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What Is Behind "All Eyes on Rafah" Slogan That Went Viral on Social Media

Enas Mzaini Enas Mzaini
1st June 2024
What Is Behind "All Eyes on Rafah" Slogan That Went Viral on Social Media
Rafah was a refuge for more than 1.5 million Palestinians (X)

The southern Gaza city of Rafah has been under siege since the Israeli forces began the “targeted” ground operations on 6 May.

For approximately seven months, Rafah was a refuge for more than 1.5 million Palestinians, many of whom fled the bombardments on Gaza.

On May 26, at least 49 people were killed and 250 were wounded when an Israeli airstrike hit Tal Al-Sultan neighborhood in Rafah. Two days later, on May 28, 21 Palestinians were killed and 64 were injured after Israeli forces bombed another tent camp for displaced people.

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Rafah has become a focal point amid the ongoing conflict in the war on Palestine, which led to an AI generated image to go viral.

What Is The “All Eyes on Rafah” Trend?

The “All Eyes on Rafah” is an image that was generated using artificial intelligence technology by a Malaysian photographer called Cha (Shahv4012) on Instagram. The formatted story image depicts a fictional city in an open desert landscape with rows of tents, and a white structure in the center spelling out the message of the digital campaign “All Eyes on Rafah.”

The image also appears to be one of the first pieces of viral activist iconography to have been created by artificial intelligence. The Instagram sticker has been primarily shared via Instagram stories, by more than 47 million users, including influencers, athletes and celebrities, in addition to X platform. The hashtag #alleyesonrafah has attracted almost one million hits on X.

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In February, the director of the World Health Organization office of Palestine said “All eyes are on Rafah” days after the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan be drawn up for the city. 

Peeperkorn warned against the incursion on Rafah. As he feared that if a full-scale incursion by the Israeli military happens, a humanitarian disaster “beyond imagination” will unfold. Since then, the inspiring phrase has been repeatedly used by groups including the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Oxfam, and Save the Children, as it became a slogan to protest all over the world and to spot the light on what is happening in Rafah. 

Why Has the ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ Image Gone Viral?

The AI image has caught more attention than the real pictures that depict the situation in Rafah. 

First, the picture was shared via the “Add yours” Instagram feature that was launched in 2021, which turns stories into collaborative experiences within minutes. The users can tap on the sticker on any other user's story to be added to their own stories easily and without any complications or difficult settings and without having to search or add any image.

Moreover, the image has no sensitive bloody scenes or violence, which helped the image to easily build a cross-border digital solidarity for Rafah.

In December, Human Rights Watch confirmed that: Meta, which runs Facebook, Instagram, Threads and WhatsApp, was systematically ‘shadow-banning’ Palestinian voices on its platforms – a process by which content is suppressed by the algorithm so posts receive less engagement. Previously, Meta said that it would aim to mark content created by artificial intelligence on its platforms. 

Between October and November 2023, Human Rights Watch documented over 1,050 takedowns and other suppression of content on Instagram and Facebook that had been posted by Palestinians and their supporters. Meta’s inconsistent enforcement of its own policies led to the erroneous removal of content about Palestine. 

Hence, the AI image escaped Meta’s censorship, and tricked the Instagram Algorithm that filters graphic images that contain violence, blood or any sensitive, dangerous or controversial content due to its policy. Many users had to evade the algorithm by swapping letters with numbers and symbols in keywords such as “P@lestine” or” Isr*el” in comments and posts. 

Israel Launches its Own Counter to The Pro-Palestinian Viral Image 

After the ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ trend went over on social media globally, Israel launched its own counter to the viral AI image. The AI image was generated by Benjamin Jamon on Instagram. In a post on X, many Israeli users shared the picture which reads “where were your eyes on October 7.”

Surprisingly the image had been shared around 500,000 times before Jamon’s account was banned.

The image depicts an armed soldier standing over an infant. 

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Instagram Takes Down ‘Where Were Your Eyes’ Image Creator’s Accounts 

The counter pro-Israeli AI image was generated by an Israeli Instagram, within hours of his posting, the AI image was taken down and his Instagram account was banned from the platform. 

While there was no initial explanation from Instagram about why the image was taken down, Meta said that it was "working to understand a technical issue that led to some instances of the image being mistakenly removed."

“This image does not violate our policies,” said the statement of the pro-Israel image. By late Wednesday, the image reappeared. Moreover, Meta has removed hundreds of fake Facebook accounts operated by an Israeli marketing firm, according to its adversarial threat report published on Wednesday. The company said it identified 510 Facebook accounts, 11 Pages, one group, and 32 Instagram accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.

“These accounts, originating from Israel, primarily focused on the Israel-Hamas war and Middle Eastern politics,” Meta stated.

Social Media as a Resistance Tool 

Speed of communication in social media allowed the fast unconditional participation in global protests. Participants are able to mobilize their followers and supporters easily around the world. The interconnected nature of social media platforms enable users to easily broadcast any issue or matter and distribute information through their network in much less time, costs and efforts.

In recent months, Instagram has become a pivotal platform for Palestinian journalists and supporters despite attempts by its owner, Meta, to restrict political content. The ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ image that enabled social media users to share their solidarity in a safe political way, has been compared to another digital successful movement of the black squares that flooded social media during the Black Matter protests that Instagram facilitated in 2020, where millions posted in solidarity to the racial justice in America. The image appears among the earliest instances of viral activist iconography generated by artificial intelligence (AI) according to a social media consultant.

Israel Calls Rafah Attack ‘a Tragic Mistake’

Rafah is a city in the south of Gaza near the border of Egypt. The city became a home to around 1.4 million people since the war on Gaza. Most residents of Rafah are living in temporary structures such as tents. Aid organizations have warned of a dire humanitarian situation.

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Most have fled once again since Israel launched what it called a limited incursion there earlier this month. Hundreds of thousands are packed into squalid tent camps in and around the city. Israel has described Rafah as the last significant Hamas stronghold after seven months of war, and began to increase the military operations on Rafah, in addition they seized control of Rafah crossing and closed it until further notice, blocking the humanitarian aid. 

On May 26, at least 49 people were killed and 250 were women by an Israeli airstrike that hit the Tal Al-Sultan neighborhood. Many shelters burst into flames with their occupants still inside. The Israeli army said it targeted Rafah with “precision munitions,” and that a nearby fuel tank led to the subsequent fire. 

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the deadly attack on Rafah as a “tragic mistake” despite all efforts not to harm innocent civilians. He added that Israel would investigate the ‘incident’ and obtain a conclusion.

On the other hand, Doctors Without Borders said it had treated 180 injured people with shrapnel wounds, fractures, traumatic injuries and burns. “Women and children were among the people that were brought to the stabilization point, and once again, civilians are paying the price of this war,” Samuel Johann, the organization’s Gaza coordinator, said in a statement. 

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