Mapping the West Bank is going rather well, thank you.

Mapping the West Bank is going rather well, thank you.


This is surprising news to you if I ranted to you about the project over the last few months. Delays and debates over direction drove disarray. We all had different takes how to move forward from a pilot to a full project, and wondered if it could be done at all. Almost all of our original mappers have left the West Bank for overseas jobs. The West Bank is probably the hardest place to organize a mapping project — politically unstable, controversial insecure and tense, economically chaotic. Lots of holidays. Myself I was overextended with the trip to Africa and more UN work.

The crucial point of my debate centered on volunteerism. JumpStart has primarily been a job creation and training organization, providing opportunities to get economies going while doing good work. OpenStreetMap is a voluntary project, driven by people’s passions. Mapping is hard work, and it should to be fun to be sustainable. Could a hybrid succeed? It seemed to me that the introduction of direct paid work into a bottom up project could damage initiative and the long term viability of community data. And Palestine seems to lack a volunteer spirit overall — decades of well meaning NGO projects have cemented the idea of money for performing a public good, without any real hope of overall results. Adding to the complication, open ended voluntary projects can’t work to deadlines, and that’s incompatible to NGO organizational structures.

Well never mind that. Push ahead and give it a try. Talk to everyone. Just go and see what sticks. I’m providing technical support, and the ever able and genial project manager Chris Weaver is pushing things forward with minimal dither.

We had a mapping party at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. They’re equivalent to the Census Bureau, and are actively transitioning from paper based surveys to digital maps. They’re busy, but maybe there’s a chance to work together. We met with a German geologist map fanatic, with maps maps and MAPS, incredible stereoscopic maps. And an incredible mental lay of the social land, pointing out the players and the connections to follow and hard earned advice. UN-OCHA occupied Palestinan territories heroically collect data and produce excellent maps of closures, checkpoints, security apparatus, settlement boundaries, the wall. These maps give the clearest view of the daily situation for Palestinians, do check these out. Unfortunately, the data is copyright, can’t go into the commons due to liability .. which is such a lost opportunity. There is a lot of map data floating around of unknown provenance (infringement). Palestine, like many places, is a story of duplication of effort, restricted access, when the free flow of this information would be of greatest benefit to all. And like many places, without a ready source, we just do it.

Chris and his uncle

Relationships matter in the West Bank more than most places. Perhaps with chaotic authorities with limited authorities, these ties are the enduring social fabric in which things really get things done. A distant relative of a friend connected us with the National Council for Development, a grassroots NGO based in Hebron. They had immediate dynamic interest in the project, and offered all kinds of advice and assistance. Through them we hooked up with the Palestinian Yellow Pages. They had just started a project to map businesses in the West Bank using GPS and placemarking in Google Earth. We bring a more suitable platform, they bring enthusiastic ready to go teams. Relief International has a network of computer labs across the West Bank.


In short order, the project is rolling, and Hebron is starting to grow.

Ups and Downs Mapping the West Bank

We’ve become mappers in the West Bank.


It happened so quickly and easily but it’s not all that surprising — these are sharp young engineers! But even though I preach that OSM is easy and open to everyone, somehow I still think it’s a bit too complicated. So when these guys just start getting it full on, I realize how much the OSM approach rocks. It’s awesome! “Awesome” is one of the words we’ve exchanged with the Palestinians. Other slang: our meaning of “Killer” wasn’t really understood here. I’m not really keeping up my end of the bargain by learning any Arabic.

Banksy, not the wall

Such a turn from just a day earlier. Friday was our first day for editing, and the lab of windows boxes started restarted randomly. Turns out Kaspersky Anti-Virus is the most evil software ever, actually shutting down the computer if the license had expired. I about lost it, something so stupid disrupting our mapping. Totally dispiriting. The locals were way more laid back, having to deal with way more serious things then this on a daily basis. Cooler heads prevailed, the evil software was uninstalled, and our facilities looked ok. Things could only go up.

Jazz Band in  Beit Sahour

After a much needed beer (Bethlehem has a large Christian population of course, so easier to get a drink then other parts of the Arab world) we traveled to the neighboring town of Beit Sahour. Watched a great jazz band bang out a few tunes (“this one is for all the Palestinian women in Israeli jails”) in a the old part of Beit Sahour recently renovated by a full suite of NGOs and UN agencies, into a lovely intimate gathering place, lined with the lovely white stone adorning all the buildings here.

Military Based transformed into Park, Playground, Hospital

Then dinner, invited by the mayor of Beit Sahour, in the municipal park, part of the amazing Oush Grab project. Land that had been held by the Israeli military (and prior to 1967 by the Jordanian army) was abandoned and redeveloped by the local munipcality, with areas to barbecue, play sports, and children’s playgrounds. Adjacent to the park is an area planned for a hospital. Wandering around the playground, I was delighted to see grass, swingsets .. and then I realized, I’m walking around totally delighted by a playground! And the fact is, this kind of facility is so crucial to normal life, so taken for granted, but very very exceptional in this place. Military base transformed into a playground, dinner with great company and great food .. totally refreshed and restored my enthusiasm for our work.

JumpStart and friends

If I get a chance before leaving Tuesday, we’re going out there to fly some kites, take pics, and do detailed mapping of that place.