Old Palestinian Maps

Posted on Jun 2, 2018

by Ann Hafften, a Texas Lutheran

I am an admitted map nerd. I have spent a lot of time lately poring over the amazing maps offered by Palestine Open Maps, a platform that seeks to combine emerging technologies for mapping with immersive storytelling. On a current satellite map, I located the kibbutz where I worked as a volunteer in the 1970s and 1980s. By moving through the overlying maps from 1951 back to 1880, I easily located the villages that I was always told were “abandoned.”

My Israeli host mother told me their names; I want to say them here: Et Tina, Huraniya, Idhnibba, Mughallis, Tall as Safi, Qastina, and Masmiya al Kabira. These villages have been erased, with the exception of Masmiya, located on the old Tel Aviv to Ashkelon highway.

Moshe Dayan, writing in Ha’aretz in 1969, said, “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You don’t even know the names of these Arab villages, and I don’t blame you, because these geography books no longer exist […] Nahalal arose in the place of Mahlul, Gvat in the place of Jibta, Sarid in the place of Haneifa, and Kfar-Yehoshua in the place of Tel-Shaman. There is not one single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

The idea for this platform was inspired by a large collection of 1940s-era survey maps from the British Mandate of Palestine, recently digitized by the Israeli national library. These maps—all now in the public domain—cover the territory at scales of up to 1:20,000, offering a vivid snapshot of a human and natural geography almost unrecognizable on the ground today, with an unparalleled level of physical detail, including population centers, roads, topographic features and property boundaries. Check out Palestine Open Maps at this link.