Facts, Context Don’t Care About Your Narrative: Gaza Hospital Edition

I believed one thing at first. As more information came in, I let the facts and context guide me and came to believe something else. And while the specific responsibility for this one horrific incident of carnage belonging to one or another side does not substantially change the balance-sheet of history, the dynamics of this long-running conflict, nor the allocation of responsibility for them, the truth matters, no matter what came before or comes after, no matter your narrative, no matters if it helps or hurts your cause or argument.

By Brian E. Frydenborg (Twitter @bfry1981LinkedInFacebook, Substack with exclusive informal content, my Linktree with all my public links/profiles) October 19, 2023 (*UPDATE October 31: I had some massive technical issues on my site, and an update to the Hospital explosion story mysteriously disappeared, so I have redone that update to include even more information that has been coming out since then about the responsibility for the explosion); excerpted and adapted from yesterday’s much longer 6 Steps for Israel to Take to Still Win, but with Far Better Outcomes for Itself and Gaza; all casualty figures are according to respective local officials unless otherwise noted.

(Arabic الترجمة العربية / Hebrew תרגום לעברית coming soon) The article in one in a series of special reports about the 2023 Israel-Hamas-Middle East Crisis.

See related July 28, 2014 article The Israel-Hamas Gaza High-Stakes Poker Game of Death; because of YOU, Real Context News surpassed one million content views on January 1, 2023but I still need your help, please keep sharing my work and consider also donating! Real Context News produces commissioned content for clients upon request at its discretion. Also, Brian is running for U.S. Senate for Maryland and you can learn about his campaign here.

Al Jazeera footage shows rocked failing above hospital
CNN/Al Jazeera

Quite nobly and bravely, some Palestinian doctors, nurses, and medical staff are pledging to stay in northern Gaza—in the hospitals there—dozens even paying with their lives, so as not to abandon their patients, including newborn babies, who will die if they leave.

Especially in light of this, quite sadly and horrifically, the al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza City in northern Gaza was struck by an explosive projectile in northern Gaza just as I was writing this, with estimates in the dead ranging from roughly 300 to 500.  I’m not a weapons expert, but on the one hand, this confirmed video of the strike does not resemble other videos of misfired Palestinian rocket attacks, as the IDF claims caused the blast and deaths, and seems closer to resembling a video of an Israeli airstrike especially given the size of the explosion; but on the other hand, factors that can push the conclusion in the other direction are still being digested, such as a lack of a large impact crater, video footage of a Palestinian rocket exploding high above the hospital just before the explosion in question and showing the explosion from a distance immediately after, and that if it was a rocket that misfired, it would have had more fuel so early in its journey, resulting in a larger explosion than normal.  The fog of war is still enveloping this situation even if it has become a Rorschach test, with people expressing certainty before having the facts and the incident understandably inflaming the region, making Biden’s visit and diplomatic push far more challenging. 

At first, I believed with strong confidence it was an Israeli airstrike, but most of the evidence put forth of the publicly verifiable type favors Israel’s explanation.

But throughout the day more analysis has come through. Despite Israeli’s track record of being caught lying in prominent cases like this, as excellently discussed by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour here, the forensic evidence, from subsequent video to crater/blast analysis, points very strongly, perhaps overwhelmingly, to the conclusion that this explosion resulted from a misfired Palestinian rocket and was an accident. As for the audio presented by Israel purported to be Hamas, it may or may not be authentic; in our present age, this audio could very well be an edited or fabricated cherry that Israel is adorning to the top of its cake of evidence to help win the public relations war it is losing, and some experts have called the audio out as fake, so that and some other aspects of the Israeli narrative are far from perfect. The audio may possibly be a distortion or a lie, but the lack of a large crater and the confirmed video evidence is not. On the other side of things, there is no hard evidence that has been presented to be able to draw the conclusion that this was an Israeli airstrike. I have discussed Israel lying in the past myself, and indeed, a whole article could be written about that (Israel in the past lied about airstrikes, including an incident last year in which it claimed categorically as fact that a misfired Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket had killed 5 children, it being later reveled there were no rockets launched or falling near the children and they were actually killed by an Israeli airstrike; conversely, as documented by Amnesty International, both Hamas and Islamic Jihad lied and blamed Israel for two rocket misfires in a 2014 incident that killed 13 civilians—11 of them children—claiming they were killed by Israeli attacks; thus, it is wise to not take everything any of these parties to this conflict say at face value without scrutiny) but even if the audio is possibly not credible, the overall circumstantial evidence is credible and very strongly does not indicate an Israeli airstrike and does indicate a misfired Palestinian rocket, whether from Islamic Jihad or Hamas, was responsible, and without any substantive counterevidence, we must go in the direction of the existing evidence unless further substantive evidence changes the picture substantially.

