What is ‘All eyes on Rafah’? Decoding a viral social trend on Israel’s war all eyes on Rafah 2024

all eyes on Rafah

An AI generated image with the text ‘All eyes on Rafah’ has been re-shared over 46 million times amid Israel’s attacks on Gaza’s Rafah.

An image with the text “All eyes on Rafah” is on every other Instagram story, dominating social media discourse on Israel’s war on Gaza.

Here’s more about the trend and the image, which has been re-shared on more than 46 million Instagram stories since Monday, a day after Israel’s deadly offensive on Gaza’s Rafah.

What does ‘All eyes on Rafah’ mean?

  • “All eyes on Rafah” is an artificial intelligence (AI) generated image with a slogan calling attention to the situation in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt.
  • After the beginning of Israel’s war on Gaza, Israel began bombing it from the north and moved down, displacing Palestinians from their homes as they fled south to seek shelter.
  • By February, about half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population had been pushed into Rafah when Israel said it planned to launch a ground operation on Rafah, claiming Hamas four brigades, the Palestinian group that governs the Strip, were there.
  • The announcement was condemned worldwide. In February, Richard “Rik” Peeperkorn, WHO representative for Gaza and the occupied West Bank, said “all eyes” are on the impending Rafah offensive. Ameera Kawash, a UK-based Palestinian-Iraqi-American artist and researcher, whose work explores the effect of AI on Palestinian lives and narratives, told Al Jazeera that “All eyes on Rafah” likely originated from his statement.
  • Since then, the slogan has appeared on protest posters and other social media posts.

What’s happening in Rafah?

  • On Sunday, two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to halt its offensive on Rafah, Israeli bombardment killed at least 45 people in al-Mawasi in western Rafah, which was previously declared a safe zone.
  • Another Israeli attack killed 21 in a displacement camp west of Rafah on Tuesday, at least 12 of those killed were women. Air attacks were reported on Wednesday morning.
  • Israel has killed at least 36,171 people in Gaza since October 7, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza.

What does the ‘All eyes on Rafah’ image look like?

  • The AI-generated image shows an aerial view of a camp set out in orderly rows of tents, nestled between what look like snowy peaks. In the middle, some lighter-coloured tents are arranged to spell out “All eyes on Rafah”. A clear blue sky with cotton-ball clouds is in the background.
  • Rafah looks nothing like that: Its skies are grey with smoke from Israeli bombs and there are no orderly rows of tents – many are smouldering after being bombed with their occupants still inside, and debris is scattered between them.
  • Rafah is also far more crowded – with an estimated 1.4 million people seeking refuge there from Israel’s bombs in February, according to the United Nations.
  • Al Jazeera’s Sanad fact-checking agency confirmed that the image was generated using an artificial intelligence (AI) tool.
  • There are tell-tale signs of AI, including repetition, the symmetrical alignment of the tents, the lack of detail, and the absence of shadows. You can read more on how to spot AI-generated images here.

Here’s what Rafah looked like on Monday:

What is ‘All eyes on Rafah’? Decoding a viral social trend on Israel’s war all eyes on Rafah 2024 – all eyes on Rafah

Here’s an image of Rafah from Tuesday:

What is ‘All eyes on Rafah’? Decoding a viral social trend on Israel’s war all eyes on Rafah 2024 – all eyes on Rafah

Why is ‘All eyes on Rafah’ so viral?

  • The image has caught more attention than many photos of Rafah or Gaza.
  • This could be because the image is being shared using Instagram’s “Add Yours” feature, which allows users to repost it in seconds without having to search for images.
  • Precisely because the image is AI-generated, it appears to have escaped any censorship based on keywords, helping with its explosive spread. “The AI-generated template seems to have passed keyword detection or text-based censorship,” Kawash said.
  • It is also an easy way for celebrities and influencers to talk about a war many of them have not spoken about previously, she said.
  • But there could be another reason, too, some experts said: The AI image might be more palatable to some viewers than real photos of Gaza, which are graphic and often show blood, dead bodies and violence.
  • “I believe the virality of this image is largely due to its stark contrast with the predominant visual imagery of the war … To humanise the victims in Gaza and Rafah, social media users often share vivid images of casualties and mourning family members,” Eddy Borges-Rey, associate professor in residence at Northwestern University in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.
  • “This might explain why algorithms on platforms like Meta [Facebook and Instagram], designed to filter graphic violence, did not flag this image. Unlike real, graphic images of the war, which might be restricted or removed due to content policies, this AI-generated image could spread more freely, contributing to its rapid virality,” said Borges-Rey.