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israel_palestine_coffin_counter.jpg
Back in August 2006, infosthetics posted the Israeli versus Lebanese Coffin Counter project, which depicted the proportionality of casualties by nationality in the conflict between Israel and the Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

With the dramatic current events of the war against Hamas in Gaza, this project has just been renewed and updated [moiz.ca] with the latest (depressing) casualty figures. Each coffin icon represents a single person killed as reported by BBC News, sorted as either Israeli or Palestinian.

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israel_palestine_coffin_counter2.jpg

18 COMMENTS

At what point do you stop considering something to be information aesthetics, and recognize it as propoganda aesthetics? "Where form follows dogma" has a nice ring to it...

It would be refreshing to see a page with cute icons representing "number of missiles specifically targeted at civilian areas," but that's not likely to happen, is it.

It would be more becoming for academics to avoid politics entirely, but alas, poor Propiety got rabid and left. The fact that you've linked this site twice now makes your entry clearly political rather than informational, and that--regardless of my personal politics--is a turnoff from someone I expect to be presenting his audience with *interesting* infoviz (and, politics aside, this wasn't noteworthy infoviz the first time).

My two cents. Keep up the otherwise good work.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 4:15 AM
Alecto

@Alecto: That would actually be interesting... number of missiles wasted vs. number of lives wasted.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 4:44 AM
zephyr

@Alecto
Well put!

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 6:18 AM
Ronel

First of all, this blog is politically neutral, and it will be in the future.


That a great proportion of available aesthetic visualizations have a specific left-wing political theme, is a characteristic that can be observed quite objectively, and is not the fault nor the political color of this blog.


If anyone can point to an aesthetic visualization that highlights the “other” political side, for instance comparing “missiles targeting civilian areas”, it would and will be posted. Accusing this blog of political bias simply because it put up an updated, and currently very relevant, visualization is just targeting the messenger. Even after posting many anti-Iraq war graphs, this is the first for me.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 8:58 AM

Sorry Alecto - infosthetics wins this round!
Good graphics is good graphics. Just because the more creative, more politically active people tend to be more progressive, don't shoot the messenger. Reminds me of watching the "Yes We Can" video for Obama, then watching the McCain fans video.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 11:01 AM
Stuart Mallory

Good infovis finds a way to elucidate complex information. It makes difficult concepts more accessible. It reveals patterns that are not otherwise immediately clear. It lets us see the world in ways that raw numbers cannot.

This death demographic compares two numbers, and that is all. It does not increase our understanding. It does not reveal underlying truths. The data is as simple as possible, and does not need any graphic to convey the disparity. The purpose of this construct is to shout "Look at how unfair and heavy-handed the Israelis are!" Rather than illustrate complexity, it removes it. Where is the illustration of civilian status, age, or gender? It reduces the tragedy of each human death to one tiny channel of information: nationality. It is nationalistic propoganda.

Propoganda's purpose is not to inspire deeper thought, but rather to lead the viewer to a foregone conclusion by using emotional response to shut down critical thinking. Looking no deeper than "good graphics" is perfectly receptive to this sort of manipulation.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 1:22 PM
Alecto

I believe every human life is equally precious. This sort of discussion was also brought up previously when I made the graphic about the 2006 conflict in Lebanon and one of the readers of this blog commented in 2006 by saying:

"I think the pictorial representation of the actual coffins, here in virtual form of course, but in reality corresponding to real people's lives, is an excellent way to think about this war. It's message is simple but not overly simplistic as some have alleged (without sufficient or most of the time any reason to back it up with): at the end of the day, here's the bodycount. And this does not even begin to touch on the misery experienced by the grieving families. I think it's important to think about these individuals' lives when we think about war as too often we deal with aggregated statistics that hide and dehumanize war's victims."

The above quote beautifully summarizes my reasons for making a graphic like this again for the current conflict.

This series of work was influenced by the work of Otto Neurath who introduced us to isotype ("a symbolic way of representing quantitative information via easily interpretable icons.")

For more information read: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Neurath
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotype_(pictograms)
http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/images/dan/neurath_symbols3.jpg
http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/images/dan/neurath_symbols5.jpg

I thank everyone for all the comments and suggestions that they have posted here.

Thu 08 Jan 2009 at 3:17 PM

@ Alecto

If you wanted to produce a graph that took the information down one level beyond simply the "number" and showed infprmation regarding the gender/age/military/civilian status of the people included here that would be interesting.

Fri 09 Jan 2009 at 4:01 AM
Pythia

@ Alecto

Thank you for your last comment. It is way more constructive.

To be honest, I am not sure whether adding civilian status, age or gender would change the point of the graph much. It might make it even worse. The point it wants to make, like you clearly state, is the huge discrepancy between the number of casualties on both sides. I have the impression from the current press reports that adding civilian status or age would make it significantly worse for the Israeli side.

Fri 09 Jan 2009 at 9:47 AM

Alecto says above:

Good infovis finds a way to elucidate complex information. It makes difficult concepts more accessible. It reveals patterns that are not otherwise immediately clear. It lets us see the world in ways that raw numbers cannot.

