Salem Barameh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, gestures in front of a monument while recording a video for the 'Palestine VR', a new application allowing users to virtually visit key Palestinian sites with local tour guides, on October 10, 2019 in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
After two openly critical US congresswomen were banned by Israel from visiting the Palestinian territories, developers are using technology to bring the territories to them and the wider world.
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, two leftwing Democrats who have previously voiced support for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, planned a visit in August that would have taken them to the Palestinian territories.
They became the first members of the US Congress to be banned by Israel, with President Donald Trump, a Republican, saying the Jewish state would show "great weakness" if it let them in.
Now, a new virtual reality application has been launched to give everyone the chance to tour the sites that were on the congresswomen's itinerary.
Tlaib and Omar, part of a group of four prominent leftwing congresswomen dubbed The Squad, were scheduled to visit east Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and other parts of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.
The free app Palestine VR includes four to 12-minute-long 360 degree video clips from those locations.
Each clip is narrated by a different tour guide, many of whom were to have accompanied the congresswomen during their trip.
"We wanted to take the tour they were set to take and make it more accessible," said Salem Barameh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, which designed the app.
"Generally the people who have the privilege to come and see the reality in Palestine end up changing their hearts and minds about this place. But many don’t have that ability to come, so we wanted to bring it to them."
Diana Buttu, who was helping to organize the original trip, said the congresswomen were banned because they wanted to "see the impact of US policy and specifically its support of unjust Israeli policies".
The two had announced before the trip was cancelled that they would shun meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials in favor of meeting ordinary Palestinian citizens.
Barameh said he was hopeful the US lawmakers would try the app.
"This is a great way not just for Tlaib and Omar to experience the tour they could have gone on, but also for other members of Congress to see the reality, to see Palestine and see what we live under."
Neither Tlaib nor Omar’s offices responded to requests for comment.
In 2017, Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country, in response to a movement that advocates such an embargo.
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