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21 JUL 2024

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Did Israel strike a hospital in Gaza? Why it matters

A look at the bombing of the al-Ahli Hospital, its role in the Israeli-Hamas war, and why it became a complex point of much contention

explosion in gaza

Photograph by Wafa, distributed under distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license

The Basic Facts:

  • The vicinity of the al-Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip was bombed on October 17, 2023

On October 17, 2023, it was reported that an Israeli airstrike had caused an explosion at the al-Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip.

What followed was a complex back and forth between Hamas accounts, Israel’s counter-claim, world leaders, and various intelligence agencies across the world.

The strike on the al-Ahli Hospital in the Gaza Strip became a focal point of the early stages of the Israel-Hamas war and helped to shape its early narrative.

The Initial Reporting of the Strike at a Gazan Hospital

The initial reporting out of Gaza seemed to indicate that the bombing of the hospital was the result of an Israeli airstrike leaving hundreds dead.

screenshot new york times saying israel responsible for hospital strike in gaza
A New York Times headline seemingly indicates that Israel was responsible for the strike on the Gazan hospital

Major news outlets around the world, including the BBC, ran with headlines that were based on the reports of the Ministry of Health in Gaza within hours of the attack.

This would come under increasing scrutiny in the following days as the headlines were seen to imply that Israel had conclusively hit the hospital.

Accordingly, the New York Times would issue what it termed an “Editor’s Note” to its early headlines (seen in the image above) and initial coverage saying, “However, the early versions of the coverage — and the prominence it received in a headline, news alert and social media channels — relied too heavily on claims by Hamas…. The report left readers with an incorrect impression about what was known and how credible the account was.”

Israel’s Counterclaim That It Did Not Strike the Hospital And Supporting Evidence

Almost immediately following reports of the attack on the al-Ahli Hospital reports came Israel’s denial. PBS News, quoting an Israeli official wrote, “Intelligence from multiple sources we have in our hands indicates that Islamic Jihad [a sister terror organization to Hamas] is responsible for the failed rocket launch.”

Thus, the Israeli counter-claim was that Islamic militants in launching a barrage of rockets towards Israel had bombed their own hospital with a defective rocket.

That same night, as first reported by an Israeli news station, Israel released what it said was video evidence of a failed Islamic Jihad rocket landing in the vicinity of the hospital.

Israel also categorically denied they target hospitals and indicated it had audio evidence to support the already released video.

The following morning, October 18, 2023, the IDF released audio of what it said was two Hamas militants discussing the failed rocket and its impact in the vicinity of the hospital.

President Biden Weighs In on the Gazan Hosptial Strike

Prior to the bombing of the al-Ahli Hospital, US President Joe Biden had already scheduled a trip to the region to meet with both Israeli and Arab leaders (meetings with Arab leaders were canceled in the wake of the allegations against Israel).

On the morning of October 18, President Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with the hospital’s bombing being at the top of the agenda.

During this meeting, and as the situation at the al-Ahli Hospital was brought up, the US President said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, “Based on what I have seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you”.

Shortly after Biden made the statement, UK Foreign Minister, James Cleverly, weighed in on X (formerly Twitter) lamenting the press's early rush to condemn Israel as being responsible for the attacks.

New Evidence Emerges Supporting Israel’s Claim

In the days following the hospital’s bombing and in light of President Biden’s assertion, analysis from military analysts began to indicate that a failed rocket from the Islamic Jihad was the cause of the bombing. One of the main focal points of the evidence examined by analysts was the nature of the crater left by the ordinance.

Former Pentagon official, Marc Garlasco was quoted as saying, “We don't even have a crater” thereby indicating the ordinance was not likely to be of Israeli origin. Israeli missiles tend to leave identifiable craters whereas Islamic militant rockets do not.

Ongoing intelligence investigation confirmed data from the US Defense Department that Israel was not responsible for the strike on the hospital. According to the Washington Post, “American officials claim ‘high confidence’ that the al-Ahli Hospital explosion was not Israel’s fault, but they are less certain a Palestinian group was to blame.”

Similarly, on October 21, 2023, Reuters reported that French military intelligence reached the conclusion that Israel was not behind the strike on the Gazan hospital.

A day later, Reuters reported Canadian defense officials had reached the same conclusion saying, “The strike was more likely caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza, the Defence department said based on analysis of open source and classified reporting.”

Media Outlets Walk-Back Initial Reporting on the Hospital’s Strike

With the evidence mounting from intelligence agencies around the world to overwhelmingly show Israel did not strike the al-Ahli Hospital, media outlets came under increasing scrutiny over their original reporting of the attack.

A senior staff member of the BBC similarly admitted the publication was wrong in its initial reporting of the blast as its director of journalism was quoted, “The correspondent (Jon Donnison) was wrong to speculate about the cause of the explosion of the hospital.”

The Hospital Attack’s Role In Inflaming the Middle East

Despite Western intelligence agencies concluding Israel was not behind the strike, Middle Eastern countries have continued to push back. In an interview, the Jordanian Foreign Minister told NBC News, “Nobody is buying that narrative in this part of the world…” as covered by the Wall Street Journal in an article entitled, “Jordan Says Deep Skepticism About Israel and US. Assessments Over Gaza Hospital Blast.”

As the coverage (which was since revised by many media outlets) of the hospital attack spread, so too did protests across the Middle East and Africa.

The outrage caused by the initial (and now revised) news coverage culminated in protests in front of US embassies across the region with clashes between protesters and US security focus taking place.

In light of the unrest caused by the inaccurate reporting, some political leaders and social media influencers came under fire for not backtracking on their own initial statements.

Perhaps most notable was US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib who, according to ABC News, “refused to apologize… for saying a day earlier that Israel is to blame for the hospital explosion in Gaza despite evidence from the US defense department that the blast was likely caused by an errant projectile from Palestinian Islamic Jihad.”

The spreading of misinformation here is of particular concern given Iran’s influence in the region and its tendency to spread anti-Israel rhetoric.


Source List

The New York Times, Editors’ Note: Gaza Hospital Coverage, October 24, 2023

Emanuel Fabian, X (formerly known as Twitter), IDF releases a recording of an intercepted phone call between two Hamas operatives, October 18, 2023

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, X (formerly known as Twitter), Last night, too many jumped to conclusions, October 18, 2023

Politico, NYT admits error in Gaza hospital report, October 23, 2023


Mideast Journal Staff

Mideast Journal Staff is a team of expert writers, editors, and researchers, committed to delivering accurate fact-based coverage of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people.


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