Map project in Palestine

Posted on | October 7, 2016 | Category: News

For most people, orienteering is a sport practiced for fun and challenge. In the Palestinian city Battir, it has a further aim.

Laughs and shouts spread through the narrow streets of the Palestinian city Battir while pupils from the local school try to find their way through their ancient hometown. It was a long process before they could practice map reading in school.

Battiri pupils. Photo: les Cafés-cartographiques

From 2007 until 2011, a survey of civilian mapping was carried out in the frame of the ‘Battir Cultural Landscape Conservation and Management Plan’. A 12 square kilometre area around Battir, only five kilometres from Bethlehem, was measured, without any professional assistance in cartography. In May 2012, civil engineer Hassan Muamer, the Battiri co-author of the Plan, transmitted the data to cartographer Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas in order to help to structure the huge amount of data collected from 2007. A project with many aims:

– The initial goal of the project was to help the inhabitants, in a land where good topographic maps are not available for civilians, to know and to communicate about their territory. In tourism, environmental and heritage protection contexts, Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas says.

In June 2014, Battir was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO, because of the hill landscape with ancient characteristic stone terraces and a unique water system. Battir is located on the West Bank, close to the Israeli border. Due to the conflict with Israel regarding the border drawing and a proposed wall, UNESCO classifies the area as “in danger”. The project of mapping Battir and its surroundings is therefore a way for the inhabitants of Battir to show the areas they have maintained for a long time.

The ancient terraces that are characteristic for Battir. Photo: UNESCO


Converted into orienteering maps

In June 2012, Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas’ colleague at the National School of Geographic Sciences, and president of the French orienteering club ‘CO de l’ASIGN’, Hervé Quinquenel got involved in the project. Before 2014, the measurements were used for topographic maps. Drawing an orienteering map was one among other ways to make the people of Battir more involved in their mapping, in order to be able to communicate about their own surrounding area:

– Almost all the base data was produced by locals active in the Battir Cultural Landscape Conservation project. That data was not strictly organized and had big problems of geometry: The first step was to solve those issues. After that was done, it was quite easy to convert all that data from GIS to OCAD and IOF standards, Hervé Quinquenel says.

To produce something acceptable and up-to-date, many adjustments and additions were necessary.  During a two-week trip to Battir in the spring of 2014, Hervé Quinquenel updated the orienteering map. The trip was too short for producing race quality maps, but it was enough to create maps for initiation and promoting orienteering.

The full orienteering map Hervé Quinquenel made in 2014 from data produced by the villagers of Battir.

Free and open

The Battir Cultural Landscape Conservation project has been characterised by openness of the data. After converting the data produced by the Battir residents, Hervé Quinquenel has continued that spirit. He created a webpage with the main orienteering Battir maps available for free download:

The city centre of Battir. All map samples in both PDF and OCAD is available here.

“These maps and the data are freely available, copyright free, and intended to be improved by any competent and motivated person wishing to go on site to continue this volunteer and philanthropic work supported by crowdsourcing. The principle is simple: you get the files from this website, update them, you send them back to us and we upload the new version with your data” reads the webpage.

To Hervé Quinquenel it felt logical to share the orienteering maps with everyone:

– The data belongs to the people of Battir. My maps were drawn on a voluntary basis and are not finalized. So it was more logical to leave it free and open to anyone who wants to use them or, even better, to improve them, he says.


First time using a map

Orienteering and topographical maps are used to support the citizens of Battir communicating about their village and has an educational aim. On the orienteering project’s webpage, it is possible to download courses designed to explore the ancient village and surrounding valleys. Hervé Quinquenel and Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas have organized orienteering lessons and mapping-workshops in the local school. A new experience to most of the pupils:

– It was the first time most of the kids had to find something using a map. The first time they used an accurate map of their village in fact. They were very smart, and understood immediately what they had to do, Hervé Quinquenel says.

From France, both Jasmine Desclaux-Salachas and Hervé Quinquenel follow the Battir map project closely. The orienteering part of it lies dormant at the moment, but the map is there and can be used for teaching in schools and exploring the city.

After converting the orienteering map, Hervé Quinquenel hoped that someone could take the orienteering project in charge, but sadly he could not find anyone competent and motivated enough in the area. The hope is not lost though:

– My dream is to find someone that could bring orienteering to life in Battir certainly, but also in the surrounding areas. Imagine the old cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem for the World Orienteering Sprint Championships. They would surely be incredible places, exclaims Hervé Quinquenel.

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