In the beginning of the project we faced the
problem of a very unreliable geodetic network. The network dated back to
British survey in the early 1920's. Most of the original points had been
destroyed - deliberately or by accident. After considerable research and
finder's fees we could find only one original control point in the Gaza
strip and a few in the West Bank.
A joint effort between the British Consulate and
our project was agreed in order to re-establish and improve the geodetic
network. The Finnish project purchased a kit of 4 Leica geodetic GPS
receivers for the Ministry of Housing. British Consulate funded the
mission of a GPS survey team from Ordnance Survey International. The
survey was conducted in the spring 1999. The current geodetic network
has excellent internal accuracy (in XY) and is firmly tied to
international reference stations. Ministry of Housing surveyors were
given intensive on-the-job training and they are today able to densify
the network and conduct GPS field survey on their own.
Most of the cadastral maps are from 1920's and
1930's. The original maps are held by Israel. The maps available in
Palestine are most often copies of copies (of copies). Their physical
condition and quality is often poor. Palestinian surveyors have
respected the old maps highly and regarded their parcel boundaries as
result of very accurate survey. This is probably partly due to so little
data being available and partly due to accurate appearance as parcel
boundary dimensions are indicated on the maps by centimeter. In fact -
in today's standards - the geometric accuracy of the maps is very
In the start of the project there was no digital
parcel data available.
Restrictions on use of aerial photography
Because of the political situation only Israeli
companies are allowed to fly aerial photography in Palestinian
territories. The aerial photographs are reviewed by the Israeli military
that censors areas and immediate neighborhoods of Israeli settlements
and borders. Plans for aerial photography need to be accepted by the
We faced also other practical problems when
preparing for aerial photography of our project areas. We had agreed
photography on a certain day and had arranged signals to be laid on the
ground on the previous days. Part of the signals were almost immediately
stolen or destroyed by the local Palestinians. The Israeli company flew
the photography one day earlier than was agreed because the Israeli
military had supposedly announced to "close the sky" on the scheduled
flight day. Since we did not have the planned amount of signals on the
ground and thus missed photogrammetric reference and tie points we had
to do quite a lot of extra work to identify sharp natural features
clearly visible on the photos and have them surveyed.
Resistance from surveyors
The surveyors at Ministry of Housing found it hard
to regard orthophotos as a sufficiently accurate, scientific and
practical survey method. It did not feel right that accurate results
could be achieved without bringing survey instruments to the field. It
did not seem technically convincing that ortho images did not display
parcel boundary dimensions. The best way of buying the confidence of
the surveyors was to explain that in fact each pixel of an orthophoto
has already been surveyed in advance. We also needed to develop a script
that generated boundary dimensions as labels on the digitized parcel
theme in our GIS.
We taught our Palestinian GIS operator to capture
data of claimed parcels by heads-up digitizing using the field hardcopy
orthophotomap and the digital ortho images. The field surveyors wanted
to check the accuracy of the digitized parcel boundaries by surveying a
few of the digitized parcels using total stations. They produced parcel
maps on Mylar and overlaid the map on a plot from the parcel database.
The maps matched perfectly. It took two days from the team of two
surveyors and their assistants to produce their map, our Palestinian GIS
operator produced his data and map in less than two hours.
Picture 5: Our GIS operator (today Head of GIS
Section at Ministry of Housing) Ali Massri is heads-up digitizing parcel
Legal and administrative objections
The biggest problem with the project was the time
it took to get a Commissioner of Lands in place and in action. The
project started in March 1998 and the final and agreed Inception Report
was produced in June 1998. This clearly indicated the need for a
Commissioner of Lands (although the need had been identified in Steering
Committees well before). It took to December 1998 for a Commissioner to
be appointed, but he could not start work until the end of Ramadan (the
month of fasting), February 1999. Due to various problems he was unable
to work and a Vice Commissioner was not appointed until September 1999.
The biggest objection to the system proposed was
the belief that the lines shown on the existing Registry Maps defined
the boundaries between parcels. This was based on a failure to
understand general boundaries, but also the more general problem of
putting too much trust on old documents (the irony, given that this is
where the Bible was written, was not missed by the authors).
There was also a problem due the translation of
the 1928 Ordinance. In the original (English) version the land
boundaries have to be demarcated (mapped) but in the Arabic version the
boundaries have to be marked (physically marked). As the law was
originally English the English version takes precedence, but this
clearly demonstrated the need for very high standards of translation.
By far the most serious objection was on who was
responsible for registration, Ministry of Justice or Ministry of Housing.
Although the Law is clear, the responsibility is that of the
Commissioner of Lands, and his authority comes direct from the Head of
State, not via a minister, this did not stop the arguments.
Land owners' role in registration
Land owners sometimes have their own agenda that
differs from the objectives of registration. Sometimes you may find that
people don't want to register land because they want to avoid taxation.
Sometimes the farmers don't have the same concept
of tenure as the register system. Land actually belonging to a family
and shared between a family may be registered in the name of one person,
usually head of the family. This can cause big problems in the future.
Although most often the parcels were agricultural,
in some cases parcels have been divided into apartments (subdivided
horizontally). Neither the British colonial land administration system
nor the GIS system used could adequately represent these horizontal