Children and Conflict: Online Disinformation In the Wake Of ‘Operation Al-Aqsa Flood’

During armed conflicts, disinformation has been used as a strategic weapon to deceive and manipulate perceptions in order to shape and control narratives, the goal being to gain the psychological upper hand. Social media and digital technologies provide real-time dissemination of information amid war and conflicts, but they are also a rich ground for the emergence of another crisis – a war of information. The features on these platforms often allow for a narrative to be manipulated, and consequently, disinformation may have a more impactful and persistent influence than credible information does.  

This investigation focuses on Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, a series of attacks by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups, launched in the aftermath of the October 7, 2023 attack, which we shall examine in order to understand the underlying disinformation and assess its impact in the midst of the ongoing conflict. 

Hamas is a Palestinian political and military movement founded in 1987, and which has governed the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip since 2007. On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, calling it the ‘Al Aqsa Storm’, stating that this attack was in retaliation to what it described as Israeli attacks on women, the desecration of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, and the ongoing siege of Gaza. 

Historical context

The al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock are located in Jerusalem’s Old City within the Temple Mount or Haram al-Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), a site revered by Christians, Jews and Muslims. 

Both the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque are significant to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to the religious and political contentions surrounding them. The site is the third holiest place in Islam after Mecca and Medina. Part of the contention includes restrictions placed on both Palestinian Christians and Jews barring them from accessing the Temple Mount, with fears of a possible division of the compound by Israel. 

In the Jewish tradition, the Temple Mount is where two successive temples were built. To this day, Jews still revere it as a symbol of their historical connection to Jerusalem and their ancient heritage. For Muslims, al-Haram al-Sharif is the place where Prophet Muhamad ascended to the heavens. Moreover, Muslims believe it is where Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, the fifth Umayyad caliph and a member of the first generation of Muslims, built the Dome of the Rock between 685 and 691 CE. The Temple Mount is administered by the Islamic Waqf, a religious trustee which oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

While Jewish worship on the Temple Mount is restricted, Jews pray outside the compound, at the Western Wall – a retaining wall on the western side of the Temple Mount, also known as the Wailing Wall. 

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a longstanding dispute which dates back to the 20th century, with its roots tracing back to the UN Partition Plan. In 1947, the United Nations voted for historical Palestine which was under Great Britain to be split into separate Jewish and Arab states with the Jerusalem-Bethlehem region as an enclave under international administration. This decision, known as Resolution 181, birthed the State of Israel in 1948, which took control of almost 77% of the Palestinian territory. 

The Nakba and The Naksa – Displacement of Palestinians

Every year on May 15, Palestinians commemorate the Nakba – the mass displacement that followed the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, just after Israel’s independence. This conflict resulted in more than 750,000 Palestinians being displaced and over 400 Arab villages destroyed. During this period, Zionist paramilitaries attacked the village of Deir Yassin killing 107 villagers in a massacre that remains one of the most infamous incidents that took place during this war. 

The 1949 armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan, established temporary borders known as the Green Line or the Armistice Line, which was an interim arrangement to cease hostilities following the 1948 Arab-Israel War. However, the Six-Day War of 1967 led to further Palestinian displacement, known as the Naksa, and Israeli occupation of additional Palestinian territory, intensifying the conflict. 

This led to increased Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation. The United Nations Security Council then passed Resolution 242, which in summary looked to uphold the “territorial inviolability and political independence of every State in the area”, emphasising the need to establish a just and long-lasting peace in which every state in the area can live in security.

These historical events form the backdrop of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict, which is one of the most complex and drawn-out conflicts in the world. Amid the conflict, the cost of this violence has been documented extensively on social media, although not always accurately, leading to biased interpretations and polarization of the situation on the ground. 

Speaking on Aljazeera’s Studio B, Eyal Weizman, the founder and director of Forensic Architecture, explained how these distortions happen, especially with images. 

“Images themselves are kind of part of conflicts”, Professor Eyal says, “It is not the meaning of the images, but the images themselves are somehow munitions in a very strange battlefield which then happens both on the ground and our screen, and in our social media, as they want to draw you into one camp or the other.” (from minute 32:30)

Maria Ressa, an investigative journalist and recipient of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, echoed this sentiment at the 2024 International Journalism Festival, highlighting how social media incentivizes violence. 

“Part of the reason there is so much violence and war”, she says, “Is because these platforms that connect us literally reward violence. And online violence is real-world violence.”

The Disinformation from Operation Al-Aqsa Flood 

Following the October 7, 2023 attack by Hamas on Israel, and the subsequent Israeli retaliation, the United Nations says that in the first six months of the war, tens of thousands of Palestinians were killed, two-thirds of whom were women and children, and over 2 million individuals were displaced.

