Banned by Israel from visiting? There’s an app for that
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Banned by Israel from visiting? There’s an app for that

Palestine VR includes narrated tours of sites in East Jerusalem, West Bank that US congresswomen Tlaib and Omar planned to visit before entry ban over Israel boycott support

Salem Barameh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, uses a headset for the 'Palestine VR' tour guide application, on October 10, 2019, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP)
Salem Barameh, executive director of the Palestine Institute for Public Diplomacy, uses a headset for the 'Palestine VR' tour guide application, on October 10, 2019, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

RAMALLAH, West Bank — After two openly critical US congresswomen were banned by Israel from visiting the West Bank and East Jerusalem, developers are using technology to bring the territories to them and the wider world.

US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, two left-wing Democrats who have voiced support for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians, planned a visit in August that would have taken them to areas claimed by the Palestinians for a future state.

They became the first members of the US Congress to be banned by Israel, with US 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 left-wing congresswomen dubbed The Squad, were scheduled to visit East Jerusalem, the cities of Hebron and Bethlehem and other parts of the Israeli-controlled West Bank.

A smartphone displays the ‘Palestine VR’ tour guide application tour guide application, on October 10, 2019, in the West Bank city of Ramallah. (Abbas Momani/AFP)

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.”

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 this July 15, 2019, file photo, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, right, speaks as US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, listens during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In 2017, Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country, in response to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that advocates such an embargo.

Backers of BDS argue it is necessary to press Israel into giving up control of areas the Palestinians seek for an independent state, while critics have accused the movement of anti-Semitism and said its aim is the destruction of the Jewish state.

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