For years, Israel has gradually tightened its strangehold on the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, sealing its borders and cutting off adequate food, fuel, and medical supplies, bringing the economy and infrastructure to the point of collapse. Israel has also sought to control how Gaza’s story is told to the outside – from its sophisticated public relations campaigns to blocking the entry of foreign journalists.
In 2009, a war was launched with devastating consequences for residents, but with only 6 international journalists in Gaza, the story was told by those from outside the area. The suffering of Israelis and Gazans was often reported as equal in US media, which is a gross distortion of what happened on the ground.
VirtualGaza is an independent civic media initiative established by a collective of scholars, media activists and Palestinian residents of Gaza. In collaboration with the Harvard Alliance for Justice in the Middle East, we rapidly built a site to gather stories, photos and video and share them with the world.
VirtualGaza provides a space where ordinary Palestinians under siege can describe their experiences in their own words, and where the destruction of the Gaza strip can be documented by those experiencing it directly. Residents of Gaza contributed diary entries, photographs, and video material. For safety reasons, authors are located in neighborhoods but their precise location is not shown. Virtual Gaza invites you to help break the information blockade.
VirtualGaza gathered 77 stories from 29 authors, in 32 neighborhoods and 5 cities. It pulled damage reports from UNOSAT and overlaid them on Open Street Maps, which at the time had significantly better coverage in the area than Google. I was able to hire a Palestinian MIT student through the Undergraduate Research Opportunities program to add local geographical knowledge and context.
The following summer, I applied for permission to travel to Gaza and continue working on the ground, but was denied an entry permit. I instead spent several weeks in Ramallah and Jerusalem, learning from and building other technologies to resist the occupation; more at GroundTruth.
The full site is unfortunately no longer online, but an archived video tour is available: