How two Palestinian Americans plan to PIVOT the world

Israel/Palestine
on 46 Comments

Here’s a wonderful story merging technology and love.

For starters, Asma Jaber and Sami Jitan, two diaspora Palestinians, were awarded the $25,000 Grand Prize at Harvard Innovation Lab‘s 2014 Entrepreneurship Challenge for their visionary project, a mobile app called PIVOTThe app, which will peel back layers of time of a specific place, includes interactive audio/video features, oral histories and augmented reality. The app will first focus on locations in Palestine and Harvard University but will launch for users all over the world.

Jaber and Jitan, PIVOT’s CEO and COO respectively, are passionate about their app. The story behind PIVOT’s founding is woven with threads of coincidence/destiny. While at first glance the app is an enticing, entertainment tourism tool allowing users to “PIVOT the World” through virtual tours from specific locations– called PIVOT Points– it has the potential to transform the way people all over the globe experience and preserve cultures and history – especially the preservation of one’s own heritage. 

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Now in beta phase, with developers in Palestine (managed by Palestinian-American owned iConnect  — headquartered in Chicago) and freelance designers in Jordan, PIVOT’s team is inviting people to try out the app and they’ve initiated a Kickstarter campaign to take the project to the next level.  I spoke with Jaber and Jitan earlier this week, and their priority is preserving histories and heritages in countries with rich cultures at risk of becoming extinct. Iraq and Syria are their next target regions.

And here’s where it gets exciting, an easy-to-use crowd-sourcing content management system (CMS) will also enable everyday users to update the mobile-app platform in real time. Plus, there will be features (“shoe-box archiving“) aimed at “mobilizing communities” to record their own history, and enabling users to create their own “PIVOT points” as well as potentially building and owning PIVOT tours of their neighborhoods, towns, or cities – and sharing those tours with friends:

PIVOT’s web-based dashboard allows users to upload multimedia and information to a Google Maps API, which feeds directly into the mobile app.

PIVOT’s web-based dashboard allows users to upload multimedia and information to a Google Maps API, which feeds directly into the mobile app.

For Jaber and Jitan, the project has an urgent personal quality that is crucially connected to “building a community”. In fact, they call it a “movement” a “mission to connect people” to histories that matter to them, not to mention being a “living breathing” child that keeps them up at all hours of the night.

It’s not surprising under the circumstances. Asma and Sami met on Nakba Day, stuck at the border between Palestine and Jordan, both held up by border guards who refused to release them because of their Palestinian identities and American passports. Coincidentally it was the exact location Asma’s father, Samir Yousef Jaber, was exiled from Palestine decades ago. A refugee, Samir Jaber eventually settled in Travelers Rest, South Carolina, where Asma was raised. Originally from Nazareth, he created Palestine for his family in Travelers Rest by planting olive and fruit trees and so much more. Jaber told me she felt connected to Palestine because her Dad brought it to life for her. He literally recreated Palestine for her family in South Carolina. Oddly, Sami Jitan lived very near Travelers Rest as a child (the next town over), though their paths had not crossed before that day.

Tragically, a few months after that meeting Asma’s father died at 66. It was during the months that followed, experiencing an incredible void in her life, that Jaber became inspired to preserve her father’s heritage and her own:

“The first time I visited Historic Palestine after my father passed away, I felt lost. He grew up in Palestine and knew the area and history so intimately; without him, I did not have the ability to fully appreciate the rich culture and history beneath my very feet. But I realized that this did not have to be the case.”

A year later, Jaber and Jitan turned that idea into a reality, and PIVOT was born. I ask Jaber, who has led hundreds of students on Harvard Kennedy School student-led Treks of Palestine, about access to Israel, inside the green line. As it turns out, PIVOT is teaming up with Zochrot. Then I got an earful about how Palestinian tour operators aren’t allowed access inside ’48, Bethlehem’s tourist industry, Historic Palestine’s billion dollar tourist industry, the high concentration of World Heritage Sites (pdf), and did I know Palestinians only got 3% of that? Plus,”The beauty of the virtual companion is that tourists from the diaspora can lead their own excursions without being present.”

