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Aug 09, 2006

Political Maps

(click to expand)

Earlier this week, the AP began distributing this "before" and "after" set of bomb damage in Beirut.

It's one thing to consider the asymmetrical nature of warfare, or the wrenching destruction of infrastructure and human lives.  My focus here, however, is to consider the framing of "bombing data" by the media, highlighting how that presentation implies its own political, perceptual and editorial implications.

In a previous post, a BAGreader made the following comment:

If you search in the net - and there is a lot to find - you will see that Israel is not "bombing benevolently." Aerial pictures show clearly that just very few blocks in the Hisbollah main residential area have been destroyed (just 1% of Beirut)....  It is part of the Hisbollah propaganda to talk of "area bombing". If you compare the aerial pictures of German cities in '44 or '45 as shown in with the aerial pictures of Lebanon of today you might get an impression [of the] difference.

I can't speak for the 1% statistic, or whether Hezbollah has accused Israel of area bombing.  I do have a number of questions about these visuals, however.

First, what was the purpose of "desaturating" the "after" shot?  Besides depriving the viewer the opportunity of an apples-to-apples comparison, removing the color overlays its own lifeless, deathly quality onto the information.  (Typical associations would include black-and-white WWII area bombing photos.)


Second, the monochromatic effect "chalkens" the picture, making it hard to decipher how much "undermining" comes from the bombing as opposed to the effect of the presentation.  Notice, for example, how hard it is to tell if the building with the red roof in the lower left of this pic -- and especially, the adjacent red-roofed building inside the bounded area -- still exist.  Because things start to blend together, it's particularly difficult to register structures still intact inside or adjacent to a bombing footprint.

A third problem is that the two images are not equivalently scaled.  The shot on the right gives a tighter view of this rectangular neighborhood bound by the four roads.  The shot on the right captures less width, instead offering more area north-to-south.  (You can determine this by looking at the greater width of the east-west road at the bottom of the shot, and how much more neighborhood is visible below.  By focusing on an area that is more "bounded," the tendency -- from a cognitive standpoint -- is to extrapolate this degree of damage to the adjacent segments and, potentially, to the city as a whole.

... Which brings up another problem with the image.  Lacking additional context, the viewer can't help but assume this locale was randomly selected.

(click to expand)

This impression disappears immediately, however, if you see the multimedia version the NYT put up.  (That is, if you take the time to click for the labels.)  With the added info, it's now no coincidence two different media outlets feature this same real estate.  What is referred to by the AP caption as simply an "area of Beirut, Lebanon" is now identifiable as the home base and central hub of Hezbollah.

To find the Multimedia piece, go to the Middle East page and look for the "Multimedia" section with the map thumbnail in the 3rd column.

(image 1: AP Photo/GeoEye.  July 12, 2006 and July 31, 2006. Via YahooNews.  image 2: NYT/GeoEye.  July 12, 2006 and July 31, 2006.


Looks like I have the honour of making the first comment again...

There are a few caveats I would like to point out:

  • There doesn't seem to be any bad will in the cropping of the image. Satellite images are rarely taken from the same angle and whoever arranged the photos took care to align the top quarter, which match almost perfectly. In any case, the destruction image shows a larger area which would mean more was bombed than what we see in the first shot.

  • There is much talk in the blogsphere about this photo only being 1% of Beirut. Why aren't we getting any pictures of intact neighbourhoods to prove that there are, indeed, other intact 1% shots out there? This would mean so much more than words...

  • The labeling onthe NYT graphic "Main area of Hezbollah offices (before attacks, this area was fenced off and surrounded by guards)" doesn't sound like a label but more like an excuse or exculpation, as to somehow diffuse the destruction quite obvious in the image. I guess this is the most political aspect of all these images -- and has nothing to do with the images themselves.

  • Do we have any proof that this area was not residential? It has two schools and a hospital just nearby. Furthermore, judging by the size of the buildings, it's a _huge_ area. Are there any pictures (ground-level or satellite) showing it actually being fenced-off?

Again, additional pictures (counter-evidence?) would mean so much more than words, especially in trying to make the opposite point than the pictures themselves quite blatantly suggest...


