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As Pedro Pascal shares 'All Eyes on Rafah', what does it mean?

All Eyes on Rafah: What does it mean and why are celebrities and social media sharing it?
4 min read
30 May, 2024
An AI generated photo aimed to amplify the attacks on Rafah has been regarded by some as “problematic” as the Israeli assault on Gaza escalates.
People, holding banners and Palestinian flags, stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians, and demanding ceasefire at Mariahilfer Strasse in Vienna, Austria on January 27, 2024. [Getty]

Anyone with an Instagram account has noticed in recent weeks a viral graphic of the southern Gaza city of Rafah reposted by millions online. 

Chilean-US actor Pedro Pascal, top models Bella and Gigi Hadid, who are of Palestinian descent, British singer Dua Lipa, and French football star Ousmane Dembele are among the celebrities to have shared it on Instagram.

Also among the A-list support includes 'Bridgerton' actress Nicola Coughlan, US singer-songwriter Kehlani to Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur. The photo has since been shared over 42 million times. 

However, many people have criticised the image as not being a real representation of Israel’s war on Gaza

Amid further Israeli escalation in Rafah, in defiance of the World Court, the graphic has stirred discussion on the visibility of the Palestinian plight on and offline. 

The picture shows a vast expanse filled with rows of tents stretching into the distance, with a bold caption in the centre saying 'All Eyes on Rafah'.

The image gained even greater momentum after an Israeli airstrike on Sunday set ablaze a camp of displaced people blaze a western district of Gaza, killing at least 45 people. 

The slogan itself attributed to a quote by Rick Peeperkorn, director of the World Health Organization’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

Peeperkorn said in February that "all eyes are on Rafah" after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan for the city ahead of Israeli attacks. 

Global leaders voiced horror at the fire in a designated "humanitarian zone" of Rafah where families uprooted by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter. 

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Shocking images of death and destruction from the strike were widely shared on Instagram’s Stories feature, as well as the 'all eyes on Rafah' graphic. Influencers, athletes and celebrities also took notice. 

However, the 'All Eyes on Rafah' image does not show the real-life atrocities occurring across territory- particularly in Rafah- despite having been co-signed by Instagram’s most followed figures. 

Misinformation expert Marc Owen Jones additionally confirmed to US news outlet NBC News the image "definitely looks" AI-generated. 

The creator said to be behind the widely circulated photo is an Instagram user from Malaysia.

On Wednesday, the content creator known as @shahv4012 posted a statement on his Instagram Story where he acknowledged concerns by critics following the virality of the image. 

He expressed that there were "people who are not satisfied with the picture and template" and apologised for causing any mistakes. 

The New Arab approached the content creator for comment and did not respond during the time of publication.

Many have argued that the image does not reflect the reality of the horror in Rafah,  which is arguably worse, while others have said that it does not name Israel as being behind the atrocities there.

Instagram user Aya. B told The New Arab while the AI post can be considered "problematic", she argued that the overall goal is to shine a light on the Gaza war by any means necessary. 

"For me it’s awkward because a lot of times I feel it’s been gaining traction because it’s 'trendy'," Aya. B said. 

"But at the same time if someone who had no clue what was going on because Western news outlets are not reporting the truth, then they would notice the viral posts and be inclined to understand more about the genocide."

Another Instagram content creator, Sami, told The New Arab that he believes the longstanding history of Israel and Palestine has been infused with "warring opinions and public consensus". 

He added that regardless of the controversy, the overall objective of the online movement was nonetheless successful. 

"I feel like even if 'All Eyes on Rafah' was deemed 'trendy', as long as it has brought attention to lots of public figures to use their larger platforms to highlight Gaza, that overall it should be a good thing hopefully," Sami said. 

"Although you could also argue that it’s reminiscent to the #BlackOutTuesday movement  in 2020, where people just posted black squares on Instagram and others called that out by saying that it did little to benefit [the] Black Lives Matter [movement]. 

"I’ve seen with this photo how it’s given people a sense of community and brought people together. I know there may be some hesitancy to post in case if you feel you might receive backlash for being pro-Palestinian. It feels great to know that I’m not alone and I know it’ll inspire others to speak up too."