By May 8, 2024, cumulative data by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian territory (OCHAOPT) shows that there were 34,844 Palestinian fatalities reported, with 24,686 identified by April 30, 2024. Similarly, as of May 8, 2024, there were over 1,200 Israeli fatalities reported, including fatalities from the October 7 attack and its immediate aftermath, including foreign nationals. 

Data showing Israeli and Palestinian casualties (Source: OCHAOPT)

Children – Victims of war and subjects of disinformation campaigns

Children are often the main victims of war, suffering the worst effects of conflict including death from hunger, disease, bombs, and ground operations, according to Save the Children. In addition, children are likely to be orphaned in wars and are at risk of long-term mental distress. According to UN Women’s Gender Alert, by January 2024, there were more than 24, 620 Palestinian deaths, with 70% of them being women and children. 

Source: UN Women

In addition to being victims of violence, an emerging trend is the use of images of children in misinformation and disinformation campaigns on social media. This content ranges from manipulated images to misrepresented videos depicting children caught up in the crossfire. We identified a pool of about 200 viral videos and images on X that featured children and contained mis/disinformation. These posts were shared by a variety of verified and unverified accounts. From this pool, we selected 30 posts for analysis based on their traction, and the consistent use of identical phrases and hashtags in their dissemination that allowed us to identify patterns in their distribution by mapping the hashtags used. 

With over 2 million views, this Tweet claims to show “a Palestinian father tells his daughter to laugh every time she hears an Israeli airstrike so that she doesn’t get scared.” In the video accompanying the post, a father and his daughter are seen reacting to noises that seem to be airstrikes in the background. The post links the video to the Hamas-Israeli war.

A reverse image search on TinEye provides a tweet by Amnesty International which features the man in question and dates back four years. A search of the post on X using the phrase “shiaskingdom” embedded in the video brings up two quoted tweets referring to this video. The same search on TikTok brings up @shiaskingdom, an account with almost 7 million views and 179 thousand followers. This account shared the video on October 15, 2023, a few days after the war broke out. 

The TikTok video reposted on X

An article by Reuters published in February 2020 identifies the man as; Abdallah al-Muhammad, a Syrian video journalist. This, in addition to the post by Amnesty International, further disproves that this video was taken during the Israel-Hamas conflict, but instead during an attack in Idlib, located in northwest Syria by Russia-backed Syrian forces in 2020. 

Posts sharing this video feature the Palestinian and Israeli flags, in that order. Additionally, the phrase ‘shiaskingdom’ is watermarked on this video suggesting a common source. The original video shared by Amnesty International does not have this watermark.

Posts on X claiming to show a father and daughter reacting to Israeli airstrikes
Screenshot of the video posted by Amnesty International showing it was shared in early 2020

The TikTok post and most of the tweets on X sharing this video out of context were posted on October 26, 2023, 11 days after the initial post with the Shiaskingdom watermark was posted. However, a few edits have been made to the video shared on TikTok. While both the Shiaskingdom text and an emoji of a broken heart are captured across these posts, the one from TikTok includes the phrase ‘Father plays laughing game with daughter as airstrike hit’ in the video. These posts add misleading context; that of a father and daughter caught up in the terror of “Israeli airstrikes”. 


This prevalent pattern of manipulation is evident in other posts as well. Another disturbing image involving children shows what is purported to be the charred body of a Jewish child shared by Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) an American media personality.  This same image was also shared by the official X account of the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM), Benjamin Netanyahu. A tweet accompanying this image reads, “Here are some of the photos Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken” with Shapiro’s post stating in part “You wanted pictorial proof of dead Jewish babies? Here it is, you pathetic Jew-haters”.

Posts on X claiming to show the charred corpse of an Israeli child. Image has been blurred due to sensitive content.

Both these posts garnered millions of views with the post by Shapiro garnering over 16 million views and the one by the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel garnering more than 7 million views. The results of a reverse image search include articles which provide details regarding this image. According to an article by Al-Jazeera, this image was altered from one showing a puppy in a veterinary clinic. However, other sources dispute this.

Left: Image claiming to show charred baby. Right: Image of rescued puppy. Image has been blurred due to sensitive content.

While a section of online users and media outlets asserted that the image of the charred babies is fake, other reports, for instance by France 24 and assert that the image of the puppy is the fake one. The AI detection tool AI or Not classified the image of the charred babies as “generated by AI” but in a statement on X, AI or Not clarified that the result is inconclusive. A different test, according to France 24, also returned the same image as “likely human”.

