The 'All Eyes on Rafah' post has sparked a debate on social media

If you went on your phone at any period of time this week, then you absolutely saw a friend, a celeb or that person you hate-stalk repost an image with the words 'All Eyes on Rafah.' Simran Pasricha explains the origins on the phrase and why it has sparked a debate.

If you went on your phone at any period of time this week, then you absolutely saw a friend, a celeb or that person you hate-stalk repost an image with the words 'All Eyes on Rafah.'

That image has now been shared at least 40 million Instagram stories worldwide, including on Palestinian-American models Gigi and Bella Hadid, Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan and internet crush Pedro Pascal. Although the image depicts a supposed Palestinian tents in the midst of a war, it’s actually an AI-generated image.

Here’s more about the image and the controversy and conversations it has sparked.

What does ‘All eyes on Rafah’ mean?

So where did this phrase come from? Rafah is a Palestinian city in the southern Gaza Strip.  

The phrase 'All eyes on Rafah' gained traction after Rick Peeperkorn, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Representative in WHO's office for the West Bank and Gaza, said it in a statement in February this year. It was viewed as a call to action, urging people not to look away from the suffering.

In the last week alone, Gaza officials say an Israeli air strike in an area of Rafah designated for the displaced has killed at least 45 Palestinians and wounded dozens.

A sanitised and shareable version of war? 

While it serves as a powerful symbol, critics argue that the 'All Eyes on Rafah' post oversimplifies the multifaceted issues at play. The choice to share an AI-generated image raises questions about the depth of our engagement and the need for context. As we hit the “share” button, we must remember that real lives are at stake.

The tents forming the words “All Eyes on Rafah” represent more than pixels—they represent families displaced, homes destroyed, and lives forever altered.

Maggie Zhou, co-host of podcast Culture Club posted a video on her TikTok saying, “I think that this image has become the poster child for this genocide in recent days and there’s so much actual footage of what’s happening in Palestine. I think sanitising the genocide in this way is deeply unsettling and also disrespectful."

"Especially because there’s been so much misinformation happening. I think it gives people permission to cast further doubt on what’s happening," she says.

Another critique is that there are journalists currently on the ground in Gaza risking their lives and their family's lives every single day to document the truth. The fact that we’ve chosen to make an AI image go viral to show solidarity for those suffering in Gaza, can come across as insulting.

Sharing an AI-generated image alongside real journalism raises ethical considerations. Does the sanitized nature of the AI image inadvertently diminish the authenticity of human experiences? Can symbols replace the visceral impact of photographs taken amidst violence?

The counter-argument to this is that the image still serves as a powerful rallying cry, drawing attention to the ongoing conflict in Rafah. Anna Saunders, co-founder of Primer said in an article, “By including a counter, the viral ‘All Eyes on Rafah’ post delivered what the very best protests and marches all achieve: solidarity and visibility.”

Saunders goes on to say that the post “gives license to those who may have felt too intimidated to voice their protest before.” The use of AI images used for protests can also arguably help get around censorship issues some may face in Instagram.

One thing is certain: as we watch this genocide happen across the world we must engage critically - and while the AI image spreads awareness, it cannot replace the depth provided by journalists who immerse themselves in the heart of conflict.