Tag Archives: Gaza

Searching for Justice in Palestine’s Geography

By Benjamin Sacks

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

Gaza Strip. © 2014 Wikimedia Commons.

The State of Israel and Gaza militants are currently engaged in yet another violent struggle. As I write, the Israeli military is announcing that Hadar Goldin, a 23 year-old soldier captured by Hamas, had died. Separately, United Nations officials in Gaza report that a ‘health disaster of widespread proportions is rapidly unfolding’ there as the three week-old conflict rages on without any ceasefire or even serious negotiations in sight. This most recent flare is little different from previous struggles between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and unfortunately will not likely be the last time the two sides will clash.

It is now well understood that decisions made in the years leading up to Israel’s creation set in motion many of the current divisions between the Israelis and Palestinians. The infamous secret Sykes-Picot Treaty of 1916 split the post-war Middle East into French and British administrative sectors, formalized in the subsequent League of Nations mandates of 1922. In the Second World War’s aftermath, Britain experienced considerable, often violent strife from Israeli settlers in their mutual efforts to negotiate the timetable and terms for the establishment of an independent Jewish state. Writing in a 1951 Geographical Journal article, Sir Clarmont Skrine recalled that the State of Israel was born on 15 May 1948 in the ‘midst of [tremendous] strife between Jew and Arab [factions]’ over what lands each would take ‘on the margin between “the desert and the sown” [the Fertile Crescent]’ (p. 308).

In the most recent issue of Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Reecia Orzeck (Illinois State University) examines one of the most contentious aspects of the Second World War period in Palestine. Heeding long-standing calls both within and outside of academic geography to ‘engage more closely with the normative’ (p. 345), Orzeck explored the British implementation of the Land Transfer Regulation scheme in 1940. She accomplished this through an erudite and exacting investigation into how British, Jewish, and Palestinians understood ‘justice’ and concrete, albeit differing notions of ‘geographical imaginaries’.

Justice in a geographical sense, according to Orzeck, is the incorporation of moral, ethical, or judicial concerns and theory into geographical knowledge and analysis. In essence, this means that spatial study should incorporate legal and moral concerns as much as economic or political perspectives. Although renowned geographers Andrew Sayer, Michael Storper, and David M Smith all noted the coming trend as early as the late 1990s, the shift failed to occur and the geopolitical world radically changed in the first decade of the 2000s. Concerning Palestine, she argues that historical, contemporary, and social ‘geographical imaginaries’, or culturally-accepted paradigms about the world’s physical and cultural space,

[C]an play an important role in popular assessments of the justness of particular policies and practices, and that assessments of what constitutes a just policy can change as a result of changing geographical imaginaries (p. 348).

Both Britain and the League of Nations had promised Palestinians and Jews their own states in the McMahon-Hussein correspondence (1916) and the Balfour Declaration (1917), respectively. But increasingly complex legal promises and confusion led to outbreaks of violence between Palestinians and Jews in the late 1930s and during the Second World War. Ultimately, in 1940 the British divided the Mandate into three land-available zones: ‘A’, for transfer to Palestinians; ‘B’, for transfer from Palestinians to Palestinians; and ‘C’, unrestricted land transfers. According to British geographical imaginations, this would permit Palestinians the opportunity to maintain control over traditionally Arab lands and properties, while allowing Jews to right to purchase and transfer lands in other sectors. But, as Orzeck explains, the Jewish community understood this agreement different. In their geographical, or spatial imagination,

In zone A, Jews could not purchase land; in zone B, Jews could purchase land but not from Palestinians; and in zone C, Jewish land purchases were unrestricted (p. 349).

This, of course, soon resulted in a significant clash between British officials seeking to organise two states, the Jewish Agency, who believed that they had been promised opportunities to obtain Palestinian land, and the Palestinians themselves, who saw their newly-approved gains being immediately threatened.

60-world2Israel says missing soldier is dead‘, BBC News, 2 August 2014.

books_iconClarmont Skrine, ‘Economic Development in Israel’, The Geographical Journal 117.3 (Sep., 1951): 307-26.


Reecia Orzeck, ‘Normative geographies and the 1940 Land Transfer Regulations in Palestine‘, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 39 (Jul., 2014): 345-59.

Who’s Behind our Maps?

Jen Dickie

Map of the world, prepared by Vasily Kipriyanov From http://libraries.theeuropeanlibrary.org/RussiaStpetersburg/treasures_en.xml Begining of the 18th century Category:Old maps of the worldThe headlines this week demonstrate how ubiquitous maps have become; yesterday alone there were at least 5 maps being used by The Guardian and the BBC to illustrate information to their audience.  It is clear that both the type of information and the way it is being visualised are evolving but also that map makers and map users are diversifying.

With the Gaza conflict dominating the news, The Guardian is using data provided by reporters, officials and the general public alike to create a current, interactive Google Map of airstrikes and explosions in the war zone, which is constantly being updated as information unfolds.  This emerging method of data collection, known as ‘crowdsourcing’, is largely facilitated by social media and is, notwithstanding accuracy and reliability issues, concurrently increasing in popularity and accessibility.

