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Israel-Hamas war misinformation is everywhere. Here are the facts

Palestinians look for survivors in the rubble of a destroyed building following an Israeli airstrike in Bureij refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Mohammed Dahman)

Misinformation about the latest Israel-Hamas war is thriving on social media platforms, where misrepresented video footage, mistranslations and outright falsehoods often crowd out real reporting from the conflict.

In recent weeks, users have pushed false claims that “crisis actors” are staging scenes of carnage and that U.S. Marines are flooding in to fight on the ground in Gaza.

Here is a closer look at the latest misinformation spreading online — and the facts.

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CLAIM: A video shows a Palestinian “crisis actor” removing his bandages to show his worried mother that his injuries aren’t real.

THE FACTS: The man’s injuries are real. Arabic-language experts and the Palestinian journalist who captured the emotional exchange on video say the injured man and others surrounding him were trying to calm the woman, who believed her son had been mortally wounded in an attack during the Israel-Hamas war.

The viral video shows a man sitting on a hospital bed with a large, bloodied bandage wrapped around his head while wearing a blood-soaked t-shirt and tattered pants.

The man appears to have other injuries on his arms and face as he and the men around him speak animatedly to the visibly emotional woman. At one point, one of the men unwraps the bandage over the bedridden man’s head to show the woman the extent of injuries underneath.

“This is gold. A Palestinian mother sees images online showing her son injured. She races to the hospital only to find it’s all fake,” one Instagram user who shared the brief clip wrote in a post that’s been liked more than 11,000 times as of Monday. “He is fine, it’s just an act mommy. It’s called Pallywood. Sad so many are being manipulated.”

But the unidentified man is not faking his injuries. Both he and the men standing by his bedside are simply trying to calm the woman.

Taoufik Ben-Amor, a senior lecturer in Arabic studies at Columbia University in New York, confirmed the men are trying to assure the woman that the injuries are not that serious and that her son will be fine.

“An act of trying to protect the mother from grief,” he wrote in an email.

Nasr Abdo, who is also a lecturer at Columbia University, agreed, after reviewing the video.

“This is a very cultural thing, people and the injured patient are trying to calm the mother down by saying that he is fine and not badly injured,” he wrote in an email. “But there is no indication at all that this is acting. It’s just the way in Arabic saying he is going to be fine.”

Mohmmed Awad, a Palestinian journalist who filmed the video, didn’t respond to messages seeking comment this week, but he conveyed to Kashif, a Palestinian fact checking website, a similar explanation.

Awad, who shared a snippet of the fact check story on Instagram, said the incident happened last week at the Nasser Medical Hospital in Khan Yunis, a city in southern Gaza.

He said the woman came into the hospital screaming, so he followed her to the intensive care unit where her son was being treated for a head injury.

“She thought he was martyred,” Awad told the organization in Arabic. “In the video, they were just reassuring her that her son is okay. Even the injured young man sat up and took the bandage off his head to tell her he was okay.”

— Associated Press writer Philip Marcelo in New York and editor Nadia Ahmed in London contributed this report.

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CLAIM: A video of wall-to-wall crowds in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol plaza shows a protest supporting Palestinians.

THE FACTS: The protest seen in the video has nothing to do with the conflict in the Middle East. The footage was featured by a Spanish news outlet in coverage of a demonstration on Sunday opposing a deal that would grant amnesty to Catalan separatists in exchange for their support of a new coalition government in Spain.

Some on social media are misrepresenting footage of the unrelated protest as a response to the latest Israel-Hamas war.

The video pans from left to right and back again, showing people crowded into Puerta del Sol, many of whom are holding Spanish flags, as an amplified voice can be heard echoing across the plaza.

It was shot from the top of La Real Casa de Correos, a former post office that is now a regional government building, as evidenced by distinctive metalwork atop the building’s clock tower that is visible in the footage.

“Spain today,” reads one post on X, formerly Twitter, that shared the video. “From the river to the sea Palestine will be free,” it continued, echoing a chant common at pro-Palestinian rallies. The post was shared more than 7,400 times.

There have been protests in Spain supporting Palestinians in Gaza. But the video currently spreading online shows people demonstrating against a deal made by Spain’s acting prime minister with Catalan separatists.

