Information war between Israel and Hamas
The war between Israel and Hamas, which started 7 October 2023, is not only about street-by-street gains in an urban battle. It has also produced misinformation and disinformation spreading through social media. Each side has attempted to shape perceptions through any means necessary, and false information play a key role. According to Rand Corporation (an American nonprofit global policy think-tank), this information war plays out on several fronts. Israel and Hamas release information that is to their advantage. IDF highlights Hamas's use of human shields. Hamas plays up the civilian toll. The information war between Israel and Hamas is so serious that it even has its own Wikipedia page
Worldwide supporters of both sides cheer the cause for their side by creating and sharing content accordingly. And when accounts filled with falsehoods mix with the truth, they “pollute the entire information ecosystem, making it harder for everyone to tell fact from fiction,” Lee McIntyre, a research fellow at Boston University’s Center for Philosophy & History of Science, said.
He added that “one of the dangers here is that disinformation doesn’t just get you to believe a false thing is true; it also gets you to believe a true thing is false. That’s the poison that disinformation puts in the atmosphere”.
We fact-checked some stories published on internet, mainly the X portal, to show how mis- and disinformation are used by both sides in the conflict. It is worth remembering that there is an important distinction between disinformation and misinformation. Disinformation is an intentional falsehood, whereas misinformation is an accident.
Marc Owen Jones, a disinformation expert and professor at Hamad bin Khalifa University in Qatar, told Reuters that "Hamas are sending mixed messages. On the one hand, videos of attacks that are obviously brutal, on the other, some attempts to try and deflect that with stories about being humane. Clearly, they seem directed at different audiences, but the combined effect is to muddy the waters about the truth in the conflict". He added that anti-Palestinian narratives included claims that Palestinians were staging injuries and deaths with "crisis actors". A new word, Pallywood, a combination of the words “Palestine” and “Hollywood”, is becoming more and more popular.
We fact-checked a post on X with three different photos of an identically dressed girl being rescued by three different rescuers. The author of the post wrote that she is the luckiest Palestinian girl in the world because she was rescued from three different bombings and therefore deserves to be included in the Guinness Book of Records. He added “Pallywood”, suggesting that the photos were staged by the Palestinian side and the girl was only pretending to be a victim of Israeli bombings.
The photos have nothing to do with Israel's shelling of Gaza, as they were taken seven years ago in Syria. On 27 August 2016, rebel-held Aleppo was shelled by government forces. Two bombs fell on mourners at a funeral, killing 16 and injuring dozens of others. The images show the rescue operation, during which a small Syrian girl was rescued from under the rubble. The images are available, among others, in the Reuters photo archive. In each of the photographs, the girl is carried by a different rescuer, and the ruins of various buildings appear in the background. The explanation is simple—the child was handed over to a successive rescuer during the rescue operation.
CNN, which showed images of the little Syrian girl, was accused of manipulation. Several accounts wrote on social media that CNN used faked images to exaggerate the number of victims of violence in three different bombings. The allegations turned out to be unfounded. CNN never used the images to depict any event other than the Aleppo bombing of 27 August 2016.
Another video was posted on 5 October 2023 on bitchute.com. It was entitled: "WHATS THIS? ANOTHER MIRACLE IN THE GAZA STRIP.... NAH JUST MORE CRISIS ACTORS BUSTED!" The video showed a man covered with a white shroud, lying on the floor with other similarly covered people.
Through a reverse image search we found that the video was originally posted on 21 August 2023 on Instagram. The footage was from a funeral management training course held in Malaysia in August 2023, before the Gaza war began. The description of the video in Malaysian makes it clear that this was a funeral management training course, which is called 'Kursus Pengurusan Jenazah'. Other videos from such courses can be found on YouTube.
The Funeral Management Course is a training programme that teaches Muslims how to properly handle the bodies of the deceased and prepare them for burial. The course covers a wide range of topics, including Islamic laws and regulations on death and burial, practical procedures for washing, wrapping, and praying as well as the psychological and emotional aspects of dealing with death. Such courses are usually offered by mosques, Islamic organisations, and other community groups. It is often open to both men and women, and can be offered in a variety of formats, such as weekend workshops, online courses, or individual instruction.