“My passion is building a community people will use – our mission to connect people to the histories that matter to them. It was a great day for Palestine the day we won the grand prize…a fantastic day.”

 

Asma Jaber and Sami Jitar

Asma Jaber and Sami Jitan

And what if she had not missed that bus earlier in the day? Or if had he not lent her his Edward Said book?

Jitan:  “The first thing I said to my future fiancée was, “Can you believe this shit, we can’t even leave our own country much less enter as we please?”

Jaber: “Shh”

Sounds like destiny to me. If you have a second, check out their Kickstarter and let’s make this happen. I can totally imagine this app spreading all across the world, and realistically, why shouldn’t it all begin in Palestine?

( Video: “See your world thru a tunnel of time).

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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46 Responses

  1. just
    February 21, 2015, 1:34 pm

    How absolutely fabulous in every way. Congratulations to these children of Palestine.

    It is destiny…and it should begin in Palestine. Thanks, Annie, for this uplifting story of joy~ past, present, and future!

    • bintbiba
      February 21, 2015, 1:48 pm

      Beautiful people doing beautiful , inspiring things !
      Asma & Sami … even your names are immensely apt !

      Won’t translate…. the charm of it will be ‘lost in translation!’ ( Walid ? Ramzi ? could you make it as poetic as it should be .. Please ? )

      Annie, thank you.

      • Walid
        February 21, 2015, 3:48 pm

        Bintbiba, sorry my Arabic is too amateurish to give you something poetic.I’ll leave that to Ramzi..

    • Annie Robbins
      February 21, 2015, 2:49 pm

      i’m glad you both like it just and bintbiba. i’ll tell you the hardest drafts to work on are the ones where my heart is really in ti. i love this project, i totally love the energy behind it, i totallt see the potential for what it means for palestine and i really think something we all have in common, especially after our loved ones die, of how important it is, instinctually, to preserve our time, our era and our heritage. this is why i think pivot has huge potential. it’s a beautiful story.

      • just
        February 21, 2015, 2:59 pm

        You are so right…

        I picked up one of my Rumi books, inspired by this story that you have told so enchantingly, Annie. I can certainly feel that your heart was immersed in this.

        “The minute I heard my first love story,
        I started looking for you, not knowing
        how blind that was.
        Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
        They’re in each other all along.”
        ― Rumi

        Then I went searching for Mahmoud Darwish :

        “Sonnet

        I touch you as a lonely violin touches the suburbs of the faraway place patiently the river asks for its share of the drizzle
        and, bit by bit, a tomorrow passing in poems approaches
        so I carry faraway’s land and it carries me on the road

        On a mare made of your virtues, my soul weaves
        a natural sky made of your shadows, one chrysalis at a time.
        I am the son of what you do in the earth, son of my wounds
        that have lit up the pomegranate blossoms in your closed-up gardens

        Out of jasmine the night’s blood streams white. Your perfume,
        my weakness and your secret, follows me like a snakebite. And your hair is a tent of wind autumn in color. I walk along with speech
        to the last of the words a bedouin told a pair of doves

        I palpate you as a violin palpates the silk of the faraway time
        and around me and you sprouts the grass of an ancient place — anew”

        (translation by Fady Joudah)

        http://www.universeofpoetry.org/palestine_p3.shtml

      • Walid
        February 21, 2015, 4:00 pm

        Just, you’d enjoy Darwish’ “Rita and the Rifle” about his first love that was soldier in the IDF.

      • just
        February 21, 2015, 4:18 pm

        I do, Walid!

        Here’s Marcel Khalife performing that beautiful poem with subtitles….

      • bintbiba
        February 21, 2015, 5:25 pm

        Walid, I couldn’t either… Didn’t mean to presume, was just being a little mischievous !

