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'All eyes on Rafah': What do we know about the viral image after the Israeli strike?

This photo, presumably generated by artificial intelligence and shared by millions of Internet users, is sometimes criticized for its lack of authenticity.

'All eyes on Rafah': What do we know about the viral image after the Israeli strike?

Tents arranged to display the slogan “All eyes on Rafah.” (Photo circulating on social networks)

It was shared by over 41 million internet users on Instagram in the span of 48 hours. An image showing tents for displaced persons in Gaza, arranged to display the slogan “All eyes on Rafah,” a town in the south of the enclave, has been doing the rounds on social networks, the day after a deadly Israeli strike on Sunday against a camp housing Palestinians who had fled the fighting. The strike left 45 people dead and over 200 wounded, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian authorities.

The bombing came less than 24 hours after Hamas fired rockets into Tel Aviv, and two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive and all other actions in the Rafah governorate,” where areas have been classified as “safe” by the Israeli army.

Charred bodies, burning tents, faces covered in blood ... photos documenting the tragedy in the Barkasat camp for displaced persons, run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), were massively shared online. But it was an image presumably generated by artificial intelligence that went viral on social networks, sometimes provoking criticism. What do we know about the “All eyes on Rafah” campaign, and where does the slogan come from?

Origin of the slogan

“It's clear that the photo is not 100 percent real,” cybersecurity expert Roland Abi Najm told L'Orient-Le Jour. The image shows a desert area with hundreds of displaced persons' tents arranged vertically as far as the eye can see. Some of them form the slogan “All eyes on Rafah” in the center. The background, featuring snow-capped mountains, is out of harmony with the arid landscape. Based on several analyses of the image, the expert believes that it “is generated by artificial intelligence.” However, he does not rule out the possibility that it may have been produced using Photoshop-type software.

The slogan itself seems to come from a statement by the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) in the occupied Palestinian territories, Rik Peeperkorn, made in February after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan for Rafah, in anticipation of an attack on what he claimed were “the last bastions of Hamas.” Peeperkorn had warned against an Israeli incursion into Rafah, crowded with Palestinians who have taken refuge in makeshift tents, estimating that it would extend the “humanitarian catastrophe beyond imagination.”

The official's words have since been taken up by several organizations, including Save the Children, Oxfam, Jewish Voice for Peace and Palestine Solidarity Campaign, before being used again by the Internet user behind the latest solidarity campaign for Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are displaced, while Israeli strikes continue to this day. This web user goes by the name “shahv4012” on Instagram. He displays the flags of Singapore and Malaysia on his profile and claims responsibility for creating this template on the social network. “Some are not happy with the image or the template, excuse me if I made a mistake ... Anyway, don't look away from Rafah now, share [the image] so they (the Israelis) will be shaken and scared,” he commented in a story on Wednesday.

Strong criticism

While this gesture of solidarity with the Palestinians was widely applauded – with many international figures sharing the image on their social networks – the choice of an edited photo was criticized. A number of Internet users wondered why the distressing press photos, as well as those of local residents, had not been relayed to the same extent.

“Use real photos. If their content seems very sensitive to you, express yourself instead. You don't need photos generated by artificial intelligence when Palestinians are risking their lives to take photos,” two young bloggers denounced in a video on Instagram.

The campaign also prompted some Internet users to duplicate the initial image to raise awareness of other causes and conflicts around the world, including the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut and the ongoing fighting in Sudan.

This article originally appeared in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.

It was shared by over 41 million internet users on Instagram in the span of 48 hours. An image showing tents for displaced persons in Gaza, arranged to display the slogan “All eyes on Rafah,” a town in the south of the enclave, has been doing the rounds on social networks, the day after a deadly Israeli strike on Sunday against a camp housing Palestinians who had fled the fighting. The strike...