On 9 November 2023 a post was published on the X portal, and its author claimed that the Palestinians are deceiving the international media and public opinion. He used “Pallywood” suggesting that the footage was prepared by Palestinians to deceive the West. The video showing a cameraman and actors with stage make-up pretending to be seriously injured was supposed to prove that the Palestinians are merely pretending to be victims of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and, in order to deceive Western public opinion more effectively, are preparing filmed re-enactments.
Thanks to a reverse image search we established that this video was made in Lebanon and showed the behind-the-scenes production of a short film entitled 'Reality'. The film featured Lebanese actors, hired to play the roles of Palestinians. The film was posted on Instagram by Lebanese actor Rami Jardali on 28 October 2023. The post included footage from the filmset, which quickly went viral. Actor Omar Atabb and director Mahamoud Ramzi (both Lebanese) were tagged in the post.
The X portal is one of the most used social media to spread disinformation. In another video there were human corpses lying on the floor. Several bodies were wrapped in white sheets with Arabic inscriptions, when during the whip zoom suddenly one body moved. The post had an Israeli flag and the comment read: "It is important to remember that you cannot believe everything you see. Well, what should you do when you're itching?". The author suggested that the video showed alleged victims of Israel's war against Hamas, and as one of them moved, so, according to the author of the post, reports on the subject created confusion.
However, the video had nothing to do with the ongoing conflict. The corpses in the video were indeed people who are alive. The video was made during a happening organised by students at Al Azar university in Cairo in October 2013. In this way, students who had not been given a place in dormitories, despite receiving good grades, attempted to disrupt classes and force the university authorities to change their decision.
Similar post was published on the X portal on 12 December 2023. The author of the post wrote: "Another miracle in the Holy Land... Apparently, these are Palestinians faking a funeral to get media attention. They run away when they hear the civil defence sirens... and would you believe so does the dead man!!!". Proof of the "miracle" was an attached video showing several men carrying a shrouded corpse on a stretcher. At a certain point, they heard sirens, abandoned the dead man and run away. After a while the alleged deceased did the same.
Indeed, the video showed a fake funeral, but the alleged deceased was not Palestinian and, obviously, was not resurrected. The fake funeral procession was staged by a few Jordanians who wanted to circumvent pandemic restrictions and avoid severe fines for leaving home. However, when they heard the sirens, they became frightened and fled. The incident took place at the beginning of the pandemic and had nothing to do with the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The video was originally published on 24 March 2020 by the Arabic-language website 24.ae. According to the website, the video depicted a fake funeral in Jordan, staged by a group of boys who left the house during the pandemic lockdown, but when they heard the sirens, they got scared and ran away. When the supposed deceased also revived, the whole mystification came to light.
During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jordan introduced a very restrictive lockdown. The authorities urged citizens to stay at home and not to go out under any circumstances. The Prime Minister Omar Al-Razzaz (currently former PM-FH) imposed a curfew as part of the lockdown. Failure to comply was punishable by up to a year in prison. The government warned that anyone breaking the lockdown would be arrested and legal measures would be taken against them. In the first four days of the lockdown, more than 1,600 people were arrested for leaving their homes during the curfew.
An author of another post published an over 2-minute-long video in which three uniformed men can be seen cutting the backs and stabbing two huddled and kneeling people in front of them. One of the perpetrators showed a bloody knife to the camera. In the next shot, a slashed shirt and blood running down the back of one of the victims can be seen. The author’s comment read: "Zionists stabbing Palestinians, please watch and share!"
The torture scene is authentic, but it was not recorded during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but during the civil war in Syria. It showed President Bashar al-Assad's fighters mistreating POWs. The video was published on the website of the Saudi TV station “Al Arabiya” on 2 January 2013, which was easy to verify with the help of reverse image search tools.
According to the “Al Arabiya” story, the video was published by the Syrian rebel press services. The original video is a bit longer, and included several shots cut from the material published in the fact-checked post. “Al Arabiya” has not been able to verify where and when the video was shot, nor to establish the identity of the perpetrators and their victims.
