Picture it: Palestine wants water, Israel wants weapons
By Meris Lutz, The Daily Star (Lebanon)
April 24, 2013
At first glance, it looks like a regular bus map. Multicolored lines representing different routes fanning out from a central terminal into an amorphous grey territory. On closer inspection, it is a stark visualization of the entrenched system of ‘separate and unequal’ that characterizes nearly every aspect of life for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.
The map shows Israeli bus lines to illegal settlements. The buses that carry Israeli settlers from Jerusalem to the settlements in speedy, air-conditioned comfort are off-limit to Palestinians who live in those areas. Many of the roads themselves are reserved for Israelis, while the routes used by Palestinians are indirect, poorly maintained and clotted with checkpoints.
The three infographics produced by Visualizing Palestine, US military aid to Israel, water distribution, invest in Palestine’s future.
Ahmad Barclay, one of the Visualizing Palestine team, used the Israeli bus company’s own website to compile the information, he explained to a packed room at the Beirut offices of Polypod, a design company that often collaborates with Visualizing Palestine. He then overlaid the bus routes onto a political map of the area before sending it off to Polypod’s designers, who created the final infographic.
“As you can see, about half these bus routes actually extend beyond the wall,” Barclay said. The reality on the ground belies the prevailing myth that, in his words, “‘normal’ settlements are on that side of the wall, and the kind of extremist settlements are on the other side of the wall, but actually this is, like, the national bus service.”
Visualizing Palestine is a collective of researchers, activists and designers who take raw data documenting injustices against Palestinians and turn it into accessible infographics aimed at a broad international audience. The group has been active for a little over a year, having grown out of the collaborative efforts of a few TEDx Ramallah organizers.
The core team consists of about eight people spread over four countries. When several members were in town recently for a conference, the team decided to take advantage by presenting their work at the Polypod Creative Series, a creative networking event hosted by the company.
“Our mission is two-fold. One is to empower change-makers,” explained Ramzi Jaber, a co-founder of Visualizing Palestine. “The second one is to advance a fact-based narrative. … Palestinians and Arabs in general have been dehumanized again and again. We want to give context to what we are doing.”
There is certainly an abundance of data. As Jaber reminded the audience, the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the most thoroughly documented in history. But the sheer amount of information can be difficult to process, hence the need for clear visual representations that tell a story while communicating the facts.
Visualizing Palestine relies on official data compiled by the Israeli government, the United Nations and respected NGOs and the graphic always includes the source of the information.
Many of the infographics are essentially emergency responses to imbalanced media coverage of current events. Other projects are either commissioned or developed jointly with partner NGOs, media organizations and grassroots campaigns.
So far, Visualizing Palestine has created infographics tackling home demolitions, water rights, American military aid to Israel, segregated roads and public transport, and public health, to name just a few subjects.
They are currently brainstorming ways to visually communicate the discriminatory laws that prevent Palestinians from different areas from getting married and living together.
Visualizing Palestine’s graphics are published online under a Creative Commons license. This allows advocacy groups, individuals and even governments to share them through social networking sites or download and print them for events, campaigns or personal use. The group is currently preparing to kick off an online fundraising campaign in the near future in order to keep the organization politically independent by soliciting small, individual donations rather than large sums from donors.
“The whole approach is a bit different – you’re combining the info and the emotion and the story,” said Saeed Abu Jaber, a Visualizing Palestine designer who fled the fashion magazine industry for more meaningful work.
“You want to have something very concise that transmits a message very quickly and very clearly, so the approach to it and the research, what you take, what info to drop, that’s very challenging to begin with, and then making that thing beautiful, eventually, that’s what happens.”