Palestinian Studies

2020 Workshop

Nour Joudah

PhD Candidate in Geography, University of California Los Angeles

Palestinian Countermapping: Reclaiming Pasts and Futures via Archives and Design

Nostalgia and imagining the future are often seen as dichotomously opposed temporalities and spaces. However, with indigenous struggle, engaging in critical acts of remembering becomes an inextricable part of both imagining a future and working to realize it. 

Maps portray a set of geographical imaginaries. We not only look for places on them, but we look for ourselves in them and an affirmation of our ties to a place. For indigenous communities in settler colonial societies, maps rarely include them, let alone affirm their histories or continued existence. Dominant state maps replace indigenous presence on the land and their spatial knowledge with settler imaginaries and private property systems. However, mapping is not necessarily a unidirectional or top-down process. Though indigenous countermapping as an object of study is a more recent focus in critical cartography and political geography, the practice itself has held a significant role in indigenous struggles for sovereignty, self-determination, and historical memory for much longer. 

In this paper, I provide a snapshot from a larger three-case comparative study of countermapping in Algeria, Hawaii, and Palestine. Zooming in on the Palestinian case, I discover how countermapping by documentation and design can become a decolonial praxis for those who engage in it. Examining specifically Visualizing Palestine’s Open Maps project and the Palestine Land Society’s Village Reconstruction competition, I use what Denis Cosgrove (2008) calls the two directions of study in critical cartography – the finished map and mapping process – to ask how these initiatives straddle objectives of historic preservation and imagining entirely new futures. 

Blending visual analysis with ethnographic interviews with the Open Maps team and winners of the last three years of the reconstruction design competition, I aim to highlight these individuals’ technical and political considerations of documenting, archiving, and remapping. I seek to answer: How does affirming a particular past spatial presence also challenge the idea of settler permanence? What is reclaimed by including Palestinians across the world in digitizing British mandate surveys via public mapathon events? In redesigning a destroyed village from scratch, how do the students understand prior property designations in such a potential scenario of return? 

Nour Joudah is a PhD candidate in Geography at UCLA and currently working on a dissertation examining indigenous counter-mapping and decolonization in former and current settler colonies, namely Algeria, Palestine, and Hawaii. She has a MA in Arab Studies from Georgetown University, and wrote her MA thesis on the role and perception of exile politics within the Palestinian liberation struggle, in particular among politically active Palestinian youth living in the United States and Occupied Palestine.