A course in map reading I

22 November 2012

How the BBC mapped the conflict

Operation Pillar of Defence is over, for now but I expect the two graphics provided to show the extent of attacks will be links for a long time and online for ever. It is a basic truism of the graphic artist’s profession that when two things are drawn differently, they are different.

Compare the differences. Israel-Gaza violence in maps on the BBC website

Areas hit in Gaza by Israel

Uses a terrain map with the adjoining Israel areas faded out.  Is that a Freudian wish? The orange areas imply that Gaza has been battered over at least one-third of its land area but the equally battered kibbutzim around the border have no names and indication that they have been attacked. Conveniently Sderot, arguably the rocket capital of the world is just off map.

Originally highly emotive red (blood?) was used to show areas targeted.  I neglected to screen-grab this image, at the time, so I can’t provide evidence. Unfortunately the otherwise excellent News Sniffer is restricted to text. You could claim the change from red to orange stripes is a small point in the BBC’s favour, if you like.

Areas in Israel and the West Bank hit by Gaza militants

Just a map. If it had also been a terrain version the heavily settled areas would also stand out. Some small terrain elements remain although for what graphic purpose is unclear.

The human element has been edited out as has the actual area of attacks. A single non-emotive tiny square rather than a spreading stain. Towns, as Sderot, which have sustained many attacks would have an orange area far larger than their population.

Small settlements apparently don’t exist in the BBC universe although those close to the border have been hit frequently as the time between lauch and landing is too short for Iron Dome to react.

What is it with the Gaza militants?

This is not a militant versus terrorist discussion. The use of militants implies that they are working independently of the (moderate? responsible? civilian?) Hamas government when they are actually under Hamas’s direct orders and the BBC has acknowledged it.

To be fair the Gaza side should be labeled Area in Gaza hit by Israeli soldiers or the Israel side labeled Area in Israel and the West Bank hit by Gaza Preferably Area in Israel as Ma’ale Amos is under complete Israeli control.

What is it with the West Bank?

The BBC is being politically correct I suppose although Ma’ale Amos is a tiny settlement of around 45 families, with a population of about 350 in total. If one judged by the tiny orange square map it possesses the size and importance of Tel Aviv or had been attacked as many times as Sderot.

No orange square for Jerusalem. This is despite as many as three rockets had been fired in her direction. The BBC has long had a Jerusalem blind spot. Was this a graphic arts slip-up or an editorial decision to avoid an Israeli connection with her capital city at all costs?

Can we draw conclusions?

It is a truism that one shouldn’t blame conspiracy, even when describing the BBC, when incompetence is an adequate alternative explanation. Is is possible that the experienced BBC graphic artists  were simply at a loss with how to visually illustrate attacks on Israel?

While the IDF rarely misses a target, the Hamas rockets have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Thank Iron Dome; thank the IDF; thank air-raid shelters; thank warning sirens; thank the inaccuracy of Gazan rockets and mortars and thank the commonsense of Israel’s people.

So here is a suggestion. Neutrality should be seen not merely guessed at. Terrain maps and orange squares for both.

BBC maps of attacks on Gaza and Israel

Why did the BBC choose two dissimilar maps?
Click for full size

Just come in 29 November 2012

  • The number of rockets fired from Gaza towards Sderot during Operation Pillar of Defence was 120.
  • 50 were hit by Iron dome.
  • 20 hit directly into the town.

That would have been quite a patch of orange on the map. Thanks to Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center for these figures – and for the incredible work under fire.

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About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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