Washing out the image is very annoying and counter-journalistic. I noticed that as soon as I saw it. The NYT graphic undermines its own purpose (to excuse, as Pedro points out), at least for viewers armed with a few facts. To wit:

Television stations are not fair play. That's a war crime. Civilian transportation infrastructure is not fair play. That's a war crime. Places of worship have never been fair play. And while the main area targeted (which seems to be about the size of New York's financial district) may have been the central hub for Hezbollah, certainly---as with NY's financial district on 9/11, for example---there were more "support staff" then "bad guys". The enemy hires cleaning ladies too, I suppose.

PS: is it just me or does the washed out version from the AP sort of look like a flooded city?

The bag nailed it. These pictures were obviously selected because they were the worst hit sections of Beruit and they were the worst hit because that's where Hezbollah was.

On the other hand, I doubt the fading was on purpose. It's possible, that if they had had a better photo available that would just show more damage.

The truth is that war is a horrible thing. It's always worse than it's portrayed in the media and you can never be the same again after...

ONLY 1%, ONLY 1%!!!!
If 1% of New York, Washington, LA was bombed like this you wouldnt be saying ONLY.
Anyway, of course the media will show the worst hit area, what else would it show, what else would concievably be newsworthy. "and were reporting today from a completely unharmed neighbourhood in northern Beirut, apparently theres terrible damage elsewhere but we thought you'd like to see this UNbombed school its nice garden"
And as Error27 above and so many others have so consistently pointed out: its always much worse than even the worst Pictures.

Isn't this the area also referred to as "Dahiyeh" (suburbs) - in the southern suburbs? This is the area which has been pounded, day and night, for several weeks now, so this is the area that people would want to see before and after images of. I wouldn't have assumed that this was a random choice; I just assumed it was that area. Most of the images we see of bombings, dead bodies, etc., from Beirut are from this area.

Some of the buildings are for Hezbollah, and most are just apartment buildings housing families, including many who had fled from Southern Lebanon, only to be killed here. The place is known as "the suburbs"; it's a residential area housing mostly Shia Muslims.

I agree that the pictures should both have the same coloring; that would make a big difference. I also agree that they should have been cropped to be the same areas exactly, but I don't think it makes that much difference.

I'd like to comment on the effectiveness and morality of bombing what the Israelis call "terrorist infrastructure." My initial reaction to the Israeli tactic of bombing roads and bridges has been that it is wrong- it puts great strains on the civilians throughout Lebanon. It makes it difficult for them to flee the fighting, it presents the threat of food and water shortages; it will make it harder for Lebanon to return to the road of a civil society. However, looking back at the historic example of WW II, we see that the Americans and British carpet bombed German cities for 3 years, killing over 1 million German civilians. Yet throughout the strategic bombing campaign German military industrial output was maintained, even into 1945. It was only in the last weeks of the war, when the Allies switched to tactical fighters seeking out and destroying locomotives throughout Germany, that German war production and military ability ground to a sudden halt. This essentially ended the war and put an end to the carnage in Europe. The lesson that I take from this is that strategic bombing was a military and moral failure, and that air campaigns should be limited to specific tactical targets meant to choke off an enemies ability to wage war. Thus, tactical bombing of key infrastructure could be effective in choking off Hezbollah's ability to wage war, and result in much fewer civilian deaths than strategic bombing.

With this in mind, I continue to be very ambivalent about the Israeli bombing campaign in Beirut. It is impossible for us to know which buildings house Hezbollah offices, and then we are faced with the question of whether bombing a military office placed in the middle of a residential building is moral or not. Who is the war criminal, the terrorists who place their facilities among civilians, or the military that shoots at an enemy who has placed themselves in the middle of women and children? We see that the Israelis are bombing any areas that are known to house Hezbollah facilities and tragically this results in the destruction of both military and civilian buildings, with the horrible loss of life that this would invariably cause. I do think that these photos show that the Israeli bombing campaign is indeed specific to limited areas where Hezbollah facilities are located, yet we know that these areas are also filled with their families and neighbors who have no control over where Hezbollah places their weapons and offices.

I might add, that in my mind Hezbollah is conducting a carpet bombing campaign to the best of its ability in Israel, shooting weapons that cannot be directed at any specific target which fall almost randomly on anyone on the other side of the border. I thought that Nasrallah showed his true colors yesterday when he called for Haifa's Israeli Arabs to leave the city, not wanting to shed Muslim blood. In other words, he only wants to kill Jewish civilians.