      • Annie Robbins
        February 21, 2015, 7:38 pm

        that poem is so beautiful just.

      • just
        February 21, 2015, 7:49 pm

        ;-))

        I tend to get so happy, (some grumpy folks might say inordinately happy), when I read something like your article today Annie.

        The Palestinian people deserve so much~ joy, respect, peace, and freedom. Just think what they are capable of accomplishing, especially once they are unbound from the crushing Occupation and Israeli terror.

      • gamal
        February 21, 2015, 8:13 pm

        dont start on the quatrains they are infinite

        A true Lover doesn’t follow any one religion,
        be sure of that.
        Since in the religion of Love,
        there is no irreverence or faith.
        When in Love,
        body, mind, heart and soul don’t even exist.
        Become this,

        I am so drunk
        I have lost the way in
        and the way out.
        I have lost the earth, the moon, and the sky.
        Don’t put another cup of wine in my hand,
        pour it in my mouth,
        for I have lost the way to my mouth.
        fall in Love,
        and you will not be separated again.

      • Walid
        February 22, 2015, 5:07 am

        “was just being a little mischievous !”

        I know you were, bintbiba. For those you got curious about those 2 names, they both have just about the same meaning, which is “exalt” or “extreme highness” especially in the case of Sami that has the same root as “soumou” to to mean “His/Her Highness”. It’s a nice “poetic” coincidence that the names of Asma and Sami mean the same thing.

  2. justicewillprevail
    February 21, 2015, 3:07 pm

    Wonderful idea. What a great way to reclaim history from those who would wipe Palestine from the map and the memory, and to restore some pride in the past. Creative, young bright Palestinians can outsmart their doltish jailers and guards. Best of luck with your kickstarter – surely worth a contribution.

    • RoHa
      February 22, 2015, 1:13 am

      “Creative, young bright Palestinians”

      Actually, from the story it seems they are Americans.

    • bintbiba
      February 22, 2015, 5:57 am

      Walid, Thank you … that is so kind and generous !!
      Somehow I knew you’d come through .
      Not for nothing does my friend say you are an
      ‘ Encyclopaedia ‘ !!

      • Walid
        February 22, 2015, 6:17 am

        I have to try harder, bintbiba, my background is more French and English.

      • bintbiba
        February 23, 2015, 9:47 am

        @ RoHa… regards,

        I hope you ‘re not basing your recognition of a Palestinian woman by whether she wears the hijab or not!
        When I was growing up in Jerusalem yonks years ago… hardly any women ever wore the hijab. It seems to have increased greatly as the years have progressed and societies have regressed….
        All political imho.

  3. Kay24
    February 22, 2015, 12:05 am

    This is indeed a real feel good story Annie. These success stories really make you feel happy for the Palestinians, who I am sure have so many talented young people, that have unfortunately deliberately kept down by their occupiers, unable to leave and pursue their dreams.
    Congratulations to this remarkable young couple. A wonderful way to bring attention, and beat

    This must confuse some of the has brats, after all aren’t they the only ones so talented and advanced in the latest technologies, and always on the forefront?

    • Walid
      February 22, 2015, 5:19 am

      Kay, another feel good story for you: A major US company is currently guiding and funding an entrepreurship program for 18 graduate but currently unemployed women in Gaza. The ladies have been selected and they are now preparing the presentations of their proposed projects to kick-off the program, so we’ll soon be hearing about 18 new projects in Gaza..

      • Kay24
        February 22, 2015, 6:12 am

        This is some sort of turning point and recognition of the Palestinian people. They MUST be helped by the rest of the world, and able to progress fast. They have been kept down for years, and must catch up, which they will, given a chance. Until the transgressors were dumped in their territories, they were a hard working and progressing people, who were treated inhumanely, and stopped from any more advancement. They are an educated people, and the shackles must be taken out. Thank you for that. I will look forward to hearing further developments.

