Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Nablus Adventure

Another day full of adventures and obstacles, the Jumpstart lead team went to Nablus to meet the GIS department at Al-Najah University, and to visit the Jumpstart team working in Nablus. The team set out in the morning from Bethlehem where they had been for the last two days meeting with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem. Traveling north they passed through the "container" checkpoint , also passing by the villages of Abu Dis and Eizariya, to Nablus through Za'atara checkpoint and Huwarra checkpoint which is the worst in the West Bank.

The way to Nablus was uneventful; we didn't wait for long at the checkpoints. When we arrived in Nablus, we first went to Relief International's office to meet the Jumpstart team and the volunteers who are working with us. We spent a productive but enjoyable time with the group as they expressed their appreciation for Jumpstart's efforts with them.

Then Chris and Anas went to the Al-Najah University to discuss the partnership between the university and Jumpstart. Their meeting was successful and they planned to have a training for the GIS students at the university the following week.

We reached the Hawara checkpoint by five, and hundreds of cars were waiting in line for the Israeli soldiers to let them pass. We found out that there were cars there that had been waiting at the checkpoint since three in the afternoon, two hours before we arrived. After a long three hour wait in the car it was finally our turn to pass through.

Huwara checkpoint has its own instructions which require passengers to exit their vehicles ten meters before the checkpoint and the driver of the car should drive alone to the soldiers, carrying the identity papers of all the passengers. So Anas, who was driving, dropped Majd and Chris ten meters before the checkpoint. They acted nonchalantly, despite the obvious hassle. Chris didn't know that he shouldn't move until the soldier calls him to get into the car, so he start walking to go into the car and suddenly the soldier was shouting "wakef.. wakef " in Arabic which means stop , but Chris didn't understand; he thought they were saying "Ok, ok" and he kept going until the soldier shouted louder. After the inspection and scrutiny the soldiers started calling for the people to get into the car ladies first then the men, real chivalry in action. Before the men are allowed into their vehicle they must lift their clothes to show that they have nothing hidden under their clothes. So Majd got into the car and they searched Chris by asking him to lift his clothes. The guard stopped searching him once she realized he was an international.

So we continued our great journey, to be stopped again by another checkpoint called Za'atara, which is five or ten minutes past Huwarra. An hour later we moved on again, but of course the story wasn’t finished yet. We dropped Majd off at Jaba’a checkpoint, between Ramallah and Bethlehem. Majd got the last taxi to Bethlehem. At the last checkpoint the soldiers stopped the car and asked for all the IDs. The guy sitting next to Majd gave a paper saying that he had been released from jail a few hours ago.

“Why were you in jail?” she asked.

The answer was that he had a work permit to work in an Israeli settlement, with permission only to go into the settlement. But he went with his boss (an Israeli settler) to Jerusalem to buy things for work. The Israeli police caught him their illegally, and he spent two months in jail.

After an hour checking his papers, the taxi moved on, and a long day of checkpoints was complete. From Nablus to Bethlehem in six hours – five at the checkpoints and one for the way…

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Team Interviews in Nablus

Name: Raneen Abdilaziz
Age: 19
From: Nablus city
Occupation: Interior design student at Al Najah University

I live in Nablus city; I’m currently in the second year at al Najah University. I learned about Jumpstart through a friend of mine who volunteers at the Relief International office in Nablus. The work is so nice, I’m really enjoying it; the atmosphere is great, the people are fun to work with and the end result of the project is so useful. It also gives us the opportunity to learn more about our cities and villages, many of which I've never visited or knew existed. It is also very important for the public to eventually be able to get the geographic data freely and easily and for Palestine, in general, to have it’s own map of the road system.

Name: Mutaz Al slem
Age: 18
From: Nablus city
Occupation: Economics student at AL Najah University

I live in Nablus city, a large city in the north of the west bank. I found out about the Jumpstart project through the Relief International. I think this project is one of the best projects that has ever been undertaken in Palestine.

The way of the work is simple and easy to understand; this is especially the case because the supervisors are very good to us, they encourage us to work and to do something useful for our beloved Palestine. We truly feel that we’re all one family here doing a very useful project that gives us the opportunity to expand our knowledge about places in Palestine while having the potential to benefit things like tourism and business development. I feel it's very important for Palestine to have its own maps and not to be connected to the Israeli one.

Name: Suna
Age: 24
From: Hebron
Skills: Civil Engineering

I finished university in June of last year (2008) and after that I stayed unemployed for a few months. Then, in November I started a training program at The Rehabilitation Committee which lasted until December which is when I heard from my cousin about the position with Jumpstart in Hebron, and I came.

I like it, it's an interesting job and there are so many nice people working with me. Like I said, before moving to Jenin with Jumpstart, I was living and working in Hebron on the same project. It was really good, now we are doing the same great work in Jenin. However, I think Jenin is a very boring city, all the shops close at 5pm at the latest, so I pass my time at home watching TV or playing cards.

