4 December 2023
Investigation

Investigation: ‘Palestinian boy mopping the blood of his family’ – a recycled image fanning the flames of tension in Gaza

This claim has made the rounds since at least 2011. The photo actually shows a Palestinian kid cleaning up after the slaughter of a cow.

On May 13, a tweet from a pro-Palestine account featured an image of a child mopping the floor and claimed that the 5-year-old was forced to clean up the blood of his mother and brother in his home in Gaza.

It was posted amidst the Palestine-Israel conflict in the same month but provided no other details.

The child in the photo was not identified in the post. Neither the location nor the time was specified. The incident didn’t seem to have been tied to any strike by the Israeli government, either.

Annie Lab’s investigation revealed this image, and the claims surrounding it, is not new. We have found variations of this story connected to previous conflicts in the Middle East going back nearly a decade.

A July 2011 blog post featured the same image and the story.

The earliest posting of this image with the same story we could find dates back to July 12, 2011, on a blog written in Malay.

Original Image from RJ Stitt, hosted on 500px.com.

Another posting of this photo titled “Palestinian Kid” in 2011 has a different background story, however.  It says the image depicts a Palestinian kid “cleaning up after the slaughter of a cow in his parents’ slaughterhouse, Nr Ramallah, Palestine.”

The user RJ Stitt’s profile suggests he is based in Jerusalem and used a Canon camera to take the photo.

In fact, the authenticity of these details has been previously fact-checked by Reuters, Politifact and AFP. Nevertheless, this image has been repeatedly shared over the last decade with misleading claims.

Analysis of the previous usage

This table shows a list of 96 individual postings of the image found by Annie Lab from 2011 to the present with links, claimed locations, languages and types of media (please be advised that a large number of links feature photos and descriptions of violence, gore, and death).

Claimed locations

The vast majority of them claim the boy is cleaning up the blood of a deceased family member, although exact details vary. None of them, however, identifies his name; the location is often described very simply, such as “Palestine” or “Syria.”

Aside from Palestine, some posts claimed the boy is in Gaza, Syria (or Aleppo in Syria), Bahrain or simply, the Middle East.

This post claims the image was taken in Syria.

This 2012 post, for example, attributes the image to the aftermath of a massacre in the Houla region of Syria. Posted by a far-right French political website, it was further shared by a number of political blogs using the same story.

Trending during conflicts

Timeline of uses of this photo

Our investigation indicates when major unrest erupts in Palestine or Syria, this image tends to be shared more widely.

There are two particular incidents when the claim went viral besides this year.

Arabic language blog post from November 2012.

Spike 1: This was when there was an upsurge in fighting after an Israeli airstrike killed the head of the Hamas military wing within Gaza, Ahmed Jabari.

Inclusion in English language blog post about alleged Israeli violence.

Spike 2: This coincides with the 2014 Gaza War, some of the heaviest fighting in the region in decades.

Greek Language Blog Post about Violence in Gaza.

 

Types of media where the images were posted

The photo appeared on different platforms from blogs to image sharing sites to social media. Notably, some news websites also used the image with misleading context.

On Sept. 26, 2014, for instance, Arabic language sites Serat News, Mashregh News, and Shafaf all posted this picture.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas delivered a speech on the same day before the UN General Assembly where he pushed for a resolution setting a clear deadline for Israel’s pull-out or departure from occupied territories.

Three news sites posted the same image with the same caption on Sept. 26, 2014.

Juxtaposition

An example of the juxtaposed images.

Several tweets posted in May also included the above images, juxtaposing the old photo with another picture purportedly showing Israeli children.

Accompanying texts often try to emphasize the contrast between the two pictures; however, neither one has any relation to the situation in Gaza.

Snapshot of reverse image search results on Tineye.com.

 

The image on the right is a genuine news photo showing Israeli children doodling on what appears to be missiles but it is also an old one.

It was taken in the border town of Kiryat Shmona in July 2006, as reported by the Guardian.

Although the original blog mentioned in the article is no longer available, the information is supported by other reports from the same time.

Reports from BBC and the New York Times attest that the village was bombed heavily by Lebanese organization Hezbollah then.

The readable text on the side of one missile appears to read “[To] Nazrala with love from Israel,” referring to Hassan Nasrallah, the general secretary of Hezbollah, indicating that the image is related to the conflict in Lebanon 15 years ago and not Gaza this year.