    • ziusudra
      February 22, 2015, 5:51 am

      Greetings Kay24,
      Hi, Dear.
      I’m not waiting in vain for the followers of Judaism to open up to their Menschkeit. It’s there in the millions.
      I fear that if i applaud the Innovation of this lovely couple, i would only be in the corner of Reagen, who glorified a US inventer for innovating the plastic cold can holder for Drinks showing that he only thinks creation is work & not the labor of millions.
      Very well done by Annie.
      sciaccadana

  4. Spring Renouncer
    February 22, 2015, 3:12 am

    Here is an article about an amazing new development concerning Obama’s rapidly changing “Mideast” policy:

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/10/boeing-sells-first-parts-iran-since-1979-20141022231229101691.html

    Boeing is selling Iran the first aviation parts since the Iranian revolution. We of course all know that though nominally independent, Boeing is contained, subsidized, funded and controlled by the US government. SO, does this foreshadow a successful nuclear deal with Iran? Or indicate the possibility of a more comprehensive thaw with Iran? Is it also a snub to meddling Saudis and Israelis?

    Either way, this is BIG, under-reported news.

  5. Spring Renouncer
    February 22, 2015, 5:04 am

    Oh my, I’m sorry. I posted a somewhat extraneous comment above before actually reading the report. I have read it now, and I must applaud this passionate couple for working towards creating this emotionally and intellectually valuable tool.

    Also they are both so attractive. I just attended a 9 hour organizing workshop for (fossil fuel divestment) activists, and am almost collapsing with exhaustion; if only a few of us were that good-looking the whole enterprise would seem less dreary!

    • Annie Robbins
      February 22, 2015, 11:31 am

      ha! yes of course that thought crossed my mind. ;) really gorgeous and talented couple inside and out. i can’t recall at the moment which one of them said it but whichever, they said they met on the “cusp of the diaspora”. and in the article i only very briefly alluded to the array of circumstances that occurred that day (“if she had not missed that bus earlier”) which all worked in such an extraordinary alignment to facilitate their chance meeting.

      another thing, i had never heard of travelers rest SC before. but there’s something beautiful in that name and the idea of a place to settle from a long journey. so i googled the town and looked at the landscape and imagined how a palestinian (her father) might choose to recreate palestine for his children there on that spot. then, with no reference to travelers rest at all, on their pivot site it says “There’s something truly spectacular in the way a weary traveler is guided – in how his/her destination is pre-determined and colored by the paths and stories paved by generations before. “…it’s like cosmic or something.

      once i saw the video at the kickstarter (and the brief mention of how they met on the border in the same spot her father was exiled) i became curious about that. i’m sure it wasn’t what they expected to talk about in the interview. but not being a tech person myself (i don’t even have a cell phone) it was the idea i loved so i wanted to know the beginning. and it just became more of a miracle. so many things about the story make it dreamlike and magical, it would make a wonderful movie. especially if PIVOT soars.

      and one more thing, the first thing i thought when i read about pivot was how much i would so love to pivot mill valley, the town i was raised. it is such a great idea because a group of people from a town (like a classroom) could collect archives from their own town and use the technology record their own history. and when you’re walking around a place that has been “pivoted” the app would make a buzz when you’re at a spot and you can stop and pivot around! i just love it! of course this would be way down the road, a “stretch goal” but it’s easy to imagine where this could go globally.

  6. Bornajoo
    February 22, 2015, 5:27 am

    Thanks Annie
    Wonderful story and what a superb piece of technology

    There is so much deliberately stifled potential and a massively skewered playing field.

    “The Palestinian people deserve so much~ joy, respect, peace, and freedom. Just think what they are capable of accomplishing, especially once they are unbound from the crushing Occupation and Israeli terror.”

    + 1 Just!

  7. Marnie
    February 22, 2015, 7:52 am

    This is amazing and wonderful.

