This is the big question today, and it bears strongly on whether Israel violated the laws of war by bombing a hospital. As initially reported by the NYT, which keeps changing its headlines, on Tuesday an explosion occurred at the Ahli Arab Hospital in the southern part of Gaza City, killing (according to initial reports), 500 people. Now today’s headline reports hundreds killed, but, as the Free Press notes, the NYT narrative has changed with respect to both who caused the explosion and how many Gazans were killed. Here are three headlines for the same story, given in chronological order:
From yesterday’s Free Press piece:
Israeli authorities soon after denied responsibility. An IDF spokesperson said that no Israeli aircraft had been operating in the area of the hospital at the time of the explosion. Israel has released footage they say shows that the hospital was struck by a wayward missile fired from within Gaza. The spokesperson further said the Israeli military will release recordings of intercepted conversations and drone footage that they claim demonstrates the hospital was hit by a rocket fired by Gaza-based terrorist group Islamic Jihad.
Realizing their mistake, editors at the Times changed the headline on their homepage to: “At Least 500 Dead in Strike on Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.”
And then changed it again to: “At Least 500 Dead in Blast at Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.”
So in the space of several hours, it went from an Israeli strike to an ambiguous blast.
Today’s headlinc further changes “at least 500” to “hundreds”.
That may reflect the paper (which is pro-Palestinian) having increasing doubts about Hamas’s figures. But this is quibbling a bit: there’s no doubt that there were many deaths at Ahli Arab Hospital.
UPDATE: Now I hear (see this article from the Times of Israel) adducing evidence that the hospital may not have been damaged much at all, and that the parking lot took most of the damage! A tweet:
If this is true, then Hamas is guilty of gross fabrication.
IDF releases drone footage of the Gaza hospital from this morning, showing damage to parking lot where it says a misfiring Islamic Jihad rocket fell causing last night's mass casualties, but that lack of damage to hospital itself & no crater indicate it wasn't an IDF strike pic.twitter.com/V3wgGGgZ7o
— Jeremy Sharon (@jeremysharon) October 18, 2023
The issue is who caused the explosion? Was it an Israeli bomb or a rocket fired by a terrorist group?
(You can follow the live coverage of this, including a press conference buy the IDF) at The Guardian.)
I was deeply depressed when the first reports came out definitively blaming Israel. Everybody seemed to believe them, and many pro-Palestinians posted tweets supporting Israel’s responsibility. Here are two of the usual Congressional suspects:
Israel just bombed the Baptist Hospital killing 500 Palestinians (doctors, children, patients) just like that. @POTUS this is what happens when you refuse to facilitate a ceasefire & help de-escalate.
Your war and destruction only approach has opened my eyes and many… https://t.co/mZYoifT7bj
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) October 17, 2023
Bombing a hospital is among the gravest of war crimes. The IDF reportedly blowing up one of the few places the injured and wounded can seek medical treatment and shelter during a war is horrific.@POTUS needs to push for an immediate ceasefire to end this slaughter. https://t.co/dPJ48dyDe8
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) October 17, 2023
Other media outlets simply repeated the story given by Hamas, even if some sources—but not all: see two below)—did qualify it as “information from Hamas”. Others, like the NYT’s first headling immediately held Israel responsible. They were just printing what Hamas told them had happened.
Media outlets around the globe were quick to run Hamas’ headlines—without fact checking.
We now know that an Islamic Jihad rocket aimed at Israel misfired and hit the hospital in Gaza. pic.twitter.com/DzJgsbxS4i
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 17, 2023
But there were many more such tweets. But if Israel did this on purpose, it was guilty of a war crime. I didn’t think Israel would bomb a hospital on purpose, even if Hamas operatives were operating in the basement. And if it was an accidental bombing, it shows a lack of due diligence on Israel’s part. Either way, Israel’s lack of either morality or diligence would displace the country on its moral high ground (less high, in my view, because of the siege, which has, thank Ceiling Cat, been largely lifted). And I would have to condemn Israel for killing so many people. I’d do that, but somehow, given its history of warfare, I didn’t fully buy the “Israel bombed a hospital” story. I wrote about it yesterday (it’s in this morning’s Nooz), but said I’d like to see some evidence about who was responsible. Others, like Tlaib and Omar, or even the New York Times, don’t need evidence; they buy Hamas’s story whole hog because it supports their narrative.
Two days ago I remember hearing IDF spokesman said that the IDF was investigating and, if they found they were responsible for the hospital explosion, they’d say so. (I can’t find a link to that.). But several pieces of information now suggest that the hospital was taken down not by the IDF, but by a rocket fired by terrorists. I cannot say for sure that the hospital explosion was caused by terrorist rockets misfiring. But I will say that we have at least two (or three) pieces of evidence for that (video and audio), and if you start with a Bayesian probability of 50% (both sides equally likely), that probability has moved higher in the direction of terrorist responsibility. Granted, all the evidence comes from Israel, but we have no evidence for Israel culpability coming from Hamas.