The same video was featured by Spanish news outlet El Mundo in its coverage of protests against the amnesty deal.

El Mundo confirmed in an email that it shows people protesting over the domestic political issue, not the war. The outlet said the video came from the government of the Community of Madrid, which is headquartered in La Real Casa de Correos.

Multiple time-specific details from the footage are also present in Associated Pressphotos of the same event. For example, a white van is parked next to a statue of Carlos III, an 18th century Spanish king. A metal Christmas tree in the process of being assembled in the plaza is missing the same chunk of beams. And the same tall black speakers poke out of the crowd.

As the AP has reported, the protest was called by Spain’s Conservative Popular Party in response to a deal the country’s Socialist Party struck with a Catalan separatist group that wants independence for the northeastern region of Catalonia. It was made in exchange for the separatists’ support in reelecting acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez following an inconclusive election in July.

Part of the deal includes amnesty for Carles Puigdemont, a Catalan leader who fled Spain after leading a failed illegal secession bid in 2017, and thousands of other secessionists.

— Associated Press writer Melissa Goldin in New York contributed this report.

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CLAIM: A video shows a makeup artist applying dirt and fake blood to a young girl on a stretcher, proving that people in Gaza are faking injuries in the latest Israel-Hamas war.

THE FACTS: The video is behind-the-scenes footage from a short film made in Lebanon, and was not made to mislead people, the director confirmed to The Associated Press.

In recent weeks, social media users have repeatedly misrepresented videos to falsely accuse Palestinians of being “crisis actors” in the war, as part of a conspiracy theory dubbed “Pallywood.”

In the latest example, people are sharing a clip that begins with a child who appears to be wounded being treated on a stretcher as protesters wave Palestinian flags. As the video goes on, however, a makeup artist can be seen applying makeup to the girl to depict blood and wounds, and the child smiles at the camera.

The video was shared on multiple social media platforms including X, formerly known as Twitter, claiming it shows how Palestinians “fake injuries.”

“The Palestinians are fooling the international media and public opinion. DON’T FALL FOR IT,” reads one post on X, which garnered more than 10,000 likes. “Pallywood gets busted again.”

However, the video is actually behind-the-scenes footage of a short film. The director, Mahmoud Ramzi, first uploaded the actual film, “ The Reality,” to his Instagram account on Oct. 28 The movie is clearly not intended to look like real footage of the conflict.

Ramzi confirmed to The Associated Press that the short film was shot in Lebanon and said it was to show the “pain that Gaza’s people endured.”

“It was not filmed to mislead people or to fabricate any truth, because what’s happening in gaza don’t need any form of fabrication, the videos are all over the media,” Ramzi wrote in an Instagram message.

The behind-the-scenes footage was posted to Instagram on Oct. 29 by an actor, Rami Jardali. “Backstage Reality,” reads a translated version of the caption on Instagram.

Ramzi also shared a video on his Instagram story refuting the false claims. The video states the film shows “the suffering of the people in Gaza, but in an artistic way.”

— Associated Press writer Karena Phan in Los Angeles contributed this report.

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CLAIM: A collage of nine images features the same Palestinian “crisis actor” pretending to be a wounded patient, a dead body and others in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.

THE FACTS: Not all the photos show the same man. The person who appears to be pretending to be a dead war victim is actually a Thai child wearing a Halloween costume last year. The wounded patient is actually a 16-year old Palestinian boy who lost a leg in the West Bank over the summer.

Social media users are claiming the collage proves Palestinians are faking the gravity of the situation in Gaza.

Most of the nine pictures in the post show a man dressed in different outfits, with captions ranging from “freedom fighter” to “American idol.”

At the center of the collage is an image of a person wrapped head-to-toe in a white sheet but seated upright and looking at a phone in their hands. The text on the photo reads “revived corpse.”

The image to the left of it shows a man with eyes closed laying on a hospital gurney with electronic sensors attached to his bare chest as medical staff attend to him. The text on that photo reads, “Resilient patient.”

