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Omer and Omar: How Two Four-Year-Old Children Were Killed, and Social Media Denied It

In the early days of the conflict between Israel and the Gaza Strip, two young boys, both four years old, were killed. One was an Israeli, and the other was Palestinian. However, many posts I saw on social media did not mourn their deaths but instead attempted to deny the killings.

Omar Bilal al-Banna and Omer Siman-Tov lived approximately 14.3 miles apart, on either side of the fence that separates Israel and the Gaza Strip. They had never met, but both loved playing on the streets with their siblings.

The faces of these young boys appeared on my social media feed last week. They were both killed during the violence.

I tracked down their families, friends, and witnesses, and in both cases, they shared a tragic story.

Omer Siman-Tov was killed when Hamas attacked his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz on October 7.

Omar Bilal al-Banna was killed four days later in an Israeli airstrike on Zeitoun, east of Gaza City.

How social media users denied the deaths of these boys exemplifies the information battle running parallel to the on-the-ground war.

Blatant attempts were made to downplay or deny the violence inflicted on children.

These false allegations shocked the families and friends grieving their loss, as well as those who witnessed what had happened.

Gaza and Israel map showing the locations of Omer and Omar's deaths. "This is not a real child; it's a doll." "My life's candle," is how Yasmin, the mother of Omar Bilal al-Banna, describes her children on Instagram.

Two photographers connected me with her, and I cross-referenced her social media profiles with the available information to confirm her identity as Omar's mother.

Omar was playing on the street with his older brother Majd when he was killed. I saw footage where Majd confirmed this.

In the video, he describes how the strike hit their neighbor's house, and debris then fell on Omar. Majd was also injured. In the footage, his leg is bandaged, and he looks shocked.

The first online post about Omar's death that I came across was from a pro-Israeli account on X (formerly known as Twitter). It included a video showing a man in a gray polo shirt holding the body of a small child wrapped in a white blanket or cloth. Later, I learned that this child was Omar.

The accompanying caption by the person who shared the video stated, "Hamas is desperate!" Falsely, they added that the group, classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the UK, and other states, "released a video showing a dead Palestinian child. But wait, there's a catch. This is not a real child; it's a doll."

This user claimed that it "shows how hard Hamas's lying and defamatory propaganda machine works." They speculated that Hamas accounts shared this video and later deleted it because it wasn't real.

According to X, this post, containing the video and false claims, was viewed 3.8 million times. The accusations they made were then amplified by an official statement from the State of Israel on X.

They shared a new post, this time with the same video of the child in white cloth and a frame from the same video circled around the child's face.

The caption of the post read, "Hamas accidentally posted a video with a doll (yes, a doll), pretending it was part of the casualties caused by the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] attack."

In the following hours, other official X accounts, including Israel's embassies in France and Austria, echoed these claims. Soon, these allegations were spread by pro-Israeli and anti-Hamas accounts based in Israel and, apparently, India.

Each time, the posts claimed the child was a doll. I examined extended footage, and it is clear from the video that this was a real child.

I traced the original footage back to the Instagram page of Palestinian photographer Moamen El-Halabi. He shot the original video of the man in the gray shirt holding Omar, and I reached out to him.

The wrapped body of Omar being carried away IMAGE SOURCE, MOAMEN EL HALABI Caption of the image, A photo by Moamen El-Halabi of Omar's body being carried away. I also contacted another photojournalist, Mohammed Abed, who works for the AFP news agency and was there at the same time. He photographed the same man holding the same child wrapped in a white sheet. Later, this photo was uploaded to the Getty Images website.

The caption of the photo described the scene as "outside the morgue of Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City." It was dated October 12, 2023, the same day Moamen El-Halabi shared the video on Instagram.

Other fact-checking organizations, like Alt News, also established the source of the original photos and videos.

Both photojournalists provided me with additional information confirming that the video and photo were taken at Al-Shifa hospital, near the morgue. Details included information about the situation at the hospital that day and about the man in the gray shirt, who was Omar's relative.

Both of them categorically told me that the child in the photo was not a doll but a real young boy - Omar Bilal al-Banna. They also shared additional images that I matched with Moamen El-Halabi's original video to confirm the child's identity.

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