Thursday, October 15, 2009

MAPS LIE: even as they tell the truth

This presentation seeks to:

- Analyze the conceptual and formal qualities (and their implications) reflected in Eyal Weizman's 'B'tselem Map of Jewish
Settlements in the West Bank'.

- It seeks to compare pertinent aspects of this analysis to two other mappings, and also discuss the methods chosen in each of the works to illustrate their intent.

The three maps chosen for the analysis are:

OYED' - by Emily Jacir
3. 'CRISIS IN DARFUR' - A Google Earth and USHMM outreach initiative.



- The map was produced as part of the exhibition 'A Civilian Occupation: The politics of Israeli Architecture', by architects Eyal Weizman and Rafi Segal, in collaboration with B'tselem (and Israeli human rights organization, that acts primarily to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories).

Israeli Policy in the Occupied Territories: " ...Israel has established a seperation cum discrimination regime in the Occupied Territories, through which it maintains two systems of laws, and a person's rights are based on his or her national origin...
...As part of the regime, Israel has stolen thousands of 'dunams' of land from the Palestinians. On this land, Israel has established dozens of settlements in which hundreds of thousands of Israeli civilians now live...
...Israel forbids Palestinians to enter and use these lands and uses the settlements to justify violations of Palestinian rights...
...the sharp changes made to the map of the West Bank make a viable Palestinian state impossible as part of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination..."

- Excerpts from the B'tselem website, Land Expropriation and Settlements,

- The map is an illustration of the extensive process of land grabbing instituted by the government of Israel.

- The process of map construction involved collecting master plans of over 150 Israeli settlements, comparing/collating them with aerial photographs and previously collected satellite images.

- The map is widely accepted as accurate, in Israel and outside.


- The map uses color primarily to establish -

a) Differentiation between Israeli and Palestinian settlements, and

b) The actual size of Israeli settlements, compared to the areas around it claimed by the Israeli government under differing pretexts.

- The contrast between the cool blues and the warm ochers of the Israeli and Palestinian settlements, heightens the presence of Israeli occupation on what is technically all Palestinian land. It emphasizes the extent of occupation, and alludes to a large scale Palestinian displacement.

- The map reveals its bias in its choice of colors to represent the opposing factions - Cool blues (relating metaphorically to a calculated intervention by Israel) and Warm ochers (relating to the pathos of the Palestinian people).

- It uses color gradations to illustrate the size of settlements, the allocated area for their projected growth and the greater reach of the jurisdiction of the settlements' regional council. These area definitions when seen all together as a set, reveal the extent of the land grabbing instituted by the Israeli government under the pretext of protecting the interest of its civilian settlers.

- Most existing maps of the West Bank illustrate the settlements as points, with some indicating alongside the population of the settlements. The B'tselem map, diverges from this mode of expression. By outlining the 'actual' shape, reach and positioning of the settlements, their municipalities and regional council jurisdiction the map communicates -

  • the scale of intervention
  • the actual size of settlements versus the area claimed (the collective size of all Israeli settlements amounts t0 approx. 2% of the total West Bank land area, the larger area claimed by the Israeli government under pretext of natural expansion and jurisdiction amounts to almost 47% of the total land area.)
  • the planned strategy of locating settlements so as to disconnect larger Palestinian settlements from outlying villages and strategic control over key military routes (e.g.: the Israeli settlement of Ariel)

Maps, as all mediums of communication do, serve the interests of those that commission/make them. They tend to portray points of view - however impartial the intent. Consequently, maps lie, consciously or not.

While this map sets out the scope of the Palestinian dislocation that has occurred, and alludes to the scale of human rights violations therein, its paints a one sided picture. As intended by its makers, it serves to illustrate the occupation by Israel of Palestinian ground within a larger discussion of Palestinian human rights violations. It does not however, allude to any persecution of Israeli settlers.

The maps portrays one aspect of what is a long story of struggle and dispute between two communities. While accurate in its representation, it leads the 'uneducated' viewer to form assumptions out of reference with the whole context.

