An Israeli non-governmental organisation is launching a smartphone app that will allow users to identify Palestinian cities and towns depopulated or destroyed by Jewish paramilitaries in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
iNakba, available only on Apple’s iPhone iOS operating system for now, is the brainchild of Zochrot, a Tel Aviv-based group that raises awareness among Jewish Israelis about the Nakba. Arabic for “catastrophe,” the word is used to refer to the expulsion and fleeing of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948.
The app, which can be downloaded in Arabic, English and Hebrew, identifies these destroyed localities to younger Palestinians who want to learn about their ancestral homeland, and educates Israelis about the many Palestinian villages that existed before the 1948 war, said Raneen Jeries, who worked on developing the app at Zochrot.
“The historical landscape has obviously changed since before 1948,” Jeries told Al Jazeera. “And it’s difficult to find these destroyed areas on maps. So we decided to put technology to good use, and make this kind of information readily available on people’s smartphones.”
iNakba relies on a current Google map of Israel, but merges it with another layer of maps containing the destroyed areas. Users can watch videos and see pictures of the historical cities and towns. An interactive feature allows them to upload their own visual elements and contribute through commentary.
We won't be surprised if the app provokes angry responses. We are trying to salvage the landscape that Israel is trying to change.
Fadi Abu Ne’meh, a 21-year-old Palestinian film student, told Al Jazeera he looked forward to uploading his own footage: “I think it’s a great idea to use technology to reach out to Israelis… If this is aimed at Israelis who question the past, then it’s a useful app to have,” he said.
The app includes information and maps of a few of the towns that were largely depopulated when its Palestinian inhabitants fled or were expelled. “We included places like Ma’alot-Tarshiha, previously known as Tarshiha, because 70% of its original inhabitants fled to Lebanon,” Jeries said. “We included Eilabun as well, also in the north of Israel, where a massacre was carried out by Israeli soldiers in [October] 1948.”
The information on these areas is based on the historical works of people such as Walid al-Khalidi, a renowned Palestinian historian and the author of All That Remains; Salman Abu Sitta, an academic widely renowned for his research on the Nakba; and Noga Kadman, whose book Erased from Space and Consciousness focuses on how the remains of more than 400 Palestinian localities were “absorbed” into the Israeli geographical landscape.
The app, which took two years to develop, will be available for download free from iTunes (an Android version is currently under development) on May 5, Israel’s Independence Day. Palestinians mark the Nakba on May 15.
Zochrot hopes the app will be updated in the future to include tours of some of the approximately 500 Palestinian villages depopulated and destroyed.
The group does not expect the app to be well received by Jewish Israelis. Zochrot is most often labeled as a far-left organisation with views that are not widely accepted by the vast majority of their target audience. In 2012, police barricaded Zochrot’s members inside their office to prevent them from commemorating the Nakba on Tel Aviv’s streets. Police said they were disturbing the peace because they intended to distribute “incitement materials”; the group said they were informational flyers.
“We won’t be surprised if the app provokes angry responses,” Jeries said. “We are trying to salvage the landscape that Israel is trying to change.”
Dahlia Scheindlin, a Tel-Aviv-based public opinion analyst, pointed out that refugees and the Palestinian right of return are among the most problematic issues for Israelis, with very few willing to acknowledge the Nakba.
“The iNakba app shows creativity, but the question is: how are they promoting it? How will [Zochrot] get people interested in it?” Scheindlin said in an interview with Al Jazeera. “If they are presenting it as they have often presented their case in the past, with a tone that most Israelis can’t stand, then they wont get much attention beyond the people who are already converted.”
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