fourth anniversary of one of the world’s longest standing conflicts. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has faced many challenges. What began in the early twentieth century as a struggle against Zionisi politicians and their attempts to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine has evolved into an on-going struggle against Israeli occupation; one that has passed through revolutionary movements, uprisings, non- violent action, civil disobedience, mass community and civil society efforts, and countless attempted peace processes brokered by the US, Egypt, and Jordan. And now this flawed peace process has fallen apart once more, with both the Israeli and Palestinian sides failing to put in a genuine effort to reach an agreement adb a fresh round of attacks in Gaza. The future of Palestinians everywhere and their hopes for self-determination is in muddy waters.
While the rest of the world waits for something to happen, perhaps for a fresh leadership to emerge on both sides or a new “Palestinian Mandela” to rise out of the ashes, or holds their breath for Obama to breathe life back into the peace process, groups of Palestinians, Arabs and people dedicated to the cause continue to mobilise and organise themselves. The Palestinian-led Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement has grown to a worldwide campaign that has had countless victories in encouraging companies, academic bodies, and international artists to hold Israel accountable for its illegal occupation of the West Bank, and its refusal to recognise the rights of Palestinians including refugees. Youth initiatives like Palestinians for Dignity, Gaza Youth Breaks Out, and the international Palestinian Youth Movement are advocating for the rights of Palestinians, initiating grassroots community-based organisation, working to strengthen consciousness and awareness of the Palestinian struggle, and running campaigns of non-violent resistance that aim to bring Palestinians together and unify the political, economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.
Out of this environment of community movement has emerged Visualizing Palestine, a collective of professionals committed to empowering civil society efforts that work for the self-determination of Palestinians. Visualizing Palestine produces visual media that tells stories around social justice in Palestine and Israel. It capitalises on the opportunity provided by the digital age to tell a story in a single visual hit. VP aims to shift the dominating mainstream narrative around the conflict to one that is more representative of the situation on the ground. The idea began when Ramzi Jaber, a young Palestinian from the diaspora, went back to live in Ramallah in 2009 to curate TEDxRamallah, the first event of its kind in Palestine. By being on the inside of daily Palestinian reality, Jaber began to realise that, although there has been a positive shift in the past decade on media reporting on Palestine, so much of what was happening under occupation was still being misrepresented by mainstream media. It became clear to him how difficult it was for people living outside the region to access these stories, despite the huge swathes of data, statistics, and reports available from international humanitarian organisations documenting the impact of the Israeli occupation on Palestinians. The challenge was to take this data and harness the power of visual media to produce content that reached Palestinians, Arabs, and the international community alike. This visual media would effectively take dry information and reshape it into accessible fact-based stories, serving as a tool for existing Palestinian civil society efforts and at the same time forcing journalists and the media to see the Palestinian struggle under a new light.
Over the past 12 months Visualizing Palestine has evolved from an idea into a solid team of designers, researchers, tech experts, communications specialists and strategists spread across Beirut, Amman, Ramallah, Paris, London and San Francisco. VP has produced 15 infographics, 7 of which have been released and published or featured in Aljazeera English, Mondoweiss, Electronic Intifada, The Daily Beast, and Jadaliyya. Its visuals have been translated into Arabic, French, and Korean, and are being used by universities, advocacy groups, and organisations spanning from Brazil to the US, Germany and Palestine.
At a time when the seemingly intractable situation in Israel and Palestine causes people to despair, despite a great desire amongst many to create a lasting, positive impact, initiatives like Visualizing Palestine hope to provide people who care about social justice with a new avenue to contribute their skillset and energy to shifting mainstream perceptions about Palestine and Israel and strengthening civil society movements in the region.
It does not stop at Palestine. VP operates under the umbrella of Visualizing Justice, an independent, apolitical knowledge-sharing platform that is responsible for the process and methodology behind VP’s work, and that visualizes stories of social injustice beyond Palestine alone. Visualizing Justice and Visualizing Palestine operate within a framework grounded in equality and human rights. What drives them and the people behind them is a basic conviction that every person has a basic right to equality, freedom and dignity.