debunked

Debunked: Images of clashes between Israeli, Palestinian armed groups taken out of context

Between May 9 and 14, the Israeli army carried out air strikes on armed Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip and the groups responded by firing rockets. In this context, people online began circulating a number of images that they claimed showed the recent clashes – though, it turns out, none of them actually did. 

These four images were released in the wake of the recent clashes between Israeli and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Some of the photos are old, others have nothing to do with the recent clashes.
These four images were released in the wake of the recent clashes between Israeli and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. Some of the photos are old, others have nothing to do with the recent clashes. © Observers
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If you only have a minute

  • A video showing Israel’s “iron dome” intercepting rockets was filmed in May 2021…
  • … at the same time as another video showed residents of Tel Aviv running for cover as sirens blare.
  • Another photo of people lying on the ground was also taken in Tel Aviv, Israel, but in 2014. 
  • A photo of a store standing untouched amidst a landscape destroyed by a missile was taken by an artist in Yemen and not in Palestine.

The fact-check, in detail

Starting May 9, the Israeli army carried out five days of air strikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting the Islamic Jihad, an organisation considered to be a "terrorist group" by Israel, the European Union and the United States. After strikes killed at least 33 people, including three of Islamic Jihad’s military chiefs, the group promised to retaliate. 

In response to the Israeli strikes, Palestinian militants launched at least 469 rockets, 333 of which entered Israeli air space. Warning sirens sounded in many of the Israeli towns near the Gaza Strip, but also as far as Be’er Sheva in the East and Tel Aviv, in the North.

A fragile ceasefire brought calm back to the region on May 14. However, against this backdrop, a number of videos and photos started circulating online, with people wrongly claiming that they showed the clashes or their consequences. We took a look at four of them. 

Images of strikes and rockets from 2021

“Israel now” claimed the Twitter account @Spriter99880, alongside a video of rockets streaming through what is said to be Israeli airspace. We’ve already investigated this account for its habit of sharing disinformation.

The post featuring the rockets has been viewed more than 1.5 million times since it was first shared on May 10. 

This is a screengrab of a post claiming to show rockets raining down on “Israel now”. You can see the archived post by clicking on the image.
This is a screengrab of a post claiming to show rockets raining down on “Israel now”. You can see the archived post by clicking on the image. © Twitter / Spriter99880

We ran this video through the tool InViID WeVerify (click here to find out how). When we did that, we found the video on a Facebook post from back in 2021 as well as an article in the Daily Mail.

The video shows the “Iron Dome”, an Israeli defence system created to intercept rockets, operating above the town of Ashdod.

When this video was filmed, back in 2021, Hamas had launched about 50 rockets, many of them aimed at Ashdod. Human Rights Watch documented that at least 12 Israeli citizens were killed and several dozen injured.  

Sirens filmed in Tel Aviv in May 2021

Another video, which has garnered more than 3.7 million views since it was posted on May 10 shows a siren going off and people fleeing – many of whom had been lounging on the beach until that moment.

This is a screengrab of a post claiming to show sirens sounding and the crowd running for shelter in Tel Aviv.  You can see an archived version of this post by clicking on the link.
This is a screengrab of a post claiming to show sirens sounding and the crowd running for shelter in Tel Aviv. You can see an archived version of this post by clicking on the link. © Twitter / JackStraw

The video was, indeed, filmed in Tel Aviv: there are a number of recognisable elements like a hotel (in blue), huts (in green) or a small boat (in red) that are visible on Google Earth images of the beach.

At the left is a reconstruction of the video, in panorama format. At the right, with a white border, are screengrabs. We were able to tell the images show a Tel Aviv beach by comparing them with images of the beach available on Google Street View.
At the left is a reconstruction of the video, in panorama format. At the right, with a white border, are screengrabs. We were able to tell the images show a Tel Aviv beach by comparing them with images of the beach available on Google Street View. © Google Street View

However, if you run the video through the tool InVid WeVerify, you’ll see that this video is also from May 2021. It was filmed during the same incident as the previous video, when Hamas was firing rockets at Tel Aviv.

@michaeljacksons1 ❗️🇮🇱THIS IS OUR REALITY🇮🇱 ❗️ ⚠️אזעקה מוקלטת⚠️ #standwithisrael #israel #war ♬ original sound - Michael Jackson

People on the ground in Israel and a shop intact in Palestine

Other misleading photos were also circulated online, with people falsely claiming that they showed the consequences of recent clashes between Israel and Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip. 

A Twitter account with 150,000 followers, claiming to be run by a scholar and human rights activists based in the United States, shared a photo that it claimed shows a number of Israelis lying on the ground in the streets of Tel Aviv to protect themselves from missiles from Gaza.

This is a screengrab of a post featuring an old image. The caption, in Arabic, says, "Many Israelis laid on the ground in the streets of Tel Aviv in an attempt to shield themselves from missiles fired by Gaza after sirens sounded."
This is a screengrab of a post featuring an old image. The caption, in Arabic, says, "Many Israelis laid on the ground in the streets of Tel Aviv in an attempt to shield themselves from missiles fired by Gaza after sirens sounded." © Twitter / @drhossamsamy65

We ran this image through a tool called TinEye. This tool enabled us to see that the photo has been online since at least 2014. It was first used to illustrate an article about a group of Canadians who visited Israel and had to prepare for air strikes. 

The photo was taken by Moshe Milner, a photographer for the Israeli government’s press bureau, during Operation Tzuk Eitan [Rock Ethan], which was carried out by Tsahal in the Gaza Strip between July 8 and August 26, 2014.

The photo does show residents of Tel Aviv reacting to a rocket warning, as documented in this tweet

The caption translates roughly as, “Civilians try to protect themselves during a siren set off as part of Operation Rock Ethan. Tel-Aviv 14/07/2014. Photographer: Moshe Milner. Taken from the archives of the government bureau.”

However, the misleading images circulating online don’t just include images of Israel. A photo said to show a Palestinian shop that miraculously survived while neighboring buildings were crushed by air strikes has garnered more than 118,000 views since it was posted on May 7 on Twitter. “Despite all this pain, there is hope,” reads the caption.

This is a screengrab of a photo said to have been taken in Palestine.
This is a screengrab of a photo said to have been taken in Palestine. © Twitter / @PalestineCultu1

However, if you carry out a reverse image search on this photo, then you’ll see that the image was taken by artist Isabelle McEwen in Taiz, Yemen on July 15, 2022 and posted on her website.

This is a screengrab of Isabelle McEwen’s website. It explains that the photo was taken in Taiz, Yemen on July 15, 2022.
This is a screengrab of Isabelle McEwen’s website. It explains that the photo was taken in Taiz, Yemen on July 15, 2022. © https://mcewen.eu/

A battle took place in Taiz between Houthi rebels and followers of the former president, Abd-Rabbo Mansour Hadi – just one more tragedy in a conflict that has been ongoing in Yemen since 2015.