This death demographic compares two numbers, and that is all. It does not increase our understanding. It does not reveal underlying truths. The data is as simple as possible, and does not need any graphic to convey the disparity. The purpose of this construct is to shout "Look at how unfair and heavy-handed the Israelis are!" Rather than illustrate complexity, it removes it.

I couldn't disagree with this statement more. The reason for making this graph is to make actions that the old media would frequently reduce to headlines (such as "Palestinians attack Israel with missiles" and "Israel attacks Palestine") into sometime entirely different. That is, the media has become numerate. The dis-proportionate response by Israel is clear and visible. That knowledge will cause that action to be examined. The numeracy of such media becomes a X-Ray, exposing all policies (of the left and right) to new scrutiny. Such policies may survive this new scrutiny, but forebear it they must.

The reality is that such policies will probably be changed, partly as a result of such infovis, and their wide dissemination through the world wide web. This will especially be the case with policies that result in widespread deaths, as deaths are usually unpopular.


Where is the illustration of civilian status, age, or gender? It reduces the tragedy of each human death to one tiny channel of information: nationality. It is nationalistic propoganda.

I sympathize with this point, to some degree. I would like to see a graphic with the man-years lost, for example, or the gender of those who died. As Amartya Sen noted in both "Development as Freedom" and "Identity and Violence" it is very wrong to distill people to merely their religious or national status, and this leads, ultimately, to violence and hatred of others.

So, if the information were available, perhaps a multidimensional disply, with color representing gender, and the size of the coffin in inverse proportion to the age, thus showing person years lost in each death?

Fri 09 Jan 2009 at 4:35 PM

Maybe the aesthetic should be the number of Israelis living in fear vs the number of Palestinians living in fear.

When I was a boy, there was a bunch of bullies that would pick on us until we got so mad that we would eventually strike out at them in frustration. Since the rules of engagement allow the bully to 'defend' themselves, they could then beat us to a pulp. Sound familiar?

The problem with the Israeli/Palestinian issue is that everyone sees the Palestinian actions but completely ignore the Israeli ones. This is not a question of Israel defending itself. It's about the Israelis constantly pushing the Palestinians into action and then crying fowl.

Both sides are equally at fault but it is the Israelis who are KILLING people.


Sat 10 Jan 2009 at 1:34 AM
davee

I'm surprised no one has mentioned God yet.

Tue 13 Jan 2009 at 4:32 AM
amel

Alecto, you dummy, if Moiz were to produce an image illustrating the demographical distribution of Palestinians killed in the latest conflict the Israelis would be revealed as teen, pre-teen and infant killers. Are you ready for that or are you just lucky Moiz left it as 1-for-1?

Tue 13 Jan 2009 at 4:36 PM
Trent

any infoviz that manages to show a complex issue in an accessive way is doing so by simplification. So I personally dont understand why the simplification of above graphic is such an issue. It's actually a completely wrong argument.
That the content of the above is political and there is a lot of graphic design in politics along other psychological tricks is again obvious as well. Why not show it? Why not talk about the effect of graphics on opinion? There always is a responsibility for a designer in what they are producing and that's life.
What doesn't help are emotional responses in an intellectual debate. The current middle-east conflict is a an awful thing to happen and emotional reactions to this are understandable, but targetting platforms that make one able to discuss aspects of it, amongst other things is aiming with the wrong arguments at the wrong target.

Thu 15 Jan 2009 at 1:26 AM
Marcus

It would be nice to see a couple of additional fields:
* Number of Palestinians killed by Hamas since beginning of the conflict.
* Number of people killed in Africa in this period (about a million I think)
* Number of Palestinians who had to run from Gaza because of Hamas. (Fatah people, homosexual etc')
* Number of Palestinians in Israeli hospitals.

And the most interesting is percentage of publications about that stuff.

@ infosthetics

It has nothing to do with "left-wing political theme".
The most hated and persecuted nation in history finally gets to build its own country.
And what a coincidence …
This country becomes the most hated and persecuted.
Yeah right. left-wing

Mon 09 Feb 2009 at 9:43 PM
Eli Atlas

This is a great information aesthetic, I would recommend (as pathia mentioned earlier) to create a graphic of military/civilian status of casualties in Palestine ... not only the past year, but the beginning of Israel occupation of Palestine in 1947!

Fri 20 Feb 2009 at 8:50 AM
Yazeed Atiya

I find it funny that others want a more detailed casualty count but aren't willing to research it and post it themselves. I guess that's how they can justify (to themselves) complaining about these statistics posted here.

Unless of course it will make Alecto and Eli feel better knowing that almost 1500 Palestinian children have died compared to almost 150 Israeli children.

Source = B'Tselem

Sun 10 Jan 2010 at 12:57 AM
Damion

actually these statitics are rigged. the truth is that about 1,200 israelis died while about 6,400 palestinians died, which is a 1:6 ratio, so the coffins ratios you show is way off

Fri 28 Oct 2011 at 5:47 PM
katy
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