Old photos tweeted in Israel-Palestinian conflict

March 15, 2012 - 12:46 PM

JERUSALEM (AP) — During the recent round of fighting between Israel and Gaza militants, an Israeli government official and a Palestinian activist tweeted heart-wrenching photos meant to show the suffering of innocents on their sides.

It turned out that the photos — one of an Israeli woman and her two children ducking a Gaza rocket and the other of a Palestinian father carrying his dead daughter — were several years old. It also emerged that the Palestinian girl had died in an accident — not in an Israeli attack, as the tweeter claimed.

Challenged by Twitter followers, Ofir Gendelman, a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he meant his photo as an illustration of Israeli suffering under Palestinian rocket fire. The Palestinian activist, Khulood Badawi, declined comment, including on her erroneous description of what her photo showed.

Israelis and Palestinians make frequent use of social media to put forward their rival narratives. Such images are an increasingly powerful part of the conflict, as each side tries to draw attention to its suffering at the hands of the other to stir up international sympathy and backing.

The backlash in these two cases underscores the flip side: Distortions and mistakes are instantly magnified on a global scale.

The tweets of Gendelman and Badawi came during a four-day flare-up of violence that ended on Tuesday. Israel's military killed 25 Palestinians in airstrikes, including at least four civilians. Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets at Israeli cities, disrupting the lives of 1 million Israelis and wounding several civilians.

The photo tweeted by Gendelman on Monday to 4,000 followers showed an Israeli woman lying on the ground with her two children, their hands over their heads, their faces squashed into the pavement.

He wrote that the picture depicts a moment "when a rocket fired by terrorists from Gaza is about to hit their home." It turned out the photo was from 2009.

Questioned by followers, Gendelman said: "I never stated that the photo was current. It illustrates the fear that people in southern Israel live in."

A day earlier, Badawi sent a photo of a Gaza man carrying a dead, bloodied child to her 2,250 Twitter followers. "Another child killed by Israel," she wrote. "Another father carrying his child to a grave in Gaza." The tweet was reposted at least 450 times.

In that case, the photo was from 2006, and the child, 5-year-old Raja Abu Shaban, was killed in a fall from a swing, not in an Israeli airstrike.

Badawi, a U.N. employee, would not comment, nor did she issue a clarification.

While Gendelman tweeted in an official capacity, Badawi's page, "Long live Palestine," is her personal site. It was not tied to the U.N., said Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the office where Badawi works.

"It is regrettable that a U.N. staff member appears to have posted inaccurate material on her personal Twitter feed," Rajasingham said. "However, this information does not in any way reflect the views or opinions of the United Nations, nor it has been sanctioned by the organization."