Ok, in an attempt to de-politicise the satellite images, I played around with them a bit and made this little animation:>

I grayscaled both images and adjusted the levels for them to be as similar as possible. The images do not match completely, since there is a bit of warping between both of them.

Note also that the "before" image was probably shot earlier in the day and therefore the shadows are longer. Note also the complete absence of traffic in the "after" shot.

Hope this contributes in a positive way! If anybody has a tool to slow down the animated gif, be my guest -- GIMP couldn't do it :(


Me again...

Here's the whole map of Beirut, captured on July 31. This gives an idea of the size of the neighbourhood in question.


Note that this image is still missing the bombing of the past 10 days...


Ok, this is the last one, I promise... I went to to see if I could get some more detail on the "before" situation and got this.

You can zoom-in pretty close and I can not, for the best of me, see the NYT fences supposedly making this neighbourhood an enclave.



Nice job!
These arial photos really help give me a better perspective on the extent of the bombing campaign. We still have the question of how much bombing has been done outside the neighborhood in question, and does the little red box on the left cover about 1% of Beirut when zoomed to show the bombed neighborhood or more? While the limited extent of the damage is on one hand reassuring that the Israelis are not bombing Beirut to the ground, it is still shocking how many civilians have been killed when even a few mostly evacuated blocks are bombed.

Jeesh, don't be so quick to jump to the comclusion that someone at the Times is pushing an agenda.
There's a distinct possibility that the B&W photo was taken from a different source (a source that only returns panchromatic images).
Not all satellites have multispectral sensors. Not all available consumer-level images in war-torn areas are of high resolution, either...
Perhaps the two images came from different satellites, and what we're seeing is images that haven't been adjusted much, other than to crop them to approximately the same geographic area. In this case it's probably more honest to leave them that way, rather than to try to photoshop them to look the same.
You make the comparison with the photos you've got, not the photos you wish you had.

Just because it's a satellite image we lose our ability to think? If you want to see a clearer image, go to *the source,* for crap's sake!

Image of the Week: Beirut, Lebanon
GeoEye's OrbView-3 satellite captured this image of Beirut, Lebanon July 31, 2006.

Caption: Note damage from Israeli attacks at the Beirut International Airport and the suburb of Haret Hreik, home of Hezbollah's headquarters, just northeast of the airport.

There you can see what 1% looks like: It looks like a fucking pancake.

Then, do a little reading about who is feeding you this imagery:

Headquartered in Dulles, Va., GeoEye is the world’s largest commercial satellite imagery company, delivering the highest-quality, most accurate imagery and products to better map, measure, monitor and manage the world. GeoEye was formed as a result of ORBIMAGE’s acquisition of Space Imaging in January 2006. The company is the premier provider of geospatial data, information and value-added products for the national security community, strategic partners, resellers and commercial customers. GeoEye operates a constellation of three Earth imaging satellites – OrbView-2, OrbView-3 and IKONOS – and possesses an international network of more than a dozen regional ground stations, a robust image archive, and advanced geospatial imagery processing capabilities that are unmatched in the satellite imagery industry. Its products are the cornerstone of the remote-sensing industry enabling a wide array of applications including intelligence gathering for national security and defense, mapping, local government planning, and natural resources and environmental monitoring.

Comparing today's imagery to WW II imagery is invalid, at least in the hands of nonexperts like us. Only someone with some expertise in reading aerial imagery of urban infrastructure can effectively make such comparisons. So far no one here has impressed me with any expert readings on anything.

Carry on, boys. There's more research that needs to be done before this discussion can take off.

If I am correct, Lebanon's total population is just under 4 million.

From the most recent figures, there are now 1 million refugees that have been created by Israel's bombing campaign.

This is not 1%. No matter how many pictures may proclaim otherwise.

Notice, for example, how hard it is to tell if the building with the red roof in the lower left of this pic -- and especially, the adjacent red-roofed building inside the bounded area -- still exist.

Do you mean the building with the tiny rectangle of red on the roof, next to (south of?) the soccer field? Of course the big red thing in the pic isn't a building, the 18-yard boxes are pretty clear. Using that as a guide, I think you can see the roof outline of the building immediatley south of the field pretty clearly...