It is well-known that a number of massacres took place in Syria in 2012-2013, during the civil war between forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad and the opposition. In January 2013, more than 100 victims of mass executions were found in Homs. Among the murdered were women and children. Many were burned in their homes and others were either shot or stabbed. At the same time, the bodies of 108 young men and boys were found in the Qweik River in Aleppo, each killed by a shot to the back of head. Both sides of the conflict accused each other of carrying out the massacres.
"Hamas executes people by throwing them off the roof!" wrote the author of a post published on 3 December 2023 on the X portal. As proof, the attached video showed two men carrying two others to the edge of a building and then pushing them off. The post was finally deleted and as contrary to what the author suggested, this was not an execution carried out by Hamas militants during the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Executions by pushing people from rooftops were carried out by ISIS as a punishment for homosexuality. The photographs documenting the practice are eight years old, and therefore could not have been taken in Gaza during the ongoing conflict with Israel.
The fact that the Islamic State was punishing homosexuals in such a cruel manner was reported by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. In June and July 2015, ISIS carried out a whole series of such executions. Men were thrown from rooftops and then stoned in front of crowds for engaging in "indecent practices with another person of the same sex and acts of sodomy". Brutal executions of gay men took place in Mosul and Fallujah in Iraq and in Palmyra in central Syria, among other places.
Fake accounts and fake videos
In an article published on October 2023, “Washington Post” quoted a Palestinian digital rights organization ‘7amleh’. The organization’s executive director, Nadim Nashif said that he detected more than 19,000 cases of hate speech and violent incitement against Palestinians in the Hebrew language on X since the beginning of the war.
Rafi Mendelsohn, a vice-president of the Israeli bot-monitoring firm Cyabra, told “The New York Times” than in October 2023, more than 40,000 fake accounts have pushed pro-Hamas narratives online. "The scale suggests there was pre-prepared content and manpower into getting it out. We haven't seen such sophistication with a militant group," he said.
In a video published on the TikTok portal we could see a group of men unloading a truck and throwing out cardboard boxes, the contents of which shatter on the ground. The video with Malay subtitles allegedly showed how humanitarian aid to Gaza is being destroyed by the Israelis. This is fake news. The video was originally published on 19 October 2023 on the X portal. According to the original post, the video shows French farmers destroying a shipment of cava wine imported from Spain.
According to local press reports, on 19 October 2023, near the toll point in the French village of Le Boulou, vineyard owners set up a blockade and stopped trucks carrying sparkling wine from Spain. For them imports from Spain are the main reason for the decline in the profitability of their production, as well as the bankruptcy of some of them. Tensions increased when farmers stopped one of the trucks and began to unload it in order to destroy its cargo.
The video has nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the humanitarian aid being delivered to the Gaza Strip. Contrary to what the author of the TikTok post suggested, the Israeli military does not destroy humanitarian transports to Gaza. The trucks are stopped only for security checks to ensure that they are not carrying weapons for Hamas.
In December 2023, in order to intensify aid to Gaza an additional crossing for humanitarian convoys was opened at Kerem Shalom, on Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Until then, inspections of Gaza aid trucks had taken place at a single Nitzana crossing, located on the border between Israel and Egypt, causing delays in the deliveries of food, water and medical supplies to Gaza.
We also fact-checked a post in Arabic, published on the X portal on 11 December 2023. The author of the post wrote: "The Israelis are literally destroying everything in Gaza until it becomes unliveable" and attached a video showing a specialised Caterpillar D9 vehicle demolishing a road.
This is a manipulation. Indeed, the situation described refers to 2021 and took place in Masafer Yatta, in the southern West Bank, where Palestinian settlements are located—not in the Gaza Strip as the author of the post suggested. However, this does not change the fact that in Masafer Yatta this type of operation is a regular occurrence. The Israelis block or destroy roads leading to Palestinian settlements in order to discourage residents from living there.