For instance, the large extent of blue on the map illustrates the extent of Israeli occupation, with reference to the actual small size of the settlements. The dialogue it possibly omits to mention in this expression is the scope of civilian persecution within these smaller Israeli settlements upon 'foreign' land.



- This mapping was executed by the artist, Emily Jacir in 2001, during her residency at PS1's National Studio Program.

- While differing from a traditional cartographic visual expression, it is an effective expression of information communication.

- The construction/execution of this artwork involved the artist's sourcing of a refugee tent, and penciling upon it names of 418 Palestinian villages that were destroyed or depopulated during and after the 1948 war in which Palestine was occupied by Israel. The artist invited members of this displaced community to contribute to the embroidering of the village names onto the tent, thus organizing a collective exchange of experiences, stories and healing.

- The map was deliberately left incomplete, to illustrate the ongoing course of the displacements and human right violations.

- The decision to write the names in English instead of the Arabic script, so as not to distract from the pathos expressed by considerations of the calligraphic beauty of the writing.

COMPARISION - Similarity and Contrary Aspects:

- This artwork shares a common concept with the B'tselem map in that it seeks to draw attention to the displacement of the Palestinian people.

- While the B'tselem map deconstructs Israeli claims, and clarifies the scale of the land usurped in a methodical, scientific and factual manner, the 'refugee tent' alludes to the same, while focusing primarily on the human tragedy from an emotional point of view.

- These contrary positions are further illustrated by their chosen mediums of expression.

- The tent is constructed by victims of the ongoing war themselves, as versus the map, which may be perceived as a third person point of view. This accords the tent an unchallengeable veracity, while the map though widely acknowledged remains a political interpretation.

- Another dissimilarity is the 'view' employed by both works. While the B'tselem map employs the traditional planometric projection, the 'tent' employs a very personal and grounds up view of the same scenario. In this the map remains (despite its objectives) the 'occupier purveying territory' while the 'tent' relates to the 'ground reality' - names, faces, homes, places - of the dispute.



- Google Earth (GE) in collaboration with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) has instituted an outreach program 'Crisis in Darfur', wherein, GE maps on its interface the location of every single Darfurian villages know to be destroyed or damaged.

- In addition to 'locating' the villages on GE's 'virtual globe', the initiative allows each village tag to inform about the number of poeple displaced/killed, photographs from ground level, first person testimonials and links to essays about the crisis elsewhere on the internet.

- This mapping was initiated to bring awareness of the humanitarian conflict to approx. 200 million GE users, with a view towards generating international support.

- The simplistic 'icon' based representation of the damaged sites allow for easy recognition upon the larger GE interface.

- The GE globe is developed by a 'stitching' of satellite images to mime the appearance of the earth from above. Since the user can zoom into varying heights from ground level, it allows for a clearer exploration of the terrain - emphasizing the act of natural calamities (drought) upon a population under strife from war.

- The choice of interface used for the mapping, is significant to the purpose of the act - generating awareness. The GE platform differs from a traditional cartography significantly as it offers immediate options for further education about the crisis. The mapping takes into account that awareness may engineer a desire for a deeper understanding of the crisis, and hence seeks to cater to users with differing 'scales' of awareness. It (attempts to) allows for varying levels of information dissemination to cater to differing user profiles.

Its platform, enables diverse forms of communication (map, photography, testimonials etc) - each of which have differing impacts upon the viewer.

- The GE interface is however not an extensively sociable one. This ensures that the user's experience of the 'initiative' is of a one-sided perspective and is as purported by GE.

COMPARISION - Similarities and Contrasts:

- Both maps are perceived to be generally unbiased.

- The B'tselem map addresses its subject from a scientific and geographical approach. It addresses its detail to a single aspect of a larger issue - attempting to communicate it accurately. The GE initiative, however, addresses its subject from a geographical and emotional approach - attempting to give a generic idea of the 'scale and scope' of the crisis. It addresses directly the various human rights violations suffered by the civilian Darfurian population, while the B'tselem map (restricted by its medium) merely alludes to them.

- Concurrently, the GE initiative, appears 'lost' in the scope of its attempts, addressing various issues superficially as compared to the B'tselem map that is focused in the singularity of its intention.