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Israel’s spin about hospital massacre quickly comes apart

Ali Abunimah Media Watch 17 October 2023

Israeli officials and supporters have been putting out false and contradictory statements in an effort to deny responsibility for an airstrike that killed hundreds of Palestinians at the al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City on Tuesday.

But the attempts at spin have quickly come apart.

An official Israeli government account on Twitter, now called X, posted and then quickly deleted a video it said supported the Israeli army’s claim that the hospital had actually been hit by a misfired Palestinian rocket.

In its current, edited version, the Israeli government tweet still tries to blame a misfired missile launched by Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian resistance group in the Gaza Strip. But the video has been removed.

The same account later posted another video, footage from Al Jazeera, claiming it shows “the moment that the Islamic Jihad launched a rocket which misfired and hit a hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds.” 

But observers quickly challenged that narrative as well, pointing out that a rocket seen being launched is far away from a massive explosion that occurs on the ground – a blast far bigger than is typical of Palestinian weapons.

Other not necessarily official pro-Israel accounts also shared old videos and information in an effort to absolve Israel.


Massive blast

confirmed video of the attack on the hospital also shows a massive explosion, far bigger than anything likely to have been caused by an errant Palestinian rocket.

“The video, filmed outside the hospital and verified by The Washington Post, captures the first sounds of an explosion – a whirring through the air and then a blast. The camera pans to show fire and orange plumes of smoke,” that newspaper reports.

Graphic footage from the scene of the massacre shows the lifeless bodies of small children and dozens upon dozens of covered corpses.

Wael Dahdouh, an Al Jazeera correspondent in the Gaza Strip reporting from al-Ahli, described finding mostly scattered limbs. “It’s rare to find a full body with all its parts,” he said. “The deeper we went in the hospital, we saw more shocking scenes.” 

Hospital already attacked twice

Tuesday’s massacre was not the first attack on al-Ahli hospital.

The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, which fundraises for the hospital, said that the hospital’s diagnostic cancer treatment center was struck by Israeli rocket fire on 14 October, injuring four of its staff.

Yousef Abu al-Rish, a senior health official in Gaza, told Al Jazeera that one day after al-Ahli hospital was attacked on Saturday, the Israeli military called the hospital’s director and told him “we warned you yesterday with two shells” and ordered the evacuation of the facility.

Before the strike at al-Ahli hospital, the World Health Organization had documented nearly 60 attacks on health care, resulting in the deaths of 16 health care workers and damage to 26 health facilities. Four health facilities in northern Gaza were evacuated and “are no longer operational,” according to the UN. 

Trying to muddy the waters

At moments like this, Israel has a habit of pumping out propaganda to muddy the waters in order to shift blame and create a media narrative of uncertainty and controversy, just as it did after its soldiers murdered Al Jazeera correspondent Shireen Abu Akleh last year.

That strategy has already been partially successful. The New York Times website, for instance, ran this headline in its early coverage: “Israelis and Palestinians Blame Each Other for Blast at Gaza Hospital That Killed Hundreds.”


Claiming credit

But while one part of the Israeli government was trying to deny responsibility for the hospital attack, at least one Israeli representative was gloating about it.

Hananya Naftali, an official responsible for Israel’s online “digital war,” stated in a now deleted tweet that the Israeli air force “struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza.”

“A multiple number of terrorists are dead,” he said, adding that “it’s heartbreaking that Hamas is launching rockets from hospitals … and using civilians as human shields.” 

After removing the tweet, Naftali got back on message and started spewing the same Israeli government claims accusing Palestinians of bombing their own hospital.

Another account – posing falsely as an Al Jazeera journalist – claimed that Hamas carried out the attack.

Other pro-Israel accounts shared videos claiming to confirm that a misfired rocket caused the carnage at the hospital, but these too have been challenged by Evan Hill, a visual forensics journalist with The Washington Post.


Journalists don’t buy it

Israel’s early attempts at spin and deflection were failing to convince other journalists as well.

A BBC correspondent in Jerusalem is among many who observed that the scale of the damage was far larger than anything that has ever been caused by Palestinian rockets. MSNBC’s correspondent made a similar observation.

Elior Levy, a correspondent for Israel’s public broadcaster, expressed frustration regarding the lack of documentation presented by the Israeli military supporting its claim that the massacre was caused by a misfired rocket. 

“Even a thousand reports will not help without visual documentation,” he said.

Threats, attacks against health facilities

Tuesday’s atrocity, which killed hundreds of people according to early assessments from health authorities in Gaza, is the single worst attack yet in the now 11-day military campaign targeting civilians across the coastal enclave.

It comes after Israel has already repeatedly attacked medical facilities and paramedics across Gaza.

Israel has in recent days ordered several hospitals in northern Gaza to evacuate completely, something they have said is impossible. The World Health Organization has called that Israeli order a “death sentence.”

The WHO confirmed Tuesday that the al-Ahli Arab Hospital “was one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military.” 

“The order for evacuation has been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity and alternative shelter for those displaced,” WHO added.

In Washington, the Pentagon was quick to repeat baseless Israeli claims that Hamas is operating out of hospitals.

But that line appears to be an American justification for the Israeli attack on the hospital, rather than a denial that Israel carried out the bombing.

Despite the predictable support from the Biden administration, the early indications are that Israel’s hamfisted attempts to absolve itself of this atrocity are convincing few who are not already its staunchest apologists. 

Israel’s spin about hospital massacre quickly comes apart | The Electronic Intifada