Fact Check: Video Does NOT Prove A Gaza Family Was 'Mourning Over A Doll'

Fact Check

  • by: Uliana Malashenko
Fact Check: Video Does NOT Prove A Gaza Family Was 'Mourning Over A Doll' Unsupported

Does a post on social media confirm that a Palestinian family grieved over a doll wrapped in white for burial, staging their loss? No, that's not true: The available body of evidence strongly suggests that the footage showed the body of an infant. The scene was shot from multiple angles by at least two different people, and both said it was a 5-month-old male baby, and the visuals are consistent with post-mortem changes in humans. Furthermore, the Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post -- which at first had repeated social media claims it was a doll -- later retracted its claim.

The story appeared in a post (archived here) published on Instagram on December 1, 2023. The caption said:

Reevaluate the substantial funding allocated to the Palestinian industrial complex, a multi-billion-dollar system marred by corruption. This intricate web of profiteering through propaganda deliberately perpetuates the oppression of its own people, seeking to garner sympathy on the global stage. Follow the money, research their leadership and you can unravel the intricate dynamics at play 💵

#exposehamas #hamasisisis #gaza #pallywood

The banner added on top of the shared video continued:




This is what it looked like at the time of writing:

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 12.33.52 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 19:33:52 2023 UTC)

As of this writing, a series of still images (archived here) depicting the same scene was also available on Getty Images. It was published under the caption (archived here):

Israeli attacks resume at Gaza after humanitarian pause

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA - DECEMBER 1: Dead body of a 5-month-old Palestinian baby named Muhammad Hani Al-Zahar, is brought to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital by his mother Asmahan Attia Al-Zahar and grandfather Attia Abu Amra after the Israeli airstrikes at the end of the humanitarian pause in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza on December 1, 2023. 32 Palestinians were killed within 3 hours of the end of the humanitarian pause in Gaza. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

On December 2, 2023, NBC's News Deputy Tech Editor Ben Goggin posted (archived here) a screenshot showing what the photographer, Ali Jadallah, said on X in response to the claim:

No, he is not a doll. He is a human that was killed by Israeli airstrikes.

The town of Deir Al-Balah is located in the middle of the Gaza Strip, roughly 7 miles north from Khan Yunis:

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 4.10.09 PM.png

(Source: Google Maps screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 21:10:09 2023 UTC)

Corroborating the Getty captions on the image, the video on Instagram showed a mosque with a blue dome in the background. A similar structure is found in the surroundings of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir Al-Balah, as seen on Google Maps:

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 4.23.28 PM.png

(Sources: Lead Stories montage consists of Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 19:35:52 2023 UTC; Google maps screenshot taken on Dec 4 21:19:49 2023 UTC)

As reported by the AP (archived here) citing the Hamas-controlled Gaza's Ministry of Health, 178 people died across the Gaza Strip on December 1, 2023, when the cease-fire ended. At that point, as reported by the BBC (archived here), the focus of the Israeli offense largely shifted from northern Gaza to its southern areas, including the areas adjacent to Khan Yunis (archived here.)

Lead Stories was not able to independently verify the date and the exact circumstances that led to the death of the baby Muhammad Hani Al-Zahar, but a close examination of available visuals shows details that are consistent with post-mortem changes in humans.

One is the presence of dark spots outside pupils in the baby's eyes, a phenomenon scientifically known as tache noir (archived here):

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 2.22.21 PM.png

(Sources: Getty Images screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 19:19:18 2023 UTC; Academia.edu screenshot 19:01:25 2023 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)

The fact that we see the baby's eyes does not support the claim, either: Not everyone dies with their eyes closed (archived here.)

Furthermore, as the left photo in the composite image above demonstrates, the texture of the baby's skin is consistent with a typical appearance of human skin: It is not entirely even, and we see tiny wrinkles below the left corner of the mouth, which are likely to be post-mortem changes, too.

The overall paleness of the deceased is a well-known phenomenon (archived here) that occurs because blood stops circulating after death.

Last but not least, we can observe in the photos on Getty Images that the baby's mouth is not in a fixed position: In some photos, it's open wider than in others. These are the signs that are consistent with what is observed before rigor mortis during the first few hours after a person's death (archived here), due to muscle relaxation or with later stages of post-mortem changes that follow rigor mortis in roughly 36 hours (archived here) from the moment of death.

Omar_aldirawi, the Instagram account named as a source of the video reused in the post that is the focus of this fact check, did not claim that the scene was staged. He published the same footage on December 1, 2023, under the caption discussing, as automatically translated to English, "a child no more than 5 months old." Two other clips (here and here) published by the same account on the same day captured the scene from different angles, and their captions talked about children in Gaza, not dolls:

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 3.42.09 PM.png

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 20:22:48 2023 UTC: Instagram screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 20:27:43 2023 UTC; Instagram screenshot taken on Mon De 4 20:28:15 2023 UTC; composite image by Lead Stories)

The Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post initially wrote that the visuals showed a doll, but the piece heavily relied on comments from social media. The paper later retracted the article, deleting it from its social media accounts. The Jerusalem Post editorial statement (archived here) said:

Screen Shot 2023-12-04 at 5.14.21 PM.png

(Source: X screenshot taken on Mon Dec 4 22:14:21 2023 UTC)

Claims that the scenes showing the injured or dead were staged are not uncommon in the war propaganda of recent years. Lead Stories previously debunked similar speculations, for example, here and here.

Other Lead Stories fact checks about the 2023 Hamas-Israel conflict can be found here.

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  Uliana Malashenko

Uliana Malashenko is a New York-based freelance writer and fact checker.

Read more about or contact Uliana Malashenko

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