In Hebron we did two things, GPS surveys and drawing maps, now in Jenin, we do that in addition to training the volunteers. Our volunteers are students, currently they have free time to work because they are on winter holiday, but on sunday their school will start again and they'll go back to their studies.

When the West Bank project finishes, I would love to continue with Jumpstart mapping some other place, but it's difficult for me as a girl because my family won't allow me to travel.

Name: Isra
Age: 23
From: Hebron
Skills: Architecture Engineering

I'm originally from the center of Hebron. I graduated from university in November and after that I didn't even have to look for a job because my friend Enas told me about Jumpstart.

Originally I was with Jumpstart in mapping Hebron, now they have moved me to Jenin. I preferred Hebron because Jenin is a very boring place, there is nothing to do here for fun after work.

We start our days in Jenin by going to the villages around Jenin; there are many villages here so we keep busy. In the villages we walk along each road, recording their locations with a GPS and writing the names of the roads in our notebooks. We also record the names of points-of-interest and mark them in the GPS as waypoints. Our points-of-interest include shops, pharmacies, universities, schools, organizations, government buildings, etc. After our fieldwork we go to the Relief International computer lab. There we input the data we collected into the computers and draw the streets and the points-of-interest on our map. For lunch, we go to the apartment and we all eat together, I especially enjoy this time with my teammates.

Of course the war in Gaza affected me, it made me sad and frustrated to see on television what was happening to our people.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Team Interviews in Ramallah

This week we interviewed the staff in order to learn more about their feelings and experiences. The following are condensed versions of what they said:

Name: Ali Ja’far
Age: 27
From: Jerusalem, Sawahreh village

I live in Sawahreh, a village of Jerusalem. In 2004, after the Israeli government built the apartheid wall, the village was divided in half, into east and west. The Israeli government confiscated a big portion of the land in Sawahreh. The east part of the village was excluded from Jerusalem on the other side of the wall; the west side remained connected to Jerusalem and under Israeli government control. The wall separated my relatives; some now live in the east and some in the west.

To travel to Bethlehem from the village is a problem for the presence of Container checkpoint; this checkpoint is considered one of the worse checkpoints in the west bank.

I started my studies in Iraq, but because the US invaded Iraq I had to flee to Jordan; however I soon found that universities in Jordan did not accept my credits from Iraq, so I moved back to Palestine. I finally graduated in 2007, in accounting and finance at Alquds University in Abu Dis. After I graduated I found a job with a bank in Palestine; but, the working conditions there were bad so I had to leave and start looking for something else. My friend Mahar told me about a job with an international organization called Jumpstart, this organization was looking for young people for a mapping project in Palestine. Soon thereafter I started to work with them, I liked it, it didn’t feel like working for a boss, it felt more like a family. There is small opportunity of finding a job in Palestine and if you do manage to find one it will most likely come with poor working conditions, with a low salary, and not relating to anything you trained for academically.

I’ve been working on mapping throughout the period of the Israeli attacks on Gaza and have been greatly affected by this event; it upsets me terribly, the killings of so many innocent people, so many children being bombed and the world not caring. In some way these feelings make me stronger; and mapping makes me feel I’m doing something for Palestine.

In my opinion, this project is very useful to Palestine; I think it’s one of the best projects I've seen here because it’ll help Palestinians learn about their country and people all around the world to have access to a map of Palestine.

Name: Mohammad Ayyad
Age: 24
From: Abu Dis village in Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineering

I live in Jerusalem, in the village of Abu Dis. I live in the Israeli part of Abu Dis but I don’t have an Israeli ID. Every time I want to go home I have to pass through a particular checkpoint where I’m registered. Because I have a Palestinian ID I cannot go to Jerusalem or other Israeli cities even though I live on the Israeli side of the wall and under their governmental jurisdiction.

Before I finished my studies I started a computer engineering training programme in the Alquds University. After I finished my studies last year, I went looking for a job; however, I couldn’t find any work so I decided to continue the training without any salary and hoping to find a job connected to the university. After sometime without work I heard about Jumpstart's mapping project and that they were hiring, so I went to work with them. It’s difficult to find job in Palestine, the job conditions are no good, the salary is not nearly enough to live on, and finding a job that matches your previous training is rare.

I was working with Jumpstart when Israel attacked Gaza. I felt worried and sad; all my thoughts were for the victims, the people of Gaza. Although, throughout this I work hard and continue my job dilligently. My crew and I will cover a large area of Palestine doing amazing work. I can see how extremely useful a map will be for my society. Most importantly we are creating a map in the public domain, it's not owned by a government or corporation, this freedom is good, especially for maps. It is great that we are creating a separate map from the Israeli-controlled one, so Palestine can be on the world map.

I am grateful to Jumpstart for this job opportunity and I appreciate that they are helping Palestine. I hope to work with this project until it finishes; know the data we collect will be helpful for people in the future.