Through a reverse image search, we established that the reported video was published on 16 June 2021 on a YouTube channel and documented an event that took place on 9 June 2021. The video showed a 'Caterpillar D9' bulldozer destroying a road and damaging a water pipe. At the very beginning of the video, subtitles in English, Hebrew and Arabic read: "Isreali millitary bulldozer destroys roads to Masafer Yatta communities and water pipe serving one, South Hebron Hills, 9 June 2021".
In the 1980s, the Israeli authorities designated a 'Firing Zone 918', or closed military zone, in an area of Masafer Yatta, on the hills of southern Hebron. Israel justified the creation of the firing zone on the basis of the need to conduct military exercises. However, Palestinian humanitarian and human rights organisations claim that the zone is being used as a pretext to expel Palestinians from their land.
In 2022, the Israeli Supreme Court examined the case of the firing zone and ruled that there was no evidence that the zone was necessary for military exercises. However, the court did not order Israel to dismantle the zone.
Israel also has its own sophisticated information operations. On 12 December 2023, the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz", citing an anonymous senior IDF official, reported that a Telegram account called "72 Virgins—Uncensored" (the name refers to the belief of Muslims that such a reward awaits them in Paradise—FH) is run by the Israeli army. "Haaretz" claimed that the account was set up on 9 October 2023, i.e., two days after the attack on Israel by Hamas, and is run by the IDF Operations Directorate's Influencing Department. This IDF department is responsible for psychological warfare operations against the enemy and foreign audiences. It was soon found out that the domain was purchased from Wix.com, an Israeli company, and BBC Verify confirmed that it was a fake website.
A video published on TikTok containing partially blurred drastic scenes from the Gaza Strip, including Israeli soldiers dragging corpses, was submitted for the fact-checking. The video was attached to a post claiming that “the Israeli army is using a Telegram channel called "72 Virgins - Uncensored" as part of a psychological warfare operation”.
The account regularly publishes drastic videos and photos showing executions of Palestinians, corpses of victims of the Israeli operation in Gaza and images of tortured, mutilated people. The videos are often accompanied by degrading comments and inappropriate happy emojis. “Haaretz” published screenshots showing some of the posts published by the account.
One photo showed two Israeli soldiers dragging a corpse with the caption: "Who wants to buy a mop made by Hamas?". Other screenshots published by “Haaretz” showed corpses with comments such as: "extermination of cockroaches" or "extermination of Hamas rats". Publication by “Haaretz” was in line with the increasing criticism of the IDF’s actions in Gaza.
On 7 December 2023, photos published on social media showed half-stripped, blindfolded men with their hands bound, kneeling before armed Israeli soldiers. IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus claimed the detainees were well-known Hamas fighters, but CNN reached out to relatives of the men shown in the photo and determined that at least some of them were civilians with no ties to militant groups.
Omar Shakir, director for Israel and Palestine at Human Rights Watch, commented that the images depict “a form of inhuman treatment that constitutes a war crime”. He added that his organisation condemns acts of terror against Palestinian prisoners, including their humiliation through forced nudity and publication of images in degrading conditions.
Jeet Heer, a columnist for the US monthly magazine “The Nation”, compared the Gaza photos to the horrific images from the US military prison Abu Ghraib in Iraq that were leaked to the press almost 20 years ago. In his view, what is happening now is on a much larger scale than in Abu Ghraib.
Different footage is being used by pro-Israel social media accounts to accuse Palestinians of staging massacres by Israeli soldiers. We fact-checked a video published on the X portal showing people of all ages looking Palestinian, with a professional make-up, so that they look injured. According to the post, "This video is from Gaza, putting blood as make up for the cameras to blame Israel".
The original video can be found on the Gaza Post's YouTube channel. Gaza Post presents itself as an independent Palestinian news portal. It ran a story on young people who founded Gaza's first company specialising in film make-up and special effects. The video was published on 25 February 2017.
Also, on the TRT World channel on YouTube (a Turkish public broadcaster), we can find other story about this company and its activities. The story was published on 2 March 2017.
