Palestinians inspect damage after an Israeli air strike, in the Al-Mawasi area, west of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Images of death and devastation in Rafah rattle some of Israel’s most ardent defenders

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Images of death and devastation in Rafah rattle some of Israel’s most ardent defenders

Palestinians inspect damage after an Israeli air strike, in the Al-Mawasi area, west of the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, May 27, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

(JTA) – For months, Zoe Buckman, a Brooklyn artist with more than 72,000 followers on Instagram, has posted about the hypocrisy she sees in critics of Israel who downplayed atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7.

On Monday, she again decried hypocrisy. But this time, she aimed her criticism in large part toward fellow supporters of Israel.

“Folks who do not condemn loss of civilian life in Palestine are akin to the many who refuse to condemn 10//7, h@mas and what is being done to the hostages,” she posted in Instagram Stories. “Turning a blind eye the way others do to us, is not our way.”

In the wake of Sunday’s Israeli strike on a displaced persons camp in Rafah that killed dozens, Buckman was one of a number of pro-Israel advocates who said they could not look away. The viral images of devastation — including that of a decapitated child —  triggered an outpouring of horror on social media, including from activists who have previously defended Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.

Some sought to contextualize the violence, noting that it was Hamas that started the war and could end it by surrendering and freeing the captives. Others suggested that no end was worth the horror of at least 45 civilians killed in a single incident.

A range of world leaders have also condemned the attack, which Israel says it is investigating as likely caused by a secondary explosion after it targeted two Hamas leaders, who were killed. But the responses underscored the degree to which support for Israel’s war effort has eroded beyond the halls of government in the nearly eight months since Oct. 7.

“The scenes from Rafah overnight are horrific,” Piers Morgan, the popular British TV host who has made a sport of sparring with critics of Israel on his show, said Monday on X. “I’ve defended Israel’s right to defend itself after Oct. 7, but slaughtering so many innocent people as they cower in a refugee camp is indefensible.”

Addressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to whom he has previously afforded friendly interviews, Morgan added, “Stop this now @netanyahu.”

Avi Mayer, a longtime pro-Israel activist and former editor of the Jerusalem Post, called for Hamas’s surrender, but his tone was one of exhaustion. “The images from Rafah are terrible,” he said. “This war has gone on for too long. It’s time for it to end.”

Mayer was not the only Israeli who has accrued a massive following for public diplomacy efforts defending their country and its actions to lament the strike and its aftermath.

Influencer Hen Mazzig posted that it is “undeniable” that Israel has taken measures to protect civilians in Rafah even as Hamas has shot rockets at Israel but wrote, “None of this can ever justify the heartbreaking tragedy of Palestinian civilians losing their lives in the fire caused by the strike.”

He added, “We must always recognize the humanity in Palestinian civilians who are not part of this war. When we fail to see their humanity, we lose our own.”

Israeli officials are defending the IDF campaign in Rafah, which they say is necessary to eliminate the remnants of Hamas’ fighting force. In an address, Netanyahu called the strike a “tragic” mistake but said, “I will not yield or surrender. I will not end the war before achieving all our goals. Our fallen heroes will not have died in vain.”

On Tuesday, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the IDF spokesperson, said in an English-language video that the original aim of the strike, to take out senior leaders of Hamas, was successful. He said the civilian deaths were caused by a fire sparked by the strike that the military did not anticipate.

“Their deaths saved lives,” he said about the Hamas leaders. “Sadly, following the strike, due to unforeseen circumstances, a fire ignited, tragically taking the lives of Gazan civilians nearby. Despite our efforts to minimize civilian casualties during the strike the fire that broke out was unexpected and unintended. This is a devastating incident which we did not expect. We are investigating what caused the fire that resulted in this tragic loss of life.”

Some Israeli right-wing extremists celebrated the incident, referring to it in now-deleted social media posts as “Lag b’Omer in Rafah,” a reference to the minor Jewish holiday that fell on Sunday and is celebrated with bonfires.

Tomer Persico, a scholar at the Shalom Hartman Institute who has decried antisemitism on the left since Oct. 7, posted a screenshot of one such tweet, since deleted, by a right-wing Israeli TV host. “This is joy at the deaths of children,” he said.

Many other voices from Israel pushed back against celebrating the strike. Sarah Tuttle-Singer, an opinion columnist whose social media posts since Oct. 7 have described the anguish of Israelis, also called for an end to the fighting.

“This war has stolen so much from us,” she said on Facebook. “We will not let it ALSO steal our humanity and make us turn away from the suffering of others.”

In one Instagram post that exemplified the degree to which the Rafah strike was creating new bedfellows of people who have not always agreed since Oct. 7, a viral drawing by the Egyptian dissident artist Yassin Mohammed shows a man lifting up a headless baby with a flower emerging from its neck.

Among those to share it was Israeli comedian Noam Schuster-Eliassi, a harsh critic of the war effort since early on. “Who will stop this death machine?” she wrote. “Stop this death machine now.”

Alana Zeitchik, a relative of five released hostages who still has relatives held in Gaza, shared Schuster-Eliassi’s post from New York. And then Buckman, whose content more typically lambastes what she says is antisemitism among those protesting the war, shared it as well.

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