    On a snarky note, not so high tech at all, but very revealing and awesome in the view it gives of the average israeli abroad –

    By Ami Kaufman
    |Published February 22, 2015
    ‘She just wants chocolate! What is she, an Arab?’

    Israelis social media is talking about one thing today: the video showing Israeli passengers cursing and threatening a flight attendant on their way to Varna, Bulgaria.

    The headlines are pretty much the same all over, and include the words: “Watch: The Ugly Israeli,” in reference to what Israelis see as the rude behavior they are notorious for worldwide.

    However, few (including mainstream media) paid attention to the little gem hidden in the video, a one-liner that epitomizes the casual racism so widespread in the Jewish state.

    The flight attendant refuses to sell chocolate to a passenger. Things heat up. Then, her sister sitting across the aisle says at 0:28 in the video below: “She just wants to buy chocolate, what is she – an Arab?”

    Of course, this is understandable. The only reason a flight attendant refuses to sell chocolate to someone is because they’re Arab.”

    (Sorry I couldn’t get the video over – it’s worth it to find it on +972)

    • Marnie
      February 22, 2015, 8:28 am

      Sorry folks but the Jerusalem Post has a better version – the people still suck but there are English subtitles and it actually looks like it’s getting ready to get violent at the end. Over chocolate – Ani rozah chocholat!!!!!! I wish this would play all over MSM. I think of these screaming maniacs getting in the faces of Palestinian children and it makes me so angry and sad –

      What I find the most incredible is the lack of shame on the part of so many israelis, their constant demands, screaming, yelling, violent rhetoric and no shame whatsoever. The everday racism and violence couldn’t be what Bennett was referring to with his “no apologies” campaign could it? (most definitely yes) And this was over chocolate?

      • Bornajoo
        February 22, 2015, 11:20 am

        Thanks for bringing this up Marnie.
        I’ve witnessed and experienced much, much worse than this.
        I lived in south East Asia for 4 years in the late 80s and early 90s and even back then I used to see signs outside hotel and guest houses stating “Israelis not welcome”. Out of all the people from various nationalities that travel around the world this lot cause hell and havoc. Not all of them of course but the ones that do leave a lasting impression.

        Imagine, out of all the nationalities that travel in certain countries only this mob have been banned. Ask anyone who works in the tourist industry where Israelis travel to and ask them who the very worst tourists are.

  8. NickJOCW
    February 22, 2015, 9:52 am

    It is strange but true how oppression can engender positive qualities of compassion, solidarity, ingenuity and determination. I remember this from a child in the blitz when it seemed all London was one family. I just sent Annie this link to another undertaking on the ground in Gaza. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/02/gaza-start-ups-aim-break-siege-150203062741987.html

  9. a blah chick
    February 23, 2015, 10:35 am

    Bintbiba said: “When I was growing up in Jerusalem yonks years ago… hardly any women ever wore the hijab. It seems to have increased greatly as the years have progressed and societies have regressed…. All political imho.”

    Is it your opinion that some of them are wearing hijabs to assert their identity? That is what I have heard.

    • bintbiba
      February 23, 2015, 1:09 pm

      a blah chick…
      I can’t be i n their heads to know why they wear or not wear the hijab. I know for sure that many, many devout Moslem women from Palestine ,as i grew up and later in Lebanon , never wore it. They used to cover the head when attending weddings /funerals,etc.. just as non Moslem women did . The Qoran specifies modesty , not self abnegation…I am sure. If one believes in God ,why deny his creation , why hide the hair and pile on the makeup. I feel it is a male (patriarchal) imposed thing, as women’s hair creates a problem for some men.And these days it may have become an expression of ethnic/religio identity.

  10. JLewisDickerson
    February 23, 2015, 11:07 am

    I don’t know exactly why, but Annie reminds me a bit of Charlotte Rampling (circa 1995+-).

