"Unmapping Palestine: Participatory Navigation Applications and the Politics of Crowdsourced Maps," a talk by Meryem Kamil
"Unmapping Palestine: Participatory Navigation Applications and the Politics of Crowdsourced Maps"
A talk by Meryem Kamil
In February 2016, two Israeli soldiers were using the Waze navigation app when they accidentally entered Qalandiya, a West Bank town that was not on the Waze-provided map. They opened fire on the Palestinian residents, killing 22-year old student Iyad Omar Sajadiyya. This talk examines the disappearance of Palestine from maps and the effects of cartographic erasure. I formulate the process of "unmapping Palestine" as a type of imagined geography characterized by the un-writing of indigenous sovereignty. Unmapping Palestine has a fraught orientation towards settler-colonial erasure rather than being intrinsically in alignment with the process of genocide. I look to the unexpected encounter of IDF soldiers with Qalandiya as an assertion of indigenous presence within the larger process of Israeli occupation. The moments that Palestine comes to the forefront of colonial imaginary, like in the unintentional trespass of IDF soldiers into Palestinian towns, shed light on the incomplete nature of erasure, the instability and indeterminacy of colonial encounter.
The death of Sajadiyya is paired in this talk with the Maps.me navigation application used by Palestinians as an alternative to Waze. Maps.me uses information from OpenStreetMap, an open source collaborative mapping community that draws from various sources including user traces, government archives, and corporate donations. Understanding the process behind OpenStreetMap map-making for Palestine complicates the concept of unmapping Palestine by looking to the practical needs of accurate maps for humanitarian and local purposes, but also the ethical questions of open source prompted by free use of data. The unmapping of Qalandiya and the collaborative open source mapping of OpenStreetMap prompt the question: what productive work does un/mapping do given the precarity of Palestinian life? In other words, what are the politics of creating accurate maps of Palestine?
Meryem Kamil is a Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellow in the Ethnic Studies Department at UC San Diego. Her work looks at new media's imbrication in colonialism and technology's potential in formulating alternative visions of Palestinian futurity. Meryem is also a member of Precarity Lab, a cross-disciplinary research collective that studies various forms of insecurity, vulnerability, and social and cultural exclusion that digital platforms produce and mediate.