KISSUFIM — In yoga pants and a flak jacket, influencer Maya Keyy tours an Israeli kibbutz devastated by Hamas, filming grisly scenes of alleged war crimes for followers used to her posts on fashion and food.
“You have a war on social media: it’s a different war,” she told AFP in Kibbutz Kissufim, where the Israeli army says 15 people were killed when Hamas gunmen spilled over the Gaza border on Oct 7.
“If you won’t show the world the graphic things about everything, they won’t believe you,” the 21-year-old said. “I influence in fashion, and now I influence as a Jew.”
Israel says the unprecedented Hamas attack killed 1,400 — mostly civilians — and has responded with withering air strikes and a ground assault in Gaza where the Hamas-controlled health ministry has given a death toll of nearly 8,800, mostly women and children.
‘SHOW THE WORLD THE TRUTH’
In Kissufim — two kilometres east of the Gaza Strip — the drumbeat of outgoing artillery echoed on Wednesday (Nov 1) mixed with the buzzsaw sound of Israeli drones overhead.
Ms Keyy, who has half a million followers on Instagram and 300,000 more on TikTok, was one of a small gaggle of influencers invited by the Israeli government to the commune scarred with smears of dried blood, bullet holes and charred family homes.
Since Oct 7, her Instagram page has been transformed from a parade of fashion outfits and poolside bikini selfies to content calling on her followers to rally around Israel.
“I stopped everything to show the world the truth, because it’s crazy that people are denying everything,” she said. “You need to come and prove to everyone that it happened.”
Kibbutz spokesman Benny Hason said two women in their 90s were killed in the attack of some 100 Hamas fighters on Kissufim.
Six Thai labourers and a small family which had just celebrated their son’s bar mitzvah coming-of-age ceremony were also named among the dead.
By transmitting images of the aftermath of Oct 7 through influencers, Israel is borrowing a strategy more commonly used by brand marketers in a bid to return global attention that has shifted to the impact on Gaza of Israel’s incessant shelling back to the trigger for its war with Hamas.
“We are being accused of committing abominations,” said 66-year-old Hason.
But it was Hamas who came “insanely prepared”, he said. “I want to show the world.”
‘HERE TO TELL THEIR STORIES’
“The day everything happened I immediately knew I don’t want to do any other content besides talking about what happened here,” said 26-year-old food and showbiz influencer Alina Rabinovich, who claims half-a-million followers across her accounts.
“When they approached us I immediately said yes.”
She admits the work, so close to Gaza and Hamas’s arsenal of rockets, is dangerous and flinches at a burst of outgoing artillery fire.
Nevertheless, “I’m here to tell their stories,” she said. “In any other place in the world it would be strange but in Israel we’re used to it.”
“We need to show the world the truth, and we are just starting now.”
Scenes of the Hamas onslaught were captured in vivid detail by its fighters spread on social media, fuelling international outrage and disbelief at the lack of preparedness from the Israeli military.
But Israel has a reputation as a tech powerhouse, with the sector underpinning a large part of the economy.
For Ms Keyy, a social media strategy is just another front in a war she fears will “never end”.
“As Jews we need to fight for our own existence,” she said. AFP