    TWO MORE DAYS FOR STREAMING (until 2/25/15):
    Charlotte Rampling: The Look, 2011 NR 1hr 38m
    Average of 9,767 ratings: 3.1 stars ..
    Actress Charlotte Rampling largely tells her own story in this unconventional self-portrait conceived by filmmaker Angelina Maccarone.
    Netflix Listing – http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/70221081

    • Annie Robbins
      February 23, 2015, 11:26 am

      heavens dickerson, that blows me away, sweetest thing anyone has said to me in a long time. thank you ;)

  11. hophmi
    February 23, 2015, 12:41 pm

    Sounds like a nice idea. A friend of mine has done similar work geo-mapping Jewish holy sites in Arab countries.

  12. Annie Robbins
    February 24, 2015, 11:59 am

    exciting, check this out: the palestine center reblogged this article here: http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/display/ContentDetails/i/50879/pid/895

    and at the end they added Check out Asma Jaber’s presentation on PIVOT at The Palestine Center, and posted the video of an hour long presentation from last october. i can’t wait to watch it, don’t have time right now but i will definitely get to it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZbHpzvVGuw#t=14

    also, good news. they have gotten closer to their goal (which is to be expected because it’s really a rad mobile app), still a long ways to go but with 30 days remaining my hopes are very high. thanks to everyone who has donated thus far. every little bit helps.

  13. Annie Robbins
    February 25, 2015, 10:29 am

    really exciting news i wanted to share with everyone. pivot’s kickstarter tipped over 10k last night and they still have 31 days to go. https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2127938117/pivottheworld

    i’m so thrilled! thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive, your good vibes have helped rock this project even if you can’t afford to donate. the energy in this comment section has been wonderful.

    • just
      February 25, 2015, 10:50 am

      “thanks to everyone who’s been so supportive, your good vibes have helped rock this project even if you can’t afford to donate. the energy in this comment section has been wonderful.”

      And you started it, Annie! Thank you for lighting the flame.

      • Annie Robbins
        February 25, 2015, 1:03 pm

        i swear just, i had a mohammed assaf moment when i first read about this. maybe i already said that. y’know, when you first read about something and the reaction is so strong it’s physical. i just knew it was the beginning of something big. really big, bigger than 30k that’s for sure.

        there’s more coming. very shortly. i’m beyond thrilled.

      • just
        February 25, 2015, 1:22 pm

        I know exactly what you mean, Annie!

        I am glad that “there’s more coming”.

        I have to say that I had a similar Assaf moment when I read about this and heard this beautiful child of Palestine, Miral Ayyad, sing this song, and watched the awesome video:

        http://www.maannews.com/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?id=759554

        All thanks to Kate on this thread:

        http://mondoweiss.net/2015/02/palestinian-abducted-soldiers

      • Annie Robbins
        March 10, 2015, 12:30 am

        just, i just saw this last comment of yours with this amazing young singer. thank you so much. i don’t know how i missed your comment before. and of course, thanks to kate too!

        guess what! pivot is 2/3 to their goal with 18 days to go. i just know they’ll get there!

      • just
        March 10, 2015, 8:59 am

        Hooray~ go PIVOT!

        Such great news, Annie! Thank you.

    • Asma_Jaber
      February 26, 2015, 9:13 pm

      Thank you Annie for an amazing article and for all of your generous support! This article is so well-written, and I’m glad that readers learned about the personal side of PIVOT. Thanks again!

      • Annie Robbins
        February 26, 2015, 9:51 pm

        Asma, how wonderful you stopped by and the pleasure has all been mine, really. as you know i’ve been watching the results everyday. so excited you’ve reached 1/2 your target already with still a month to go. a big thanks to you and sami .

        ;)

  14. Essex101
    April 2, 2015, 8:13 am

    Even repugnant dimwit IOF spokesman Lt Peter Lerner is excited!

    I love this idea. http://t.co/VjbuDvIH4F App Reveals a Snapshot of Your Location—In the Past (via @WIRED) http://t.co/2ozRiCSzqf

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