In 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were uprooted from their land and thousands were killed during the creation of Israel. Left behind were the ruins of 530 villages and towns destroyed by Zionist militias and the Israeli army. One of those villages was Bayt Nabala, located just a few kilometers outside of Lydda Airport, now named Ben-Gurion — Israel’s largest airport.
Known as the ‘Nakba’ or catastrophe, those events continue to shape the lives of millions of Palestinians today. Seventy-five years later, Al Jazeera spoke to some survivors and their descendants to gain insights into the community of over 2,600 people from that time. Based on their descriptive memories and combined with historical records and maps, Al Jazeera recreated Bayt Nabala using the latest generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools.
The result was an interactive longform experience which combined 15 carefully constructed AI images with dozens of photographs, maps, infographics, and on-the-ground-pictures of the remains today.
To generate the AI scenes, Al Jazeera produced more than 2,000 interations using Midjourney V5.1. We took particular care to ensure that every aspect, including clothing, brick color, valley shape, and street spacing, was recreated with the utmost accuracy.
All these 15 scenes were produced in under three weeks, something that would have likely taken months using traditional illustration techniques. This is mainly because of generative AI’s ability to very quickly iterate and adapt based on the verbal eyewitness testimony that we received.
The use of AI in this story demonstrated the power and agility that generative AI programmes can have for historical storytelling based on a combination of eyewitness testimonies. It’s not the memory of one person that was recreated but the synthesis of many.
Newsrooms have long used reenactments and docu-dramas to tell stories like these and this case study highlights the practical visual digital alternatives made possible using AI.
The story was very well received not only by the general public but perhaps more importantly by those eyewitnesses and their descendants who managed to ‘see’ this village for the first time.
One specific comment on social media captured this sentiment:
"My mom & her siblings were the first generation in her family to be born outside of Bayt Nabala, the village they’re from in Northern Palestine that was destroyed by Israel after 1948. They’ve never seen it. @AJEnglish recreated it using AI."
Overall this project demonstrated that the storytelling landscape is an ever evolving one. Rather than adopting new technologies for their novelty, we believe that journalists should constantly be asking themselves if these tools and techniques enhance our journalism.
New tools should ideally make your work clearer, more informative and more interesting to your readers. We believe the combination of the various storytelling techniques used in this story does just that.