In November 2023, “The New York Times” wrote that other powers are also taking part in this information war. “Iran, Russia and, to a lesser degree, China have used state media and the world’s major social networking platforms to support Hamas and undercut Israel, while denigrating Israel’s principal ally, the United States,” the article read. Each of these powers has different motivations in backing Hamas over Israel, but they have pushed the same themes since the war began.
According to “The New York Times”, the deluge of online propaganda and disinformation is larger than anything seen before, according to government officials and independent researchers—a reflection of the world’s geopolitical division.
In December 2023, the European Union has announced "formal infringement proceedings" against the X portal after identifying suspect posts related to the war between Israel and Hamas. It was the first such move against a major online platform under a new EU law designed to combat disinformation and hate speech. The European Commission also launched preliminary investigations along the same lines against TikTok, YouTube and Meta, the owner of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, as all major online platforms have seen a surge in false and misleading reports since Hamas attacked Israel.
- 1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misinformation_in_the_2023_Israel%E2%80%93Hamas_war
- 2 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/03/technology/israel-hamas-information-war.html
- 3 https://www.reuters.com/world/disinformation-surge-threatens-fuel-israel-hamas-conflict-2023-10-18/
- 4 https://www.rand.org/pubs/commentary/2023/10/lies-misinformation-play-key-role-in-israel-hamas-fight.html
- 5 https://www.bu.edu/articles/2023/israel-hamas-war-misinformation/
- 6 https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/aleppo-funeral-bombed-leaving-least-16-dead-syrian-activists-n638941
- 7 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_23_6709
- 8 https://www.gettyimages.it/detail/fotografie-di-cronaca/syrian-rescue-worker-carries-children-in-the-fotografie-di-cronaca/596252220?adppopup=true
- 9 https://pictures.reuters.com/archive/MIDEAST-CRISIS-SYRIA-S1AETXWAETAA.html
- 10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zILzBltZ_w
- 11 http://www.myhealth.gov.my/en/last-rites/
- 12 https://www.instagram.com/p/CwNbsH2uOn3/
- 13 https://www.instagram.com/p/Cy8vWmir9Nj/
- 14 https://www.instagram.com/p/Cy_Y4Qeqq9L/
- 15 https://www.open.online/2023/11/09/video-fabbricare-bambini-palestinesi-massacrati-fc/
- 16 https://youtu.be/sq485mm3Ct4?si=eLRNXvViRZMr_Jl5
- 17 https://youtu.be/hwpchsSe5dI?si=6dqmsEoPlBHaW1Sr
- 18 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJhYaF-xxOo
- 19 https://twitter.com/24Entertain/status/1242330306037809153
- 20 https://www.skynewsarabia.com/middle-east/1331083- الأردن-يخفف-حظر-التجوال-وتوقيف-1600-شخص
- 21 https://english.alarabiya.net/articles/2013%2F01%2F02%2F258348
- 22 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2013/1/30/dozens-of-men-found-executed-in-syria
- 23 http://web.archive.org/web/20130123092323/http://www.strescom.org/briefings/daily-round-ups/item/588-db19012013.html
- 24 https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2013/1/30/dozens-of-men-found-executed-in-syria
- 25 https://www.elcorreo.com/bizkaia/internacional/oriente-proximo/201507/24/estado-islamico-lanza-desde-20150724111048-rc.html
- 26 https://www.memri.org/jttm/isis-iraq-executes-more-homosexuals-casting-them-rooftop-warning-graphic-images
- 27 https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/isis-execution-terror-group-proudly-5986065
- 28 https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/security-aviation/2023-12-12/ty-article/.premium/graphic-videos-and-incitement-how-the-idf-is-misleading-israelis-on-telegram/0000018c-5ab5-df2f-adac-febd01c30000
- 29 https://edition.cnn.com/2023/12/07/middleeast/gaza-israeli-soldiers-detained-men-intl/index.html
- 30 https://twitter.com/HeerJeet/status/1734598149845471250
- 31 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3GKpKfaKnU
- 32 https://www.ochaopt.org/content/masafer-yatta-communities-risk-forcible-transfer-june-2022
- 33 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20231005-what-is-firing-zone-918-and-how-israel-uses-it-to-grab-more-palestinian-land/