Eyes on Rafah: Israel kills 100 as it airs #BringThemHome Super Bowl ad
IDF claim 2 hostages were recovered from Rafah, where 1.4 million civilians have taken refuge, as Israeli air strikes rain down
The Gaza Health Ministry has claimed that more than 100 Palestinians were killed and 160 others injured in the Israeli army's heavy air strikes on southern Gaza's Rafah and surrounding areas on Monday, 12 February.
Refugee camps and shelters in the area hold an estimated 1.4 million civilians, who now find themselves cornered near the border with Egypt as they tried to escape Israel's bombardment of northern and central Gaza. Now, there is nowhere left for them to go.
The Israeli military carried out some 40 air strikes on the Rafah in the early hours of Monday, with intensive ground shelling, Palestinian eyewitnesses reportedly told the Xinhua news agency. Homes and mosques were targeted, they reported.
"A large number of injured victims suffering from amputations and severe burns fled to our hospital," said Suhaib Al-Hams, director of the Al-Kuwaiti Hospital in Rafah city. The Kuwaiti, one of three hospitals in Rafah, is suffering from a severe shortage of medicines; it cannot deal with "this large number of victims", the director said.
Palestinian security sources in Rafah, meanwhile, told the news agency that Israeli special forces had freed two hostages from Hamas captivity in a secret operation in the city centre. No identification details were shared.
Meanwhile, as Gaza's death toll mounts to 28,340 and injured numbers to 67,984,* Israel's National Public Diplomacy Directorate has commenced an 'awareness' campaign—a paid series of video ads, in effect—to be splashed across Paramount smart TVs, billboards, sports and current affairs websites, per a Times of Israel report from Sunday, 11 February.
The apparent focus of the ad campaign is “raising awareness of the 136 [possibly now 134] hostages that remain in Hamas captivity".
The timing of the campaign—coinciding with America's Superbowl extravaganza raised several metaphoric eyebrows in the media and among netizens.
The effort in “raising awareness" comes as Israel's popularity declines as the death toll in Gaza mounts. World leaders who had advocated Israel's right to defend itself after the 7 October multi-pronged attack by Hamas have now switched to more cautious—or alarmed—statements as the Gaza death toll approaches 30,000; the ICJ raps Israel's knuckles (though too mildly, per some observers); and international watchdogs speak of genocide and retaliation.
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For now, though, Jewish celebrity figures in the US, such as comedian Michael Rapaport have been using Superbowl hashtags alongside #BringThemHomeNow to promote the video series—largely appealing to emotion around American football and celebrating a certain culture of masculinity.
One 15-second spot says “136 seats are still available for Sunday's game. One for each Israeli hostage held captive by Hamas." Another calls to “Bring All Dads Back Home", highlighting the family man identity of some of the hostages: “To all the dads. The funny ones. The silly ones. The strong ones. The adventurous ones. To all the dads held in captivity by Hamas for over 120 days: we vow to bring you home."
Israel's largest English-language newspaper Haaretz reports the PMO claim that they already have 10 million views for the campaign. Not every viewer has bought the pitch, though.
Pro-Palestinian activists have responded with their own version of the father figure to celebrate.
The video, highlighted by media group Al Jazeera, starts with images from Israel's bombardment of Palestine before it cuts to a voiceover interspersed with fathers affected by the war on Gaza. It says: "To all the dads: the patient ones, the brave ones, to all the dads who have been killed by the IDF for 120 days... We vow to bring you justice".
Images alongside show men holding their dead children's shroud-wrapped bodies, helping dig survivors out from under rubble, tearful doctors and paramedics at work.
The 'patient ones' are exemplified in the video by Al Jazeera's own bureau chief Wael Dahdouh himself, who was reporting live on air when news came of his family members being killed in a bombardment. He would go on to lose his eldest son soon to another Israeli attack, also a journalist with Al Jazeera. The world has wondered whether the attacks have been targeted strikes.
The late Hamza Dahdouh, a photographer, had shared a photograph (below) of his father in the field last year on social media, with the caption: 'You are the patient and the one who seeks no reward, my father, so do not despair of recovery and do not despair of God’s mercy, and be certain that God will reward you with good for what you have been: patient.'
The pro-Palestinian video goes on to acknowledge the 237 people taken hostage by Hamas on 7 October and the Israeli government's stated aim of releasing its captives, cutting from a mass grave to a clip of walls plastered with #BringHimHome / #BringHerHome posters of the hostages.
It points out that more than 100 of them were released in the November ceasefire—which casts doubt on the Israeli government's campaign figure of 136. It also notes that since then, tens of thousands more Palestinians have been killed.
While what some netizens are calling a propaganda 'war' unfolds—a term that can only sound flippant now, in light of the situation in Gaza—PR, media and legal experts in the US are reportedly left debating whether Israel's ads fall into the category of 'political ads' (which are subject to statutory restrictions on OTT channels platforms and social media platforms).
It's part of a bigger debate, with only last week, Disney's Hulu receiving backlash for an apparently AI-generated 'Come Visit Beautiful Gaza' ad, a dark parody on Gaza tourism—or at any rate, Gaza as it might have been without Hamas, so it seems to imply. (Google ran the ad on YouTube briefly, and then pulled it for violating policies.)
With IANS inputs. *Figures from the Xinhua news agency, citing the Gaza Health Ministry