Here's why you're seeing the 'All eyes on Rafah' image shared across social media

A Palestinian flag beside a sign that reads: All eyes on Rafah.
A Palestinian flag beside a sign saying "All eyes on Rafah!" in Warsaw, Poland. (Neil Milton/SOPA Images/LightRocket) (SOPA Images via Getty Images)

Following the recent Israeli attacks on Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, millions of social media users have shared an image with the message “All eyes on Rafah” across various platforms.

The image, primarily shared on Instagram Stories, highlights how crucial social media is to how people consume and understand news stories — despite the platform’s attempts to limit the amount of political content its users are exposed to.

🗣️ Where did the phrase come from?

In February, Richard “Rik” Peeperkorn, director of the World Health Organization’s Office of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, said, “All eyes are on Rafah” after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered Rafah’s 1.4 million residents to evacuate ahead of planned attacks.

🌎 What to know about Rafah

As Israel started launching attacks, starting from the northernmost part of the Gaza Strip, citizens began moving south to Rafah, which is by the Egyptian border. By February, more than half of Gaza’s population had been displaced to Rafah.

On May 24, the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to stop any attacks on Rafah. Two days later, an Israeli airstrike killed at least 45 people in western Rafah, which had previously been declared a safe zone. Then, on Tuesday, another attack killed an additional 21 people in Rafah.

Netanyahu called the Rafah airstrikes a “tragic mistake.”

Read more about the conditions in Rafah from the Associated Press.

📱 Why is the phrase picking up steam on social media right now?

Peeperkorn’s phrase started going viral on social media following the recent attacks. The viral image accompanying the phrase appears to be generated by artificial intelligence, and shows an encampment with tents that spell out “All eyes on Rafah.”

Support groups like Save the Children, Americans for Justice in Palestine and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have helped circulate the image and message on social media. NBC reported that the image has been shared over 37 million times on Instagram in less than 24 hours — predominantly on people’s Instagram Stories, which expire after 24 hours.

👀 Social media users are noting which celebrities have shared it

Celebrities like Gigi and Bella Hadid, Bridgerton actress Nicola Coughlan, Mark Ruffalo, Jenna Ortega, Rosie O’Donnell, Dua Lipa, Priyanka Chopra and Aaron Paul have all shared the image.

Their participation comes in the aftermath of the #Blockout movement, a campaign encouraging social media users to block celebrities and creators who have not spoken out against the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

🇺🇸 Are political figures getting involved?

President Biden told CNN in early May that the U.S. will withhold military assistance if Israel launches an attack on Rafah.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah,” Biden said.

However, on Tuesday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at a briefing that while the U.S. is not going to turn a “blind eye” to Israel’s attack on Rafah, the Biden administration did not believe the recent attacks violated Biden’s warning.

Nikki Haley is one of the political figures who criticized the Biden administration for temporarily withholding weapons from Israel in an attempt to prevent any attacks on Rafah. The former South Carolina governor visited Israel over Memorial Day and was photographed writing “Finish Them!” on an artillery shell.

There is another image circulating in response to “All eyes on Rafah” that says, “If your eyes are on Rafah, help us find our hostages.” An estimated 121 hostages remain missing after being kidnapped by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023.