Further, if Palestinian rockets nearly always functioned perfectly, we’d have more confidence that such a rocket could not have hit the hospital. But as reader Simon informed me, and we all know, there is a long history of misfired rockets coming from Gaza, some (from Islamic Jihad) killing children. And many rockets are fired at Israel from Gaza, increasing the chances that at least some will misfire.
But put that as a bit of evidence weighting the Bayesian probability towards terrorists. Below is additional video evidence, which of course people are already discounting because it comes from the IDF.
UPDATE: In a comment below, Coel says this: “Worth pointing out, Jerry, what while the Tweet that you embed is from the IDF, they are quoting a Tweet from Al Jazeera, and the video itself is by Al Jazeera.”
Check your own footage before you accuse Israel.
18:59 – A rocket aimed at Israel misfired and exploded.
18:59 – A hospital was hit in Gaza.
— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 18, 2023
But this video came not from the IDF but from cameras owned by Channel 12 news (an Israeli station):
— החדשות – N12 (@N12News) October 18, 2023
According to the Times of Israel, the IDF has released intercepted audio supporting the terrorist-rocket scenario:
The IDF has released a recording of what it says was an intercepted phone call between two Hamas operatives who discuss the failed Islamic Jihad rocket that landed on the Gaza hospital.
That recording, released by the IDF, is below.
You can see same recording issued by the Israel Foreign Ministry here. The recording with English subtitles.
IDF releases a recording of an intercepted phone call between two Hamas operatives who discuss the failed Islamic Jihad rocket that landed on the Gaza hospital. pic.twitter.com/ozoXclXLxD
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) October 18, 2023
Now I’ll give this a bit less weight than the video evidence, but it has some weight, especially because if it proves to be fake, Israel will look pretty bad: making up evidence to exculpate itself. Further, on Twitter (yes, Twitter), many commenters, many with Arabic handles, are finding reasons why this audio was fake: it would be easy to fake, Hamas operatives do not use phones that could be tapped, the accents of the Arabic speakers are not right for Gaza, and so on. But nobody here, including me, is an expert, so Twitter doesn’t substitute for empirical evidence.
Finally, we have this from Reuters (I haven’t seen the Israeli drone footage):
Israel later released drone footage of the scene of the explosion, which it said showed it was not responsible because there was no impact crater from any missile or bomb.
And this from the Guardian’s livestream:
The IDF produced evidence on Wednesday morning, which it said showed there was no crater at the hospital that would have pointed to an air strike. Instead the blast had been caused by the warhead and propellant of a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket.
All told, even given that all the evidence supporting a misfired terrorist rocket comes from Israeli sources, it is now more credible than not that the hospital was hit by a misfired rocket launched by either Hamas or Islamic Jihad. The Bayesian prior is weighted towards a terrorist scenario.
I don’t regard this as “absolute proof,” of course. But if Hamas has evidence suggesting that this is an Israeli-caused explosion, let them release it. So far, we have nothing. If Israel is responsible there should, for example, be fragments of Israeli bombs.
President Biden appears to endorse Israel’s denial of responsibility for the explosion at the Gaza hospital. “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” he said. “But there’s a lot of people out there not sure.” Israel has blamed Palestinian militants. Palestinian officials said Israel was responsible. Neither claim has been independently verified.
But they add:
It was not clear from the president’s comments whether U.S. intelligence agencies have independently validated Israel’s insistence that an errant Islamic Jihad rocket destroyed the Gaza hospital. On the flight to Israel, officials told reporters on Air Force One that they were still gathering information and did not offer any theory one way or the other.
Within a few days we will surely have more evidence to put into our Bayesian calculation.
Because of the widespread belief that Israel bombed a hospital, the summit in Jordan that was to take place this week has been cancelled after Mahmoud Abbas refused to go. That takes a lot of wind out of Biden’s trip to Israel (he’s there now), for the summit might have produced some salubrious results, like more humanitarian aid to Gaza. Also, some Palestinians in the West Bank, also convinced that Israel bombed the hospital, are rioting to the extent that they have to be held back by Palestinian police. They are in no mood to support Abbas since many want the Palestinian Authority, headed by President-for-Life Abbas, to either find new leadership or be taken over by terrorist organizations.
This whole mess shows the power of confirmation bias, and I have to say that I was from the outset on the side of Israel. But I was prepared to condemn it, for I don’t want to support a country that, during war, does things like bomb hospitals. (Israel’s other actions, like settling the West Bank, are another matter.)
Yet in the end I will never say that in this war Hamas was in the right and Israel in the wrong for one reason: Hamas deliberately targets civilians, and virtually all the evidence we have is that Israel deliberately avoids targeting civilians. Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians, so brutally instantiated on October 7, is buttressed by the fact that Hamas is still firing missiles willy-nilly into Israel, trying to hit civilians. Doesn’t that count in this moral calculus?