Israeli airstrikes in Rafah spark outrage, controversy

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza’s Rafah have led to the deaths of at least 45 Palestinians, including many children, drawing condemnation from various countries and human rights groups. The strikes targeted the Tal as-Sultan area, designated as a “safe zone,” but resulted in widespread civilian casualties. The attack occurred despite international concerns over civilian safety and left several tents ablaze, causing further casualties.

| Updated: 29 May, 2024 5:18 pm IST

NEW DELHI: Israeli airstrikes in Gaza’s Rafah have led to the deaths of at least 45 Palestinians, including many children, drawing condemnation from various countries and human rights groups. The strikes targeted the Tal as-Sultan area, designated as a “safe zone,” but resulted in widespread civilian casualties. The attack occurred despite international concerns over civilian safety and left several tents ablaze, causing further casualties.

The airstrikes sparked outrage globally, with social media flooded with posts denouncing Israel’s actions and expressing solidarity with the Palestinians. A viral image, captioned “All Eyes on Rafah”, garnered attention on platforms like Instagram, symbolizing the world’s focus on the humanitarian crisis unfolding in the city.

However, questions arose regarding the authenticity of the image, as it appeared to be AI-generated and not a depiction of the actual situation on the ground. The emergence of the “All Eyes on Rafah” image marks one of the earliest instances of AI-generated activist iconography. Marc Owen Jones, an associate professor of Middle East studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, specializing in misinformation, noted that the image bears hallmarks of AI generation. Its lack of photorealism, unusual shadows, and unnaturally symmetrical arrangement of tents suggest its AI origin. These features align with common characteristics found in AI-generated content, highlighting the evolving landscape of digital activism and misinformation dissemination.

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Furthermore, the use of the hashtag #AllEyesOnRafah by Bollywood celebrities raised suspicions of paid promotion, indicating a potential agenda behind the widespread dissemination of the image. Several Bollywood celebrities, including Varun Dhawan, Sonam Kapoor, Rakul Preet, Triptii Dimri, Nora Fatehi, and Bhumi Pednekar, along with India’s tennis legend Sania Mirza, singer Shilpa Rao, and southern stars like Dulquer Salmaan and Samantha Ruth Prabhu, shared a tweet on social media with the hashtag “All Eyes on Rafah.”

However, some social media users have criticized the selective nature of their activism, particularly targeting Ritika Sajdeh, the wife of Indian cricketer Rohit Sharma. Allegations have surfaced suggesting that Sajdeh was approached by a political PR agency for a paid story on Instagram, which she unknowingly shared before deleting it upon learning about its fraudulent nature. This incident has raised questions about the authenticity of the celebrity endorsements of the hashtag, with some speculating that these tweets may have been part of a paid campaign.

Amidst the outcry, it was revealed that the deaths in Rafah were partly due to a secondary explosion caused by Israeli attacks. Israeli officials claimed that the munitions dropped were insufficient to directly cause the large fire that resulted in civilian casualties. Instead, they suggested that a secondary explosion, possibly from a weapons cache among civilians, ignited the blaze.

The incident prompted international condemnation, with the UN Secretary-General calling Israel’s actions a violation and urging an emergency Security Council meeting. The Biden administration reiterated its calls for Israel to minimize civilian harm in its military operations.

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Additionally, the selective condemnation of atrocities was highlighted, with the Nigerian military’s coordinated effort in rescuing 350 captives from the Sambisa Forest, a notorious stronghold for Boko Haram, this month. Also, since the 2014 kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Boko Haram has abducted at least 1,400 students from Nigerian schools, primarily in the country’s conflict-battered northwestern and central regions. There was no hashtag or rallies for these atrocities. The disparity in attention and response to different crises raised concerns about the prioritization India of global humanitarian efforts.

India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, emphasized India’s commitment to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine during the UNGA meeting. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar reiterated India’s support for the two-state solution, highlighting efforts for a permanent resolution to the conflict and emphasizing the need for adherence to international humanitarian law. Jaishankar affirmed India’s stance on finding a long-term solution, stating, “We are very clear that we have to find a two-state solution,” and expressed support for other countries’ efforts in resolving the conflict.
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