OpenStreetMap Palestine — Discussion List — Map the Future

Just emailed out this message .. reproduced here for further distribution. Forward and get involved!

Greetings! Hope you are well!

I’m sending out this message to briefly look back at what’s happened in OpenStreetMap Palestine, and announce a new mailing list [] to take mapping in Gaza and the West Bank forward. You’re receiving this message because you may have contributed mapping time, donated money for aerial imagery, helped get the word out, discussed, or simply provided moral support. Thank you! Or maybe you were cc’d in one of the flurry of emails organizing OSM mapping in Gaza back in January! In any case, you’re invited to *join the new discussion list*. Please forward to anyone who you think is interested.


Dozens of volunteer mappers, Yahoo Aerial Imagery, Digital Globe Imagery, open data, and a wiki. In rapid time, Gaza is almost to 1.0. There’s still some place name labelling and POI and corrections to do, but it’s very close. JumpStart International, in partnership with PCBS and ARIJ, are hard at work. Please join in and edit, especially if you have direct knowledge of Gaza — get in touch if you need any editing guidance.

In the process, agencies like UNOSAT and EC JRC have started selective release of their data sets .. a great start to open geodata exchange. The OpenStreetMap Wiki has an extensive (perhaps the greatest) collection of Palestinian geodata on the internet, all collected rapidly through crowdsourcing.

At the same time, JumpStart International has been rapidly mapping the West Bank, and looks to be on track to release the first complete public domain map of Palestine very soon. It’s phenomenal, exciting work. Keep track of progress, and read fascinating accounts of the work there, on JumpStart’s weblog.

My blog posts for good measure..


A complete map is just the start. One of the very first tasks will be to import JumpStart’s map into OpenStreetMap. We’ll need experienced OSM mappers help.

We raised 4k GBP to purchase recent satellite imagery over Gaza. It’s been put to good use, but there’s so much more that could be done to get its full value .. for instance, agricultural land use is readily identifiable. If you want to work on digitizing the imagery get in touch; we can’t make it completely publicly available due to licensing, but will give access to any OSM mappers who are interested.

Mapping data is nothing unless it’s used and updated. The geography of Palestine changes rapidly, and knowledge of those changes is crucial. The uses of the data are many — for planning, for travel, for media reporting, for business, for education. The best way to maintain, promote and use open geographic data has proven to be through a strong community. We are the beginnings of that community in Palestine .. please be welcome to join talk-ps and work for a Free and Open Palestine.

Very best

Misconceptions and Objections to Gaza Mapping: My Response

Over the past week, the response to OpenStreetMap in Gaza has been overwhelmingly supportive. There have been a few exceptional objections, and some common misconceptions, and I want to respond to from my perspective, and perhaps the “OpenStreetMap perspective”. Some of these objections have come from people familiar with operations in Gaza, so I take their perspectives very seriously. Please consider this part of a discussion .. I’m very interested to hear from your perspective.

Gazans are in no position to contribute to a map now. Let me just clearly say, we have no expectation of working with anyone inside Gaza right now, and are not actively seeking their involvement. However, if people familiar with Gaza geography are available outside Gaza, we’d love to talk to you. Gazan’s priority is plain and simply survival during this crisis. They have all our support, and our map hopes to assist in any small way. Some exceptional bloggers are getting communications out to the world, at great personal risk, Ushahidi is providing a medium for reporting incidents, but I think OSM won’t get to this point without significant development work. When the crisis subsides, and Gaza becomes a safe place to work in again, we will be looking to collaborate with Gazans, remotely or similarly to JumpStart’s work in the West Bank.

Maps are already available. This objection goes right to the heart of OpenStreetMap. Yes, there are various maps available, from authorities like the UN, Palestinian govt, from international media. The presumption that these authorities have complete, accurate, consistent, and verified data is unfortunately incorrect. They do a fantastic job, and the maps serve many useful purposes. But just for instance, the roads layer from the European Commission that underlies all the UN maps is missing road names, and at even a quick look has inaccuracies. These sources disagree with each other on place names and locations.

I’ve had the privilege of working with and discussing issues with all of these entities, but like many institutions, they are struggling to effectively collect, update, and share geographic information effectively. Just take a look at the OSM discussion page for Gaza to get a sense of what’s possible when discussion and sharing happens in an open transparent environment — we are very rapidly getting to an accurate interpretation of geographic reality, it’s wonderful to see.

And what is “available” is not mapping data, but rendered maps. AidWorkerDaily has an excellent critique of this situation, in response to the very good UNOSAT maps (which are derived from the same Digital Globe imagery we are looking to purchase). If you happen to know the right person, they haven’t transferred to a new job, and you represent the right entity, you might get a hold of the actual data, in which you can make your own map or application. I’m all for ad-hoc networks, but any sort of closed access makes them totally inefficient, especially in a crisis. When you do get data, there are likely with provisions on what you can do with it .. that’s the case with the EC roads data (which is available, but non-commercial, non-modifiable).

Maps can endanger Gazans This is honestly one of the most preposterous and disheartening things I’ve heard. The argument is that by providing maps in the open, we are potentially aiding the Israeli invasion. I guess such paranoia is an understandable response within this emergency, but it’s frankly the same security through obscurity argument peddled for centuries, brought out most recently in Mumbai, a strategy on the verge of finally dissolving in a world of openness and transparency. The IDF access to much better intelligence and imagery than we’d ever have, they fly drones over Gaza, there’s a 2m resolution commercial limit in all satellite imagery over Israel — guess who gets to see the sub-meter imagery? Gazans have nothing to gain by trying keep secrets, the asymmetry of that game is overwhelmingly not in their favor.

Some of this fear is based on the misinterpretation of statements that UNRWA gave coordinates of their schools in Gaza to the IDF. The insinuation is that the IDF specifically targetted these facilities, based on that information. The intention of UNRWA was to help protect their schools; it’s possible we’ll never know what happened, but can anyone honestly think that the GPS coordinates were used to base attacks?

Is there a level of detail OpenStreetMap should not pass? I have a hard time thinking of what OSM can feasibly do that would be a problem. Put the question another way — rather than what should be mapped .. what kinds of things shouldn’t be mapped?

Gaza is a small place This is the argument I’m most open to .. but still disagree. Gaza is small, smaller than the San Francisco peninsula. People living in Gaza know it well. People who have operated in Gaza know it well. They don’t need maps?

Imagine a large earthquake in San Francisco. How effectively could aid be coordinated if there was no current map of San Francisco? Firefighters could possibly arrive from throughout California, and further. Is it better use of SF firefighters’ time to explain the geography of SF to all the newcomers, or to hand them a good map?

There’s a again an presumption of insider knowledge here, that anyone who is operating in Gaza is going to know what’s up. I don’t believe that.

There are better things for you to do for Gazans. Don’t do this. Most of us can’t do anything directly. Actually no one from anywhere can get into Gaza to help. Why discourage a contribution? Please read Clay Shirky


I probably haven’t adequately addressed these concerns, but I think this is a good start. Maybe there are more objections. Let me know what you think.

The First Palestinian Spy Satellite

Back in August, we were mapping Bethlehem, and relaxed in this wonderful park, transformed from a former Israeli military base (and before that Jordanian).

We did some kite photography. The first Palestinian Spy Satellite.

Former Israeli Military Post

Here’s the remaining military structures.

Was a military post, now a BBQ

Some of the BBQ area of the park.

The last photo, before it tumbled out of the sky

The wind was fierce, and the rig came loose, plunging 100 ft to the ground. This is the last photo that cheapo Canon ever shot.

I promise, more soon on the recent trip back to the West Bank.