The escalation in violence between Israeli and Hamas forces over the past week has seen a deluge of misinformation from official and unofficial sources on both sides of the conflict.
Some of this misinformation takes the form of false videos or unconfirmed narratives intended to demonstrate either the prowess of the military on one side or the brutality and violence perpetrated by fighters on the other.
The rapidly evolving conflict makes it particularly easy for misinformation to spread and, with tech firms struggling to contain and verify falsehoods, some of these narratives have reached Malta’s shores and come to be repeated and shared in local debates on social media.
We examine some of the false or unverified claims that have emerged over the past days.
Claim: Hamas beheaded 40 babies.
Verdict: Unverified. There is no evidence to show that this is true and several sources have retracted their initial claims.
A claim that Hamas fighters had brutally decapitated 40 babies in an attack on an Israeli kibbutz went viral over the past few days.
The claim was first made by Nicole Zedeck, a correspondent for the Israeli news network i24NEWS, in a video report from Kibbutz Kfar Aza, one of the first areas attacked by Hamas.
In the attack, Hamas gunmen slaughtered Israeli civilians in their homes, with Zedeck reporting that “at least” 40 babies were killed, some of them beheaded.
This shocking statement quickly went viral, particularly on social media.
Zedeck later clarified in a tweet posted on X that she had not actually witnessed this herself but was simply reporting on what Israeli soldiers told her.
However, several attempts by international news agencies to verify this claim have, to date, been unsuccessful.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), which had itself repeated the claim several times, refused to provide any evidence, saying that doing so would be “disrespectful”, with one IDF spokesperson describing the reports as “unconfirmed”.
Anadolu News Agency, a state-run Turkish news agency, also reported the Israeli military saying they have no confirmation over whether the claim is true, going on to cite independent French and Israeli journalists saying that they were unable to verify the claim.
Meanwhile, the White House backtracked on US President Joe Biden’s claim that he had seen “pictures of terrorists beheading children”, admitting that Biden’s remarks were based on claims made by Israeli officials and had not been independently verified.
Likewise, CNN also reported Israeli officials admitting that they are unable to confirm the claim, contradicting a previous public statement issued by the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Claim: Top Israeli army official Nimrod Aloni was captured by Hamas.
On Saturday, Hamas claimed to have captured top-ranking Israeli general Nimrod Aloni, in what was seen major blow to the Israeli military.
Several pro-Palestinian accounts on X and Instagram repeated this claim, celebrating Aloni’s capture and posting a photo of him allegedly being paraded through the streets by armed guards.
The picture was later widely shared on social media worldwide, even making its way into debates in local social media groups.
However, the IDF has rebutted this claim, with a spokesperson describing it as “not true”.
On Sunday, IDF posted footage of a meeting between high-ranking officials held earlier in the day. Aloni can be seen in the footage, as well as in photos taken at the meeting. A spokesperson for IDF confirmed with the Associated Press that Aloni is the man seen in the footage.
This is not the only case of a false claim about the capture of high-ranking Israeli officials.
Another video viewed almost 2 million times on X claiming to show the capture of Israeli generals by Hamas fighters is actually taken from the YouTube channel of Azerbaijan’s security services and shows the arrest of former leaders of the Nagorno-Karabakh government.
Claim: Woman kidnapped by Hamas at a music festival is a member of the Israeli army and was later burned alive.
Verdict: False. There is no evidence to suggest that the woman is currently a member of the army. Footage of her being burned is taken from an unrelated incident featuring a different woman in 2015.
Footage of a young woman being driven away on a motorcycle by Hamas militia, pleading for help as her boyfriend looked on was widely circulated over the past days. The woman in the footage is Noa Argamani, a 25-year-old Chinese-Israeli woman.
The claim that the woman was an innocent civilian was disputed by some on social media, after Instagram photos emerged of her donning an Israeli military uniform.
Several social media posts later claimed to show footage of Argamani being burned alive.
However, both these claims are untrue.
The photos of Argamani wearing a military uniform date back to 2016 and 2017, when she was still in her late teens. Military service is compulsory for all able-bodied citizens over the age of 18 according to Israeli law, with women forced to serve a minimum of two years.
While many Israeli citizens must remain listed as reservists for years after their military service has ended, there is no evidence of Argamani voluntarily remaining in the army after the period of her conscription, and the claim that she is currently actively serving in the military is unfounded.
Likewise, the claim that she was burnt alive is based on 2015 footage taken in Guatemala in which a 16-year-old girl was killed by a baying mob. The girl in the video is not Argamani.
Following her kidnapping, a short video later emerged of Argamani sitting on a mat and sipping water from a bottle, seemingly unhurt. It is not clear when this video was taken and her current whereabouts and condition remain unknown.
Claim: Videos show Israeli attacks on Gaza and their victims.
Verdict: False. Some of these videos are old or recycled from previous conflicts, while others are taken from video games.
Social media has been flooded with videos claiming to depict situations that either did not take place at all or are recycled from previous tragic conflicts.
One video claiming to show a young boy in Gaza crying over his sister killed in an Israeli bombing was actually filmed in Aleppo, Syria in 2014. While the video shows the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war, the footage is completely unrelated to the current war in Gaza.
Another widely-shared video showing a large building in Gaza under heavy attack by Israeli forces was taken from news reports back in 2021.
Similar false videos are being shared across both sides of the conflict.
A popular TikTok clip, showing Hamas fighters firing rockets at an Israeli military helicopter is actually taken from a popular war-themed video game named Arma 3.
This is not the first time that video clips from this particular game have been used in place of authentic footage. Over the past months, similar clips from the game have falsely been used to depict Ukraine and Syria.
The Times of Malta fact-checking service forms part of the Mediterranean Digital Media Observatory (MedDMO) and the European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), an independent observatory with hubs across all 27 EU member states that is funded by the EU’s Digital Europe programme. Fact-checks are based on our code of principles.
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