"I thought that Nasrallah showed his true colors yesterday when he called for Haifa's Israeli Arabs to leave the city, not wanting to shed Muslim blood. In other words, he only wants to kill Jewish civilians."

Some of the Arabs in Northern Israel are Muslim; others are not. What he says is that he doesn't want to kill Arabs. That doesn't mean he's trying to kill civilians; apparently there are many military installations in Northern Israel, many of them located in Arab areas. (And the Arab areas often don't have bomb shelters or sirens.) Their missiles aren't as precise as Israel's, but it looks like Hezbollah is aiming at military targets, which is why most of the Israelis killed have been soldiers.

In any case, all civilians in Northern Israel have been warned. Does that make it OK to hit them? Or does that only work the other way around?

The latest version of Google Earth includes a nifty measuring tool. The bombed out region is roughly .5 miles on a side. If it were square its area would be .25 sq miles. Beirut (Bayrut) is approximately 6 miles by 4 miles, 24 sq miles, about 100 times the size of the target neighborhood. 1% is a reasonable approximation.

BTW, those flattened regions in the after shot were densely packed multistory buildings a couple of weeks ago. In my part of the world we'd have called them high rises.

To get some perspective about how little the New York Times is actually showing us with its grainy satellite images of a small corner of Beirut, here's a map showing Israeli bomb strikes throughout Lebanon:
or here:

To get a perspective of the size of the oil spill along the coast of Lebanon that has now reached Syria, here are some satellite images of it:



















My comment
took so long to load
I thought the tubes were clogged
with trucks.

Hit stop
guess it did not –
Three times >
Bombing sucks.

I agree with Mike Ross about the reason the 2nd image is black and white. When I use Google Groups, for example, and zoom into my town, the photos are a couple years old but nice and clear, in color. When I start to leave the city limits, though, the photos are still in color but fuzzy and grainy, obviously taken with a different camera/satellite. Further out the photos become clear but black and white, yet as far as I can tell, they are relatively recent. I don't see that there's an agenda necessarily with the 2nd photo. Given the nature of satellite photography, the photo could have been given to the media in black and white. The media didn't necessarily greyscale it for effect.

I also notice a large street going through the lower portion of the area the NYT labels as Hezbolla headquarters. I'm not saying this wasn't fenced off, but I'm somewhat concerned as to HOW it was fenced off with that road going right through it. The photos you showed are close enough that they could reveal a boundary/fence, but it doesn't, and I see Pedro has also had trouble finding the fenced area in other photos.

The bomb sites shown in Lebanon stop at July 29th, that's 12 days ago !! no wonder the US had to speed up delivery of missiles to Israel.
There is a time line of this war @

As I look as Google Earth right now, I can see that this particular area of the city was densely packed and had high road traffic. That could account for the large number of cassualties in the area. It is also not in the southern part of the city (that where the airport is) but right smack in the middle of the city, what you might call downtown:


I have to admit that it was much easier to find the area with the correct color references.

Human Rights Watch report and recommendations

Fatal Strikes Israel’s Indiscriminate Attacks Against Civilians in Lebanon

What I think these photos show best is an attempt to kill mosquitos with bombs.

Trying to fight a guerrilla war with conventional weapons and tactics will never get the desired results, and always get undesired ones.

Hezballah is a terrorist group that doesn't care if they kill innocents. Israel is a legitimate government that should take care to protect innocents. There has to be some difference between terrorist slimeballs and real governments, but that distinction is blurring both in Israel's policies and ours (US)

mugatea, I loved the effect of your double post!

I remember when the satellite images of post-Katrina New Orleans were released to the public, I surfed around and found (right-wing) blogs with retired military guys who went through each and every image (thousands) to find data. When they found the submerged school buses, for example, they counted the buses, figured the number of seats per bus, and determined how many citizens *could have been* carted out of town to safety in one trip (hundreds). They analyzed the imagery in amazing ways because of their expertise.

I am no aerial photography/satellite imagery expert, so I can only take the Beirut images so far. In the original GeoEye images that Pedro and I both found links for ( —  you have to scroll around and zoom in and out to see more than the airport), I can see the shadows of the buildings still standing look like they are several stories tall. I can't tell if they are 3 or 5 or 10 stories, however. In the original GeoEye image, I can also see how densely packed the neighborhood is. When I fly into New York, the approach for landing often swings out over the ocean then heads back over Brooklyn. I get to see my own neighborhood from the air, which looks about as densely packed as some of the Beirut neighborhoods, including the ones bombed.

