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‘My son is not a doll’: The story of Gaza’s baby Muhammad as his family grieves amid misinformation

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(NEW YORK) — An image of a mother holding her dead infant in her arms outside a hospital in Gaza went viral last year but it was denied in online posts viewed millions of times online.

The baby’s name was Muhammad Hani Al-Zahar. He was just shy of 5 months old when a bomb hit a neighboring home, killing him on Dec. 1, 2023, in Al-Mughraqa. Muhammad was just three months old when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and the Israeli military declared war on the neighboring Gaza Strip.

ABC News’ Samy Zyara found the baby’s family sheltering in a tent in southern Gaza, and they shared part of his story that hasn’t yet been told.

“When the bombing happened, my son screamed loudly,” his mother Asmahan Attia Al-Zahar said in an interview with ABC News. “After the sound, I don’t know what happened. I got up and took my son, my mother, and my sister. She said ‘Let’s run away."”

Al-Zahar, 29, told ABC News they had lost everything when their own home was bombarded in November 2023, and had been displaced multiple times since then.

Al-Zahar said that she had woken up hopeful last December that a week-long humanitarian pause between Israel and Hamas would be extended by a few days.

The truce was not prolonged and instead, a bombardment hit a neighboring home while Al-Zahar was visiting her family and collecting clothes for her six children.

“I got up and took my son in my arms, and we were running from under the dust and the bombing, and I didn’t know that my son was dead,” Al-Zahar said.

She told ABC News that they tried to revive him, but said he was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. He was then brought to Al-Alqsa Martyrs Hospital in Dei al-Balah for burial.

Images of baby Muhammad, wrapped in a white shroud with mouth and eyes open and being held by his mother and his grandfather outside the hospital, went viral.

Those photographs were taken by local photojournalist Ali Jadallah who published them on his Instagram account. He wasn’t alone in documenting the scene. Several other local photojournalists documented the scene and published videos of the final goodbye. The images were also published by Getty.

Yet, several users online denied the existence of baby Muhammad in claims and posts that were viewed millions of times.

“I was breastfeeding him. How is he a doll? How do they say he’s a doll? He is not a doll. He is my son,” said Al-Zahar about her infant son.

Misinformation, disinformation and propaganda have been widespread throughout this conflict with both sides using social media to drum up support, according to experts.

“I think the intensity of online discourse around Israel and Palestine is really kind of much worse than I’ve seen in any of the conflicts,” said Elliot Higgins, founder of an independent investigative group called Bellingcat.

“People are not looking to establish the truth in many cases, but basically just look for things to bash each other over the head online. It’s really just about people arguing their positions, their opinions, and not really establishing the exact truth around what’s happening,” Higgins added.

Meanwhile, baby Muhammad is one of the more than 12,300 Palestinian children killed in Gaza in just over four months, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 29,195 people have been killed and 69,170 others have been wounded by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to Gaza’s Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

As for Al-Zahar and her remaining children, most of them are now displaced and living in tents.

“Our homes are gone. Our children are gone. Enough. Have mercy on us. I swear, we are tired. Our psychology has been destroyed. Our children’s psychology has been destroyed. We can no longer provide anything for them,” Al-Zahar said.

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