A man uses an Apple iPhone in Beijing on September 12, 2023. ( AFP / Pedro PARDO)

Old picture of burning donkey resurfaces with misleading context during Gaza war

The Gaza war has triggered a wave of misinformation in numerous languages, with social media awash with graphic and out-of-context images being linked to the fighting. In one recent example, posts have shared a collage they say shows Palestinians painting a donkey with the Israeli flag before burning the animal alive. However, the collage is made up of two images that had actually been taken in separate years. Both images predate the flare-up in fighting that followed an unprecedented attack by Hamas militants on October 7, to which Israel retaliated with bombardments and a ground offensive that had flattened large swathes of Gaza.
Warning: Story contains graphic images.

"These are the simple peace-loving Muslims of Palestine. They painted the national flag of Israel on a donkey to make it represent Israel and then doused it with petrol and burnt it alive," reads part of the Hindi-language caption of a post shared on Facebook on November 16.

The post features a collage of two images -- a donkey with the flag of Israel painted on it and another engulfed in flames.

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Screenshot of the misleading post, taken on November 23, 2023

Hamas militants broke through Gaza's militarised border into Israel on October 7 and killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapped about 240, according to Israeli authorities.

Israel vowed to eliminate Hamas in response and unleashed an air and ground military campaign in Gaza that the Hamas government says has killed more than 15,000 people, also mostly civilians.

Israel's military said on December 1 it had resumed fighting in Gaza, with airstrikes and artillery fire reported in Gaza City, as a seven-day truce expired with no agreement to extend it.

The same collage was also shared alongside a similar claim on Facebook here and here and on X, formerly Twitter here.

Comments from some users suggest they believed the images were recent.

"Israel has punished the people of Gaza for the actions of these brutes," one user wrote.

Another wrote: "These terrorists of Hamas are not sparing even animals, and some traitors in India also support these terrorists."

However, the pictures in the collage have been taken in separate years.

Misused pictures

The photo that shows a donkey painted with the Israeli flag was taken by AFP photographer Jaafar Ashtiyeh and was published on the AFP Forum website on September 23, 2011.

Its caption reads in part: "Palestinians display a donkey painted as an Israeli flag during a demonstration to support the Palestinian bid at the United Nations for statehood recognition on September 23, 2011 in the West Bank village of Kfar Kadum."

Below is a screenshot of the first photo in the collage published on the AFP Forum website:

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Screenshot of photo published by AFP

AFP reported at the time that crowds of Palestinians had gathered in major West Bank cities to celebrate Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas's historic bid for the UN to admit the territory as a full member state.

Meanwhile, the photo of the burning donkey was taken almost three years later by a photographer for the Italian news agency NurPhoto. AFP distributed the photo on the AFP Forum website on August 6, 2014.

"Palestinians burn the donkey, who was killed earlier by an Israeli air strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 6, 2014, while Israeli and Palestinian delegations prepared for crunch talks in Cairo to try to extend the 72-hour truce," the photo's caption reads.

"The ceasefire, which came into effect on August 5, has brought relief to both sides after one month of fighting killed 1,875 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side."

Attempts to extend the 72-hour ceasefire failed, AFP reported at the time. An open-ended ceasefire took effect on August 26, 2014 which brought fifty days of fighting to a halt with 2,143 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead.

Below is a screenshot of the second photo in the collage as seen on the AFP Forum website:

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Screenshot of the photo published by AFP

Below is a comparison of the misleading collage (left) and the corresponding pictures published by AFP (right):

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Comparison of the collage in one misleading post (left) and the corresponding pictures published by AFP (right)

American photo agency Getty Images similarly published the pictures in two separate reports.

It also published the picture of the donkey painted with the Israeli flag in September 2011 and the other picture of the burning animal in August 2014 (archived links here and here).

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