Iconic Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Photo was Faked

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A 1993 photo showing what appears to be an Israeli boy and a Palestinian boy overlooking Jerusalem with their arms around each other is one of the best-known photographs from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tweeted by Rihanna this summer – and retweeted over 46,000 times – the photograph seemed to exemplify hopes for coexistence and peace in the region.

But Rihanna was likely unaware that the photo was staged. American photojournalist Ricki Rosen who took the photo for a story on the Oslo Peace process, told The Forward “it was a symbolic illustration” and was never intended to be a documentary photo.

Despite being reproduced by countless websites, blogs and advocacy groups, it wasn’t until Rihanna’s tweet that Rosen realized how many people were using the image which actually shows two Jewish friends, Zvi Shapiro (then 11, wearing a Jewish skullcap) and Zemer Aloni (then 12, donning a Palestinian keffiyeh).

“It’s not really me in the picture,” Shapiro, now 32, told The Forward, saying he wouldn’t ordinarily wear a skullcap because he isn’t religious. He added that the picture’s lack of authenticity is “probably less acceptable today than it was then” and he feels the racial aspect of the photo — Aloni appearing as a Palestinian — is now “really, really strange.”

Shapiro, who now lives in the U.S., expressed disappointment in the apparent regression in Israeli-Palestinian relations since the image was taken.”There was a brief period where it didn’t seem as far-fetched as it does now,” he told The Forward. “I felt it almost symbolizes something that we have lost and that I hope we can regain.”

Aloni echoed these sentiments, calling it a “wishful thinking picture.” He said: “Then it was almost a reality, and now it is like a vision.”

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Write to Naina Bajekal at naina.bajekal@time.com