Burqah is an ordinary village in Palestine, where no conflict or momentous event has brought it international attention. And that’s why the developers of the interactive documentary The Invisible Walls of Occupation chose it as their subject, to immerse viewers in the everyday lives of ordinary Palestinians. Layering photographs, video, and maps, the online project invites viewers to step into a school, clinic, or private home, and hear first-hand how occupation has influenced this town.
“The news is always on extreme violence, but we don’t see how life is really like, and how occupation really impacts every aspect of life,” creator Osnat Ita Skoblinski told Hyperallergic. The Invisible Walls of Occupation is a collaboration between the human rights organization B’Tselem, where Skoblinski creates digital content, and Folklore, a Montréal-based design studio. The initiative draws on research from a previous case study on Burqah.
Skoblinski presented the documentary at the recent Future of Storytelling (FoST) festival at Staten Island’s Snug Harbor, although it has been online since February. Unlike many of the projects that were on view with FoST for Good, The Invisible Walls of Occupation involves no virtual reality headsets, no augmented reality, no complicated projections. It is just a desktop site. Yet the movement of the panorama of collaged photographs, and the recorded videos and sound, make it feel immersive.
“I wanted to see what it’s like to walk in the village, what is the architecture like, since you can’t always visit,” Skoblinski said. “The first idea was do something like Google Maps or a Google Street tour, but you can’t really get a feel for the place. A collage is a really great way to condense three dimensions into two dimensions.” Folklore developed a new technology specifically to give The Invisible Walls of Occupation its fluid feel.
She added, “We wanted to keep it accessible, so anyone could experience it.” In particular, the developers were interested in its accessibility to Israelis, who may live only miles away from villages like Burqah, and the text is available in both English and Hebrew. “It’s a chance for them to take a tour in a place that is so close to them and is very far,” she said.
By clicking arrows and navigating from a central town map, viewers can visit a recently established girls’ high school that struggles with keeping teachers; a farm where much of the land needed for their work is now inaccessible due to illegal settlements; and a clinic, where a nurse discusses the limitations of their resources, and how she can sometimes only make it once a week if the road to nearby Ramallah is impassible.
The overriding theme of the documentary is isolation, where travel restrictions and checkpoints hem in the lives of the people in Burqah, and the documentary aims to bridge those barriers. As Skoblinski said, “I think every time I’m invited to a festival, or the project is invited to a festival, I really feel sad that the people from Burqah cannot go there.”
The Invisible Walls of Occupation is available to explore online.