Mapping: Open Street Maps in the Occupied Palestinian Territories

Detail of Open Street Map for Gaza

Open Street Maps is a global project that maps cities around the world through the collective efforts of everyday people. Most geographical data and maps are created from data that is protected by copyright legislation and is expensive to use. Open Street Maps is free and constantly being edited and updated by the efforts of volunteers around the world.

How it works: Open Street Maps uses free and open source software, allowing volunteers using GPS (Global Positioning System - a global navigation satellite-based system that gives location information) to record and share information about the geographical layout of a city. Users can identify highly specific details about the features of a particular area - from constructed and built up areas (roads, waterways, rail-lines, housing, amenities etc) to natural and physical land features. This information is shared on open, editable maps where users can annotate their data. There is therefore a great degree of relevant and useable detail that an Open Street Map can convey.  

In 2009, Open Street Maps embarked on a mapping project for the Occupied Palestine Territories, aimed at developing a comprehensive map of the Gaza Strip to assist relief agencies and NGOs working on the ground. The project involved the creation of an 'asset register' where key public infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and mosques were recorded in terms of their location. Information about these territories was sourced from news agencies, geographers, mappers, volunteers, NGOs, aid agencies and bloggers

 Why we like it: The geo-political and military conflict that has overshadowed Palestine for decades has resulted in it being cut off from the public eye. Locals too, themselves, often do not have access to information about their own country because its borders and land are so contested. Open Street Maps' Palestine project provides vital information about heavily militarised areas like the Gaza Strip to help aid agencies provide various kinds of support. Open Street Maps are also user-friendly and informative, giving users detailed information about their city. Equally, the OSM project allows Gaza, the West Bank and other parts of Palestine to take on character and identity of their own. Beyond check-points and blockades, beyond the news stories and political wrangling, the Palestine Open Street Maps allows local Palestinians, and the world online, to recognise and know these territories in such intimate detail, often for the very first time.

Category: Visualisations about conflict in the Arab World