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.
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.
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.
🚨 This is not Star Wars, this is the Iron Dome intercepting rockets above Israeli city of Ashdod.— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) May 15, 2021
Iron Dome is literally saving our lives in Israel. #IsraelUnderFire #IsraelUnderAttack pic.twitter.com/wUEOnU80yP
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.
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.
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.
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.
אזרחים תופסים מחסה בזמן אזעקה במבצע צוק איתן.— היסטוריה בטוויטר (@HistoriabeTwit) March 14, 2019
תל אביב 14.7.2014
צילום: משה מילנר
מתוך ארכיון לע״מ pic.twitter.com/f1I1TMltVg
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.
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.
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.