'All Eyes on Rafah': The meaning behind the post going viral on Instagram

Story template has been shared by more than 40 million users since its creation

A post created in support of Palestine has been shared by more than 35 million Instagram users. AFP
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Instagram has been flooded with people sharing a post asking for “All Eyes on Rafah”.

Created by a user in Malaysia named shahv4012, a post in the form of a story template has gone viral, with users sharing a possibly AI-generated image that shows tents in a camp arranged to spell out “All Eyes on Rafah”.

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Since it was first uploaded on Tuesday, it has been shared by more than 40 million Instagram users.

This includes celebrities such as Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan, actor Aaron Paul, singer Dua Lipa, rapper and actor Kid Cudi, Bollywood star Varun Dhawan and US singer Kehlani.

What does 'All Eyes on Rafah' mean?

The post aims to draw attention to the situation in Rafah, as Israel's assault continues.

The story template was first shared after a deadly strike on a refugee camp in Rafah on Monday, just two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to halt its operations in the southern Gaza city.

The attack hit a camp for displaced people in north-west Rafah, a site that is in a designated humanitarian safe zone, Gaza civil defence and Palestinian authorities said. Women and children were among those killed and several people were also injured.

Why are people posting it?

The idea not only aims to bring into focus what is happening in Gaza but also show support for the Palestinian cause. As more people share the post, more eyes will see it and think of what is happening in Rafah.

The slogan probably originated from a comment by Rik Peeperkorn, director of the World Health Organisation’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. “All eyes are on Rafah,” he said back in February, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered an evacuation plan for the city ahead of attacks on what he claims are the last Hamas strongholds.

Backlash over the image

Despite its popularity, the “All Eyes on Rafah” post has also been criticised, with some claiming that it promotes a sanitised reality in Rafah.

Saint Hoax, the popular pseudonymous Syrian artist, satirist and sociopolitical activist, compared it to the black squares posted during the #BlackoutTuesday movement in 2020. The collective action to protest racism and police brutality in the US, a response to the murder of George Floyd, was also criticised for not efficiently supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

“While the image has been shared over 40 million times and helps spread the word, it would be much more effective if it were followed up with a statistic, infographic, or fund-raiser to contextualise the severity of this genocide,” Saint Hoax, who has more than 3.4 million followers, wrote in a post.

“Though well-intentioned, the post ends up overshadowing Palestinian journalists and activists who are deeply engaged in the work.”

Actress Rachel Zegler, known for her work in West Side Story and The Hunger Games prequel The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes, has also criticised the post for its shareability.

“Its disturbing that the only way so many people have suddenly felt comfortable sharing their support for Palestinian lives is via an Al-generated image that doesn't even begin to touch upon the actual horrors of what these human beings are experiencing,” she wrote on an Instagram story to her two million followers.

Creative director and activist Alana Hadid, the elder sister of Gigi and Bella Hadid, also shared her thoughts about the post.

“If the only thing you've ever done is repost this photo, welcome to the movement,” she wrote. “Now educate yourself. Talk to Palestinians. Join a rally. Listen to videos and teach ins. Get acquainted with the reality on the ground. The history.

“Performative activism is not helpful. Education and sustained activism and action is. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and get acquainted with that feeling. Reposting is not enough any more.”

On Thursday, another real photo, a more graphic image with the same shareable function, also went viral on Instagram.

Already garnering more than one million shares, the image is an ariel photo depicting dead bodied wrapped in white shrouds grouped and piled together in the middle of the street surrounded by mourners.

Other artworks going viral for Rafah

While this story template is going viral, other artworks have been heavily re-shared on social media since the Rafah attacks.

This includes a drawing by children's book illustrator @Sally_Samir_, which shows tents on fire and headless angels floating up towards the sky, with a keffiyeh, watermelon and poppy – things that have been adopted as symbols of Palestine – where their heads should be.

Another drawing by Egyptian artist Yassin Mohamed, who posts on the Instagram account @YassinDraws, has also been widely shared. It depicts a father holding up a headless child with a flower in place of the child's missing head, referencing a video that went viral showing the aftermath of Israel's attack on the refugee camp. The flower in the place of a head is a motif of the artist.

Updated: May 31, 2024, 8:09 AM