“This is a misinformation war. Make no mistake about it. The propaganda is real,” wrote one Instagram user who shared the collage. “Ask yourself: why do they need? #Pallywood #Gaza #FreePalestine from #Hamas.”

But not all of the photos in the montage show the same person.

For example, the photo of the “revived corpse” was originally posted on Oct. 29, 2022, on Facebook by a woman in Thailand.

The post included other photos of her two sons dressed as dead people for Halloween. A local news outlet also shared the mother’s photos on Facebook, noting in a post written in Thai that the pair took third place in a shopping mall costume contest in Nakhon Ratchasima, a major city in the country’s northeast.

As to the image of the “resilient patient” in the collage, it is actually a photo of a Palestinian teen injured months before the latest war with Israel erupted in early October.

Mohammed Zendiq, 16, had his leg amputated following July clashes at a refugee camp in the West Bank, according to an Aug. 25 report from the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led group.

Other photos in the collage depict a young Palestinian man named Saleh Aljafarawi.

The Gaza resident, who didn’t respond to messages seeking comment, describes himself as an artist on his YouTube page and has been regularly posting images and videos of himself amid the ongoing war on his Facebook, Instagram and other social media accounts.

— Philip Marcelo.

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CLAIM: A video shows a soldier being thrown to the ground as an airstrike hits an Israeli tank.

THE FACTS: The imagery is computer generated and was taken from the trailer for a video game called Squad.

The video, which is circulating on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, appears to show a soldier walking among military vehicles. As an armored vehicle comes up on his left, he waves his hand and says, “Let him through,” before an airstrike hits the vehicle and the soldier is thrown to the ground.

One user shared the video with the caption, “The scene of the destruction of an Israeli tank in the attack of Hamas…”

Another post on X of the same video with a similar caption in Urdu had more than 18,000 likes.

But the clip is identical to the initial scenes of the trailer released for an update to the first-person shooter game Squad in December 2022.

Offworld Industries, the game developer that makes Squad, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first time clips of video game footage have been misrepresented as a real-life war. Video of the military simulation game Arma 3 has been shared as both footage of the latest Middle East conflict as well as the war in Ukraine.

— Karena Phan.

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CLAIM: Pro-Palestinian rallies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the University of Pennsylvania called for “Jewish genocide.”

THE FACTS: The chant uttered in videos of recent demonstrations is being misrepresented. Protestors aren’t saying “We want Jewish genocide,” but “Israel, we charge you with genocide.” Experts and advocates say it’s a typical refrain heard at pro-Palestinian rallies.

One video being miscaptioned shows a group of people chanting protest slogans as they marched through the UCLA campus.

“In UCLA hundreds of students chanting: ‘Israel Israel you can’t hide, we want Jewish genocide’,” wrote one Instagram user in a post sharing the video. “This is not 1930s Germany, this is in Los Angeles October 26th 2023!”

Another video captures similar sounding protest chants at Penn’s campus in Philadelphia on Oct. 16.

“Students @uofpenn gathered chanting ‘We want Jewish genocide’ ‘there is only 1 solution’ in reference to the Nazis ‘final solution’,” wrote an Instagram user who shared the clip in a post. “There has possibly never ever been a more dangerous time to be a Jewish student as Antisemitism continues to grow as a disease.”

But the anti-Israel chants are being misquoted, Jewish and pro-Palestinian groups say.

The protestors are actually chanting, “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide: We charge you with genocide,” the Anti-Defamation League, which frequently speaks out against anti-Semitism and extremism, confirmed in an Oct. 31 email.

It’s a familiar refrain at anti-Israel rallies, but non-Israel-related versions are also heard at other protests, the New York-based Jewish group noted on a page on its webpage debunking false information about the ongoing conflict.

Penn Students Against the Occupation, which organized the Penn rally, dismissed the claims as “blatant disinformation” in a statement posted on Instagram.

The chants at UCLA were similarly misquoted, the university said on a webpage correcting misinformation related to campus events.

Dan Gold, who heads Hillel UCLA, a major Jewish organization on campus, noted his organization has called out the rally for its harmful rhetoric in its public statements.

But he personally observed the protest and confirmed there was no direct call to exterminate Jews.

— Philip Marcelo.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.