My apartment building is 4 stories, 16 total apartments, 1-3 people per apartment. If the building collapsed in the night, 32 people would be harmed. The poor quality of the NYT *does* matter because we can't see clearly how many buildings have actually been flattened. Even if only 10 apartment buildings like mine collapsed, that's several hundred people killed or injured. Certainly more than 10 buildings have been destroyed in Beirut, and we don't know how many people were in each building. I have read that because the air strikes were ceaseless, people couldn't remove bodies from many of the destroyed buildings.

Yes, the Times interactive piece *is* manipulative because it is negligently incomplete. But then anything called "Pummeling Hezbollah" (which seems like wishful-thinking) is going to be one-sided. It gives only the information from the IDF's point of view (but what *is* all the rest of the rubble?) — we're shown the success of the bombing campaign by Israel. Here's where Hezbollah's headquarters were. Not here's where the (our) bombs totally missed Hezbollah and totalled an apartment full of people.

I don't know where the 1% figure comes from, but I'm looking at this map of the Beirut area, and it may be that this neighborhood (about in the middle of the map, spelled Harat Hurayk) isn't even actually within the city limits. If the yellow part is Beirut, and Mount Lebanon (Jabal Lubnan) is another region, then this area in Mount Lebanon.

I think I read that these suburbs were built up after Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, as Shia Muslims fled the South. I can't find where I read that, though, so I'm not sure. But since Hezbollah is from this community, and provides many social services to the community, it only makes sense that their buildings and TV station would be there; it's not a matter of using the civilians as human shields.

(Interesting to see how close the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps are...)

To the right and up a little is the neighborhood which was bombed the other day, spelled Ash Shiyyah on this map. It may be that all around there is called the southern suburbs, and Harat Hurayk is one neighborhood which has been especially targeted because of the Hezbollah organizations there.

To comment on RTBAG's post, one difference is that theer are probably large families in these apartments. I just read about Ali Rmeity, who lost 15 members of his family in the Ash-Shiyyah bombing (they spell it Chiah).

(Here are some photos of the bodies wrapped for burial after that attack.)

In this picture of a bombing of the southern suburbs, the buildings look like they're about 10 stories.

Just for some perspective: The last I read, there have been 120 Israelis killed, of whom 82 were soldiers and 38 civilians. The Lebanese death toll is over 1000, almost all civilians; one-third of them were children.

While we hear of "barrages" of rockets into Israel - i.e., between 100 and 200 a day, Lebanon is hit with thousands of Israeli bombs, rockets, missiles, whatever (more powerful and "smarter" than Katyushas) every day.

ummabdulla, the whole map that you linked to represents 'Greater Beirut', that now includes the 'suburbs' (people now refer to the whole area as Beirut and it extends all the way to Ba'bda). In the old days, the grey area (including Harat Hurayk and Ash Shiyyah) used to be called 'The suburb' (Dahieh in Arabic) and the name stuck.

You might want to look at the before and after pictures of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for image comparison. It would be good to remember those two cities so near the anniversaries of their atomic bombings. Especially when we seem to have an administration that isn't loathe to use such weapons again.

Please note that depleted uranium has been used in the Balkan wars of the 1990s, Gulf War I, and Gulf War II, our present Iraq war. The USA has also supplied DU weapons to Israel for use in Lebanon.

By my count, that makes up to five nuclear wars already and the century is still so young!

Online the NYT interactive pics are easier to see without the labels, actually. A screen was added that darkened the image overall so that the labels would show up against the busy background (other options would have been to darken just a patch for the words and leave the rest of the image alone, or to keep words off the image altogether and use arrows or numbers). Darkening reduces the contrast, of course, making the before and after comparison much more muted, much less dramatic.

I see now that the caption for the Times says at least 127 buildings were leveled in this section of the city (the Times must have ex-military on staff). Also provided is a map of Manhattan (to scale) for comparison; to my eye, the area of Beirut affected in this image is much larger than the area of the World Trade Center site (WTC was much taller, of course).

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