The debate concerning the authenticity of the images regardless, one thing still stands consistent with our investigation – minors as subjects of disinformation campaigns in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Posts with the same image were also shared here, here, here and here

AI detection by & Image has been blurred due to sensitive content.

In yet another case of the misinformation trend portraying child victims, a post claims to show “614 Palestinian children murdered by Israeli Offensive Forces (IOF)”  The posts attribute the image to  “Child genocide in Palestine.” A search on X using the keywords, ‘614 Palestinian children genocide’ reveals dozens of posts with the same image showing what appears to be dead children, attributing the image to the war in Gaza. Such posts can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and here

Left: Post on X claiming to show children killed in Palestine. Right: The same Image in its right context showing children killed in Syria as published by National Geographic. Images have been blurred due to sensitive content.

A reverse image search on this image leads to an article by France 24 from 11 years ago. According to the article, these children were casualties of chemical poisoning in Syria’s capital, Damascus. Piga Firmbi published a fact-check involving this same image two years ago. 

In a clear pattern, disinformation campaigns use old footage and images out of their respective contexts to spread misinformation. Another widely shared video was published out of context with claims that the video is of Palestinian children rummaging for food, following Israeli attacks. The posts accompanying the video read: “Palestinian kids searching for burnt food after Israeli airstrikes.” 

 The video is shared in several other tweets here, here, here, here and here with the same claim. Besides the same phrasing of these posts, the video also appears to have originated from the same source – TikTok user @moumentaleb. 

Posts on X claiming to show Palestinian children rummaging for burnt food after Israeli airstrikes

A search of @moumentaleb on TikTok brings up several accounts under the same handle. Among the results is an account with this video shared on October 14, 2023, the same day as these tweets, with the statement ‘Save Palestina’ embedded in the video. Another account under the same search result has the same video posted on July 21, three months before the war broke out. With over 10 million views, this account does not refer to this video as an occurrence in Palestine. A description of this video reads, ‘من حريق مخيم بحنين المنيه #سوريا #لبنان#حريق#مخيم#طوارئ#اغاثه’ which translates to ‘From the Bahnin al-Minya campfire,’ with #Syria #Lebanon #fire #emergency and #relief attached to it. Bahnin al-Minya is a village in Lebanon with a camp for Syrian refugees. There was a fire at the camp on July 21, 2023, but no injuries or fatalities were reported.

Left: Post on TikTok linking video from Bahnin al-Minya in Lebanon to Palestine. Right: Post on TikTok linking video to Syria

Several other accounts reposted edited versions of this video attaching AI-generated flags of Palestine while others superimposed other graphics on the video. One reads, “God where is ur face show mercy upon Palestine,” and another, “ Yaa Allah help and save Philestens childrens ya Allah.” This one accuses Israeli forces of causing these atrocities. It reads, “Fear Israel military unity, if possible keep good neighbourhood.”

Posts on TikTok linking Bahnin al-Minya video to Palestine
TikToks linking Bahnin al-Minya video to Palestine

A reverse image search leads to a fact-check by Boom Live corroborating that this video emerged before the conflict between Israel and Palestine broke out. Media outlets and other organizations reported the fire incident at the Bahnin al-Minya refugee camp in  Lebanon. This video by Aljazeera Mubasher features victims of this fire. 

Details showing that the video showing the aftermath of the fire in Bahnin al-Minya Camp was taken in Lebanon

Disinformation wave riding on hashtags

Aside from the images and videos,  Piga Firimbi identified several identical hashtags shared by posts misrepresenting the contexts of certain images and videos. From October 7, 2023, when the Israeli-Palestinian war began to April 19, 2024, when Iran attacked Israel, these hashtags were mentioned a total of 204 million times across various social media platforms, with X leading with 203 million mentions. This translates to a total of 1.04 million daily mentions. Hashtags usually function to categorise and organize topics across the internet. However, they also provide a platform for outliers, facilitating the dissemination of fringe viewpoints within online communities. 

Source: Meltwater analysis of hashtags sharing falsified content regarding children

It is important to note that the hashtags attached to these posts were not entirely crafted to amplify falsehoods, but have been opportunistically seized upon by outliers to amplify their narratives. Their incentive is the potential reach and engagement that these hashtags offer. 

During the research for this publication, approximately 60 hashtags associated with campaigns related to this conflict were collected. They serve as key markers in understanding the different narratives surrounding the ongoing tensions. 

Wordcloud of hashtags analyzed:

Blue badges and Falsehoods

Both coordinated posting and hashtag jacking are amplification strategies which use identical posts and hashtags, particularly in the case of false information. The goal may be to draw attention, create distractions and promote a malicious narrative.  


