A Subtle Zionist Occupation of Gaza through Google Maps

Questionable priorities of archeological facts on Google Maps, divisive cross-lingual links on Wikipedia… Are the ideological distortions of history on so-called balanced online services here to stay?

As I was working with Laila El-Haddad on the 2009 version of You Are Not Here, we were looking for interesting locations to feature on our mediated/dislocated tour. Using Google Maps, I was particularly interested in what seems to be an important historic location:

The Ancient Synagogue in Gaza
The Ancient Synagogue in Gaza

[Available at publish time, in case it changes, click to see on Google Maps.]

The Old Synagogue in Gaza

The ancient synagogue in Gaza picked my attention, I knew there used to be a Jewish community in Gaza (as I was well informed by the the Israeli right around the time of the disengagement), but I didn’t know about an old synagogue and wondered if it might be an interesting spot in the tour. But as much as I was trying I couldn’t find much information about this synagogue. I finally found that this synagogue was built by the Jewish community in the city 1500 years ago and was an important archeological find, especially for its mosaic work featuring the name “David”, in Hebrew letters.

This was indeed a spot worth mentioning but I was wondering though how come the other archeological relics like the Great Omari Mosque or even Napoleon’s Castle were omitted from the map. And how come the ancient synagogue in Gaza is mentioned on the map, while other synagogues like the older one (and arguably of a higher archeological importance) in Tzipori are not mentioned on the Google map.

Antedon? WTF?

It left me curious but not too suspicious, as many other synagogues are indeed mentioned on Google Maps. What through me was the mention of “Horvat Antedon” to the North of the Shati refugee camp in Gaza. I have never heard of Antedon and was wondering if there are any relics there. Well apparently Antedon is a city built by the Jewish king Herod in the first century BC. It is definitely not an important part of history and its location is only apparently not even known but is only guessed. There are no archeological artifacts to spot the location of Antedon and it is unclear how it made it to the map. Including the guessed location in the map more of an opinionated annotation (saying “Jews used to live here”) than anything else.

Hmm... Horvat Antedon, was it really there? Does it really belong on this map?
Hmm... Horvat Antedon, was it really there? Does it really belong on this map?

[Available at publish time, in case it changes, Click to see on Google Maps.]

Zionist Conspiracy? No…

Hey Wikipedia, is it "Palestine" or "ארץ ישראל"?
Hey Wikipedia, is it "Palestine" or "ארץ ישראל"?

I do not mean to imply any sort of “Zionist Conspiracy” here, not at all… I rather want to use this example to emphasize how the so called unbiased and technical description of the world which is a part of Google’s agenda is not and probably cannot be devoid of ideology. It is embedded in our attempt to describe the world, and no one is immune to it. Google still gets its maps from third parties, and that information is mentioned at the bottom of the map: “Map data ©2009  Mapa GISrael, ORION-ME, AND, LeadDog Consulting, Europa Technologies”. Mapa GISrael is describing the land from an Israeli perspective, just as much as the name definition and the sidebar on the “Palestine” article in Wikipedia links to the Hebrew article “ארץ ישראל” (“Eretz Israel” – The land of Israel).

As much as we might be disturbed by these instances of clear ideological decisions directing a so-called trust-worthy fact, I actually find them hopeful. It just shows how essential our critical thinking is and how it could never be replaced by cold alienated technology. It does however call for a wider media literacy and a critical reading of the map(s).

Show & Tell: Contemporary Cartography vs. Cybernetics in History

For my Show & Tell spot at the Theoretical aspects of interactivity class, I would discuss some of the ideas brought up in Norbert Weiner’s ‘Cybernetics in history’ essay, concerning my thoughts about contemporary cartography and community GIS.

Here are some ideas I would like to go over in class: Continue reading Show & Tell: Contemporary Cartography vs. Cybernetics in History

Where It’s @

The following is a draft for a course Dan and I might give in Eyebeam:

Where It’s @
mapping and location awareness

Mapping is first and foremost an attempt of contextualizing one’s surrounding environment.
More than just asking “Where am I?” we believe the cartographer is also concerned with the question “Where am I not?” While these questions have historically led to controversial (“oppressive”?) circumstances such as colonialism and territorial conflicts, we believe that through the context of the web, mapping can provide a positive difference towards global awareness and social change.

Where It’s @ is a course trying to examine cartography in the light of new technology.
Data visualization technologies, open GIS interfaces and location aware devices are turning mapping into the latest technological hype. How does all of that effect our culture?

The course will tackle concepts of mapping history, images of the world, globalization, activism, urban-planning, psychogeography through the practices of hacking, APIs, DIY, GIS (Geographical Information Systems) and GPS (Global Positioning System). The course will present these topics within the contexts of social software, collaborative work, net art, networked performance and online/physical space tensions.

The basic assumption of the course –  a question we would like to keep raising – does the use of location aware technology lead towards a more location aware culture?

Week 1 – Introduction
Exploration of mapping as a concept.
History of mapping, from ancient maps through the age of discovery to the mapping of the human genome.
Mapping as an art form – from traditional to new media art referring to mapping.
Syllabus + Expectations
1st assignment: a week of location awareness –
draw your movement on a MTA map for the coming week.
Use different colors for subway, walking, bus/cab/car, bike.

Week 2 – Psychogeography / Introduction to Google Earth
We’ll be going through the assignment and will be developing a conversation on that issue
referring to Situationist Psychogeography experiments & concepts.
We’ll introduce Google Earth both as a viewer and as a creative platform.
2nd Assignment: Using GE to tell a story.

Week 3 – The builders of cities / A imaginative city planing workshop
After enjoying a set of GE stories, we will go through Sketch-Up as a tool for building 3D models in GE.
We will be building together non-existing architecture as a social/political statement in urban virtual space.
3rd Assignment: Urban art in virtual space.

Week 4 – Can we really map without leaving the screen?
We will break the workshop’s status-quo by doing a real-space mapping experiment in the city.
Based on the maps of the participants weekly routes we will choose an area that is not as familiar for us, and try to explore it for the sake of exploring.
We will be using digital cameras and a GPS device to collect data which we’ll be using later.

Week 5 – GIS
Geographic Information Systems – what are they for? who’s using them? What is happening to the field now?
We will use a GIS approach to create a database for the information we collected the previous week, we’ll use a couple different map interfaces to explore the information in different ways and discuss the information itself through them.
start thinking of final projects (preferably in small groups)

Week 6 – Mapping Hacks
We will start by touring the world for the class’s virtual street sculptures / architecture pieces
We will discuss how the concept of hacking has changed in the past years and how from a rebellious movement of geeks, it has become a pretty much excepted approach to computing and is even supported by the big technology companies through the publishing of officially supported APIs.
The rest of the class will be devoted to the use of mapping APIs such as Google Maps & Yahoo Maps services – creating XML and getting your dots on the map.
4th Assignment – Connect the dots – think about what we discussed in class and make your own response to the title “Connect the dots”.

Week 7 - Geo-Hacktivism / Networked KMLs
Exploring the connect the dots assignment submissions.
First presentation of final projects concepts.

Week 8 – Loud Speaker
A guest speaker will attend the class for a lecture and will stay afterward to provide feedback on students’ projects in development.

Week 9 – Presentation, Closing Party
We will explore and critique the projects*, either in Eyebeam or if necessary out around the city.

* An optional ~one week exhibition of the final projects can be held in Eyebeam and opened shortly after the course ends.