Name: Sa’eed Alqaloti
Age: 25
From: Abu Dis village in Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineering

I live in Abu Dis, a village of Jerusalem. This is the same village that Mohammad is from but the wall divided my part of the village from his; I live outside the wall, he lives inside it. I graduated from Alquds University last year with a degree in computer engineering. I found a job in Ramallah with a programming company and worked for them for two months. However, because of the low pay and high cost for transportation, I used all my salary just to pay for my travel costs each day. Because of this, I left the job and stayed unemployed until I heard about Jumpstart. They were looking for people to make a map of the West Bank, I really liked the concept it and so I joined the crew. The work is enjoyable, the salary is good, and they treat me well, like a family.

I felt terribly upset when Israel attacked Gaza and I told myself that I must continue my work because it’s a way to help Palestine. I can see this project is a very useful one for Palestine and it gives many job opportunities to young people, providing some valuable work experience. I am thankful to Jumpstart for the opportunity to work on this map and I hope all the organizations and people who are in, or concern themselves with, the West Bank will utilize our maps, for free of course!

Name: Maher Hidmi
Age: 24
From: Jerusalem
Skills: Computer engineer

I’m from Jerusalem, however I am only allowed to have a Palestinian ID even though my mother holds a Jerusalem ID. Both my father and I have Palestinian IDs yet my mother has a Jerusalem ID which allows her to go to Jerusalem and Israel. Israel only gives me permission to travel within Jerusalem and I must renew this permit every year or I'll loose it.

I work as a project coordinator for one of the teams working with Jumpstart's mapping project; we’re making a map of the West Bank. There are four teams around the West Bank now, my team started in Jerusalem and we’re now in Ramallah. I hope we’ll finish Ramallah city within the next few days and then we’ll move to collect the data from the villages in the surrounding area. This project must be finished by April but you can’t guess anything in this country, you can’t really plan for what’s going to happen tomorrow, thats a strategy of the occupation.

I feel that, through this project, I’m helping my country and it encourages me to work harder. Before working here I was working in a small company in Jerusalem with computer engineering. The salary was bad and the conditions were not encouraging, this job is better because we work as a family, especially with Chris; I value my relationship with him.

We all felt grief stricken about the bombing of Gaza, they’re our people and so naturally it affects us deeply and even effects our capacity to work; when you know that your people are being brutally killed and there is nothing you can do, it can become difficult to focus. None of us are allowed by Israel to travel to Gaza, so we’re trying all our best to focus on this project to help provide more geographical information for our country.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ramallah or Bust!

A new group joined the project recently, we met them the last Thursday in Jericho and after been trained and equipped with GPS devices, they started collecting data in the city of Ramallah, the largest city in the West Bank. They start the day by working in the field...err on the streets, collecting track data and waypoints of points-of-interest. Later in the afternoon they return to the computer lab at the Ramallah headquarters of JumpStart to import the data they just collected into the computer and then edit it into a map. The software which is currently used is GPS Babel for importing some of the data from the Garmin GPS units and the Java OpenStreetMap editor (JOSM) is used to draw the maps based on the GPS data. It requires team work and dedication to complete the day's work. The teams are doing well, they’re busy, committed and getting along quite nicely. Most of the teams come everyday from Bethlehem and the presence of Israeli check points often delays their travel for hours.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Ready to Move North

Despite the ongoing conflict in Gaza, work in the West Bank continues to progress with few hindrances. Today we completed mapping the villages adjoining Hebron, and with that we have finished work in the south and are now making preparations to move our teams north to work in the regions surrounding Janine, Nablus, and Ramallah.

Our partnership with Relief International has proven integral to our success. RI has provided us with access to their computer labs around the country for use by our mapping teams to input their data and upload it to the central Freemap server. Additionally, RI’s Bethlehem office has connected us with numerous engineering students offering to volunteer with JumpStart as we move the mapping initiative to the north. On Saturday we met with them to offer an introduction to GIS mapping, and inshallah half a dozen volunteers will be trained and ready to go within the week.

In addition to Relief International, JSI is partnering with the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem (ARIJ) and the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS). ARIJ is providing some spatial data and PCBS is providing maps used by the Palestinian Authority with proper street names. Both locations have agreed to allow JumpStart staff to work in their offices to compare to our data with theirs so that our map can be revised as accurately as possible.
Below are some photos from a single day of work in Hebron. The day begins with the coordinator showing the area each team of two will work. The teams go to their assigned villages, GPS devices and clipboard in hand, and collect the required information, including roads, road names, and points of interest. Later at the computer lab, each team inputs it’s data into the computer and uploads it to the server.

In related news, in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, JumpStart advisor and OpenStreetMap guru Mikel Maron is currently organizing an effort to map Gaza remotely, so that the data may benefit humanitarian organizations in their work in the region. Volunteers have already been busy at work tracing satellite imagery in south Gaza, and north Gaza will be completed as soon as aerial imagery can be purchased. The most difficult part of mapping an area remotely is being able to identify street names and landmarks, as it requires personal knowledge of the area. Today we met with ARIJ in Bethlehem who is willing to contribute such information to the Gaza initiative. Read more about this project here.