As brush fires raged throughout central and northern Israel on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate from their homes, an Arabic Twitter hashtag largely rejoicing in the flames soared to become the third most popular worldwide.
The Arabic hashtag “Israel is burning,” which was utilized primarily to express joy over the wildfires that threatened property and life across the Jewish state, was used in over 128,000 tweets as of Thursday afternoon.
Other similar hashtags used across the Arab world expressed similar sentiments. For example, the most popular hashtag in Cairo was “the Zionist entity is burning.”
Mohamed Jafar from El Monofia, Egypt, tweeted a looping video that showed a man covered in flames meant to represent Israel. Jafar’s tweet was retweeted more than 1,000 times.
The Arabic hashtag “Israel is burning” seemed to have been propelled through the twitterverse by imams from Arab Gulf countries with tens of millions of followers.
One of those was Dr. Mohamad Al Arefe, a Saudi imam with 16.1 million followers, who tweeted the hashtag at 10:50 p.m. Wednesday.
“The fire is still burning in the Zionist entity!” Arefe wrote, adding he hoped God would “liberate the Al Aqsa [Mosque] from [Israel’s] filth.”
Some who celebrated the fires in Israel over social media wrote they believed the flames were punishment for Israel’s recent attempts to muffle the Muslim call to prayer, amplified by loudspeaker from mosques. One of those was the Kuwaiti preacher Mishary Rashid Alafasy, who has 11.6 million followers on Twitter.
— مشاري راشد العفاسي (@Alafasy) November 24, 2016
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Arabic-language spokesperson, Ofir Gendelman, slammed the celebrations on Arabic social media as “despicable fanatic hatred.”
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) November 24, 2016
Jamal Dajani, a former spokesperson in the Palestinian Authority’s Prime Minister’s Office, urged people to refrain from celebrating the destructive flames.
Haifa is burning-read that some people are rejoicing. Don't rejoice over the burning of Haifa, our history, our trees, our birds, our air… pic.twitter.com/5coFmZGupn
— Jamal Dajani جمال (@JamalDajani) November 24, 2016
One Lebanese talk show host, liliane Daoud, tweeted: “If you believe that the flames in Israel are ‘divine punishment,’ then you deserve what’s coming to you.”
George Deek, an Arab-Israeli diplomat who hails from Jaffa, accused those celebrating the flames of hypocrisy.
— George Deek (@GeorgeDeek) November 24, 2016
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is seeking to prosecute anyone caught celebrating the blazes on social media, Israel Radio reported.