Palestine, Today: A new virtual map allows visitors to discover the legacy of the Nakba

The platform commemorates Nakba Day on Friday and preserves the stories of 1,200 communities impacted by the catastrophe

A detailed view of a map of Jerusalem. Via Palestine Open Maps
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Palestine, Today allows us to travel through time. The interactive platform of maps helps people trace the transformation of nearly 1,200 communities in Palestine from the period of the Nakba in the 1940s to present day.

On Nakba Day, which falls on Friday, Palestinians commemorate a dark period in history, when more than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs were uprooted from their homes due to the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict. It culminated in the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

The Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe, caused the destruction of Palestinian towns and villages and created a refugee crisis that persists in the region today.

The new platform presents a quick glimpse of this history, but draws a larger picture of the Nakba’s legacy on communities across Palestine, and what is now Israel. Using detailed maps by the British Mandate from the 1940s and recent satellite imagery, the website offers a “then and now” view of towns, villages and cities across this stretch of still-occupied territory.

The website is a project by the organisation Visualising Palestine and builds on existing material from Palestine Open Maps, an open-source platform launched in 2018. It includes a large map from the 1940s that is stitched together from 155 historic sheets drawn by the British Mandate in Palestine.

The same map has been used as the starting point for Palestine, Today. With only a few clicks, visitors can navigate the map’s colour-coded markers, which indicate the areas that have been destroyed, depopulated or remain. Each marker is accompanied with brief information about a particular community and its shifting demographics.

Palestine, Today's map is dotted with colour-coded markers that indicate the status of communities in Palestine. Via Palestine, Today

One example is the city of Jaffa, which had a majority Palestinian population in 1945. In May 1948, forces displaced most residents, and today the city is part of Israel, with a 60 per cent Jewish population.

Architect and UX designer Ahmad Barclay, along with members of Visualising Palestine, developed Palestine Open Maps and Palestine, Today. For the latest platform, the team conducted research and gleaned statistics from various sources, including the Palestine Land Society, Zochrot and official census bureaus from both Palestine and Israel.

“We are intentionally launching the platform ahead of Nakba Day as a way for individuals to share the places they are from, whether they are from there or exiled from there,” Barclay says. 

“They can share their own stories with friends and family or on social media, and we are already starting to see that.”

Palestine, Today also found support from organisations such as the Institute for Middle East Understanding, Al Shabka and Jewish Voice for Peace, which have shared the project on their platforms.

For Barclay, Palestine, Today underscores a view of the region beyond the events of the Nakba and the state’s current geopolitical narratives.

“One key thing is the choice of title, Palestine, Today. It is intentionally saying that Palestine is a place that continues to exist in the sense that so many of these locations remain and the population remains there,” he says. “Hundreds of [Palestinian] communities may have Israeli citizenship or are recognised as part of the State of Israel, but they are still the same people. [Palestine] is not just the West Bank and Gaza.

“This is a map of one territory,” he adds.

“Colonisation and occupation were imposed on that territory and people were expelled from there, but it does not change the piece of land. We are talking about this continuity in history. There are lines that have been drawn on the map. There is military occupation, the blockade on Gaza, but there is also the continuity of this one territory. In the present day, Israel has maintained a system of apartheid with one power that controls and divides.”

A map of Ramallah in 1948. Via Palestine Open Maps

Barclay hopes that this new platform will also encourage the public to use the resources from Palestine Open Maps for their research or projects. The maps have been collected from the public domain and are available for download on the website.

Both projects tie into Visualising Palestine’s aim of promoting social justice and alternative narratives of the Palestine-Israel issue through data visualisation and design.

Visualising Palestine, which was founded in 2012, is known for creating eye-catching infographics and posters that illustrate the issues facing the state.

More information is at Palestine, Today, Palestine Open Maps and Visualizing Palestine