This video has been shared on X and Facebook with nearly identical posts, using similar wording.  In this case, it was shared by a verified X account with about 49 thousand views. The tweet reads in part, “More power to you Hamas Freedom fighter destroying Israel terrorists’ ” A search on X, using the phrase ‘freedom fighter destroying Israel terrorists helicopter’  brings up five other posts with the same video showing a military officer aiming at and shooting down a helicopter. A search for the identical post on Facebook reveals the same video shared by this account, this, this, and this, being misinterpreted as footage from the ongoing conflict. Most of these videos have so far been flagged by Facebook as being false. 

Facebook posts presenting video from Arma 3 as footage from the Israeli-Palestine conflict

The same search on X provides the same results published by this, this, this, this and this post. These posts on both Facebook and X also share identical hashtags including #Palestine, #AlAqsaFood, #Hamas #Gaza, #War, #PalestineUnderAttack, #Ghaza, #GhazaUnderAttack, #GazaUnderAttack, and #OperationAlAqsaFlood

Posts on X presenting video from Arma 3 as footage from the Israeli-Palestine conflict

Reverse image searches on this video show that, originally, this video was taken from Arma 3, an online military simulation video game. In an article by Reuters, a spokesperson for Bohemia Interactive, the developer of the game, confirmed that the video was taken from the video game. Furthermore, Pavel Krizka, PR Manager of Bohemia Interactive, confirmed that falsified videos regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict contained content from their video game. 

“While it’s flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern war conflicts in such a realistic way, we are certainly not pleased that it can be mistaken for real-life combat footage and used as war propaganda”, the statement from Bohemia Interactive reads. 

There’s no question that these posts are being amplified in order to advance a narrative. The tactic of dissemination of falsified content or changing the context in which the information is presented contributes to increased visibility of misleading posts, and potentially exposes it to a wider audience. Verified accounts including those seen here, and another here replicate this coordination following an attack by Iran on Israel.

On April 13, 2024, Iran launched more than 300 drones, the first-ever direct attack on Israel. This according to the Center for Strategic and International Strategies (CSIS) was triggered by an attack on Iran’s embassy in Damascus, Syria, resulting in the deaths of its military officers. 

A reverse image search,  on this video shows that it is from Russia and is about nine years old, but resurfaced on April 14, 2024, this same video was shared under #IranAttackIsrael, #Iranian and #IranianIsrael, implying that it is footage of a ‘missile attack’ on Israel. 

Likewise, another verified account used this video and shared it with a caption reading, “What a beautiful view I have ever seen, I stand with Iran.” This tweet amassed over a million views. A search with this phrase on Twitter brings up the same video shared multiple times, with at least two or three identical hashtags. From these results, these claims are repeated by more verified accounts here, here, here, and here.

Posts by verified accounts sharing a video out of context claiming to show attacks on Israel by Iran

Despite the existence of these coordinated amplification strategies, X has taken proactive steps to address this issue. In a number of the posts featured in this investigation, X has attached community notes flagging them as either false or taken out of context. Likewise, according to Bohemia Interactive’s statement addressing the misuse of videos from Arma3, the developers express their efforts to combat the spread of this kind of information by flagging these videos to platform providers (Facebook, Youtube, X, Instagram etc.), but it’s very ineffective. “With every video taken down, ten more are uploaded each day,” they say. Posing a challenge in combating the spread of this kind of disinformation. 

Data analyzed by Meltwater on these 60 hashtags reveals significant engagement levels. Throughout October 7, 2023, and April 19, 2024, these hashtags collectively had 1.93 billion engagements across various social media platforms. That includes; TikTok, X, Pinterest, Reddit, news sites, blogs, comments, and forums. On TikTok alone, they had an engagement of 1.5 billion and 385 million on X. The daily average engagement rate during the period stood at 9.86 million. Notably, the peak period for these hashtags was between October 7, 2023, when Hamas attacked Israel and November 25, 2023. This surge can be attributed to the developments in the conflict, heightened media coverage, and increased public attention within this period.

Source: Meltwater

On Twitter alone, the hashtags selected by this research had a total of 124 million mentions, with a daily average of 635 thousand daily mentions. These hashtags encompass a blend of users utilising these hashtags to share authentic firsthand accounts and updates regarding the conflict as well as those exploiting these hashtags to share false narratives about the war. 

Source: Meltwater

This analysis of the online activity related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shows how misinformation and disinformation are used to shape perception. Both old and fabricated content can be repurposed to influence narratives. Tragically, children have been caught up in these malicious narratives, not only as direct victims of this conflict but also as subjects of manipulated images and videos. As platforms like X, Facebook and TikTok continue to fight the spread of false information, users need to evaluate the authenticity of information they encounter. 

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