However, it is not only quantitative data that can be mapped effectively; an interactive Google Map published by The Guardian yesterday depicts their news coverage of the ‘Sahel food crises’ over the past year.  Whilst this form of representation and design may give professional cartographers nightmares, this method of visualisation opens up new ways of identifying spatial and temporal connections and relationships from qualitative data sources.

In an article for Transactions, Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge argue that cartographic theory has seen a shift from a “representational to a processual understanding of mapping” and discuss what this means for cartographic epistemology.  Using their experience of mapping ‘ghost estates’ in Ireland, a public geography project, Kitchin et al. demonstrate how maps “unfold through a plethora of contingent, relational and contextual practices” and show how maps are being made (and re-made) in diverse ways as solutions to everyday problems and tasks.

Cartographic theory is evolving and maps are becoming fashionable again.  To me, one in particular highlights the exciting developments and opportunities maps can provide – Paul Butler’s map of Facebook connections.  This does not map Facebook membership or borders and boundaries, yet the world, albeit a slightly distorted one, is clearly visible – a map of human relationships.  As the journalist, Simon Garfield, states in his book ‘On the Map’  – “It was a map of the world made by 500 million cartographers all at once”.

 Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson and Martin Dodge, 2012, Unfolding mapping practices: a new epistemology for cartography, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00540.x

 Sahel food crisis – how the Guardian is covering the story, The Guardian, 19th November 2012

 Gaza-Israel crisis 2012: every verified incident mapped, The Guardian, 19th November 2012

 Simon Garfield, 2012, On the Map: Why the world looks the way it does, Profile Books Ltd, London

Imagining peace

By Rosa Mas Giralt

In the last few days, news reports have been covering the aftermath of the Israeli navy attack on a pro-Palestinian flotilla of ships which was on its way to Gaza to deliver aid. What was supposed to be a peaceful attempt to break through the blockade that has affected the Gaza strip since 2007 left nine activists dead and more than thirty people injured. This disturbing episode has reignited bitter interchanges between pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian parties and, once more, has showed the power of geopolitics in action.

In the face of events such as this, I feel drawn towards Nick Megoran’s recent call for the development of a “pacific geopolitics”, which he defines as “the study of how ways of thinking geographically about international relations can promote peaceful and mutually enriching human coexistence” (2010: 385). He argues that critical geographers should not only expose the dynamics of militarist or imperialist geopolitics but should also provide accounts of successful peaceful alternatives. In his article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, he uses research on “The Reconciliation Walk” (which brought American and European Christians together to re-enact the routes of the First Crusade and apologise to Jews, Eastern Christians and Muslims for such episodes of history) to exemplify how “pacific geopolitics” can be developed. In this way, geographers can imagine and work for peace.

Read news reports in The Guardian website about the Israeli raid on the flotilla and its aftermath

Read Nick Megoran (2010) “Towards a geography of peace: pacific geopolitics and evangelical Christian Crusade apologies”. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. 35 (3): 383-398.

Crossing points for some, barriers to life for others

By William Hasty

For many observers, the defining feature of contemporary globalisation has been the decreasing significance of ‘borders’. However, while some undoubtedly enjoy the privileges of a world without borders, others find themselves very much ‘hemmed-in’ by material boundaries. For, while the border represents nothing more than the point of crossing for some, it can, for others, signify a barrier to movement, and, in the most distressing cases, an impediment to life itself.

The people of Gaza are in such a position. Subject to a concerted blockade by Israel and Egypt, Gaza has been effectively cut off from vital connections with the rest of the world since 2007, and it is, unsurprisingly, beginning to seriously affect the health of the population, as a recent report authored by, among others, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations indicates. The report, featured in The Guardian newspaper (20/01/10), tells of the “ongoing deterioration in the social, economic and environmental determinants of health” being caused by the blockade, which, it is calculated, is “risking the health of 1.4 million people”. This closed-border policy is seriously “hampering the provision of medical supplies and the training of health staff, and it is preventing patients with serious medical conditions from getting timely specialised treatment”.

In a separate article featured just the week previous (11/01/10), the Israeli defence secretary, Ehud Barak, commenting on the proposal to extend the fence along the Gaza-Egypt border, claimed that “We need a fence, as I said 10 years ago, with all our neighbours”. What is being demarked and protected by these borders is “Israel’s Jewish and democratic character.” Clearly, the notion of a borderless world falls quite a way short of the lived reality for people in Israel and Palestine. For the sick and the hungry in Gaza, the border is a very real impediment to movement, and from the rhetoric of Israel’s policy makers it appears that this border is only going to become more fixed and surveilled in the future.

In Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalisation, Territory and Identity, a recent paper published in Geography Compass, Diener and Hagen (2009) argue that “Although declarations or predictions of a borderless world have become somewhat ubiquitous over the last twenty years, state borders remain one of the most basic and visible features of the international system.” The example of Gaza, highlighted above, supports their insistence on the “continuing power of borders in our supposedly borderless world.” Their paper is an insightful interjection in the literature, the importance of which is reinforced by the unfolding and tragic events in Gaza – a place where the border is more than a boundary, it is all too often a genuine barrier to life.

Read Gaurdian news story on Gaza blockade

Read Guardian news story on Israel- Egypt border fence

Read Diener and Hagen (2009) Theorizing Borders in a ‘Borderless World’: Globalisation, Territory and Identity, Geography Compass