Politicized art? Gaza photos storm social media

Are memes and photos the social media age's form of popular politicized art?

Nabila Pathan
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During the recent on-going Israeli-Palestinian escalation, there has been unprecedented levels of imagery, from photographs captured on cell phones, pouring directly onto social media news feeds by both journalists and local Gazans under bombardment. It’s this outpouring of graphic visuals, depicting death and destruction, which many commentators believe is playing a role in why Israel is losing the social media war during the current Israeli incursion.

Over the past two weeks, the Israeli offensive on Gaza has resulted in a death toll which currently exceeds 550 Palestinians, with a large number of victims being children. The widespread sharing of photo stills or short video clips on Facebook and Twitter, often captured on phones has illustrated a disproportionate reality of civilian death and suffering of Palestinians that not only has called to question the official Israeli and U.S. foreign policy stance that “‘Israel has the right to defend itself” but also the living conditions of ordinary Palestinians under blockade.


According to Mira Bar Hillel, a writer for independent, this recent incursion into Gaza stands in stark contrast to the “unwitnessed and almost unreported” deaths in 2009.

“It is those devices which brought heart-rending images - some too horrific to be shown on television - of children with their limbs or half a head blown off. Children covered in shrapnel screaming for dead parents; surviving parents carrying tiny bodies.”

Some of the most compelling images, including the death of four Palestinian preteens killed by Israeli shells, which include eye witness accounts from journalists have ensured that such visually-led stories move beyond the social media sphere and gain traction on traditional media.

Netanyahu’s reaction

In reaction to online social media timelines dominated with images of dead people in Gaza, Netanyahu recently complained to media reporters, that Hamas uses “telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause.” However some commentators suggest American audiences are seeing the story of the conflict, perhaps more than ever before, through Palestinian eyes.

Netanyahu’s own Twitter feed also started to distribute pictures: but unlike the hard-hitting images of reality, his images have predominantly been info-graphics, purporting to highlight that Hamas had dug tunnels below the neighborhood of Shujaiya. According to Paul Mason from channel 4 News, this demonstrates “To a generation reared on instant images of reality, carefully prepared images of what you think reality might be do not have the same impact. They look like propaganda, no matter what evidence you possess.”

Whilst many of the images flooding social media sites aim to disseminate the atrocities occurring to ordinary Gazans, some of the photographs have raised questions over authenticity. It was revealed in a recent BBC report that many of the images posted on social media sites have either been reproduced from past conflicts in the region or from neighbouring countries, raising concerns over the verification of photographs.


Irrespective of this, many public figures and celebrities on social media have been widely reported to be increasingly engaging in online conversations about the conflict by joining in the retweeting of many of the images flowing from Gaza; in turn highlighting a discourse shift increasingly more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians.

Throughout history, visual imagery has played a crucial role in conflicts, not least in public perception and politicization. But in this recent conflict, they serve to alert the broader public who may not necessarily understand the conflict from the Palestinian perspective. But more importantly, it highlights that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not just raging on the battlefield but forms part of PR machinery which is no longer restricted to those in positions of power. Social media has ensured a more equal playing field in the battle for hearts and minds through imagery.

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