*(UPDATE) Since this article was published, there have been multiple other independent investigations, most of which admit they can not make a definitive conclusion in the absence of an on-the-ground investigation.  Among the new investigations are ones from the AP and CNN, both of which concluded that a misfired Palestinian rocket was the most likely explanation behind the tragic explosion at the hospital.  The CNN investigation also allowed for the possibility of an IDF artillery round, but found that possibility less likely based on the available evidence.  I personally messaged the serially reliable CNN military analyst, Col. Cedric Leighton USAF (Ret.), to weigh in, and he echoed the CNN investigation in also offering his view that the available evidence strongly favored a misfired Palestinian rocket based on available evidence versus other explanations but also could not rule out an Israeli artillery shell.  The Washington Post’s own investigation corroborated Israel’s and the U.S. assessment that a failed Palestinian rocket was the best explanation.  Following up on its earlier investigation that also found a misfired Palestinian rocket the most likely explanation but cast doubt on details of both the official Palestinian and official Israeli narrative, the UK Channel 4’s more recent investigation found further evidence to discredit what seems to be doctored or altered audio released by Israel that it claimed to be of Hamas operatives and that also cate doubt on Israel’s account of the trajectory of what caused the explosion (likely exposing Israeli hasbara, Israel’s unique brand of information warfare trying to make Israel’s narrative more convincing than the evidence alone would make it).  A New York Times investigation disputed that videos that have been widely cited by other investigations as showing strong evidence that a misfired Palestinian rocket was responsible actually showed what those other investigators concluded, including the aforementioned; rather, it corroborated some other interpretations that stated the videos do not show a misfired Palestinian rocket, casting the situation into further confusion and intensifying the fog of war.  The UK-based Forensic Architecture presented its analysis conducted with partner organizations that presented seemingly decent analysis discrediting parts of the official Israeli narrative and favoring the theory that an Israeli artillery round caused the blast, but the organization also seemingly presents the problem of anti-Israeli bias in its presentation: it refers to the IDF as “IOF,” which stands for “Israel Occupation Forces,” “Israel Offense Forces,” or “Israel Offensive Forces;” IOF is a pejorative term that some critical of the IDF and Israeli policy towards Palestinians have taken upon themselves to use to replace IDF; I will simply say that I do not find North Korea, formally known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and often referred to by the ensuing acronym DPRK, to be either democratic of belonging to the people; to use another Asian example, China’s army is named the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), but it is neither liberating anything, nor run by the people; in both cases, I do not invent cute if accurate pejorative terms based on my own views, I use the official terminology because that is how the world works in the realm of journalism and research organization, otherwise we could start renaming everything and retitling anyone based on how we personally feel about them; those that do rename based on personal views more than suggest the presence of bias.  Al Jazeera put forward its own investigation, but it comes off fairly propagandistic: it presents information it claims disproves that a Palestinian rocket was responsible, but it is not convincing or conclusive at all and does not actually provide any evidence it was an Israeli airstrike, not even addressing the issue of crater size.  For its part, Hamas has also not produced any evidence the blast was from an Israeli airstrike or Israeli artillery round.  Greatly adding to the confusion around this incident, there have also been glaring errors made by media outlets throughout this process, with few owning up to their errors and both governments and international organizations not adjusted their narratives to newly revealed facts.  And one independent analyst who has not received proper clarification after reaching out to multiple major outlets may have even exposed that the figure of 500 killed that supposedly came from the Hamas health ministry—a figure later seen as widely non-credible, though numbers coming out of Gaza from all the other violence are generally seen by aid organizations and the United Nations as largely credible—may have no specific confirmation or evidence supporting that such a claim was actually made. After reviewing all of these, my own view—given the preponderance of independent investigations’ conclusions and the indications of “high confidence” U.S. intelligence—is that a failed Palestinian rocket is still the most likely explanation, but I feel less confident in this conclusion given several other investigations that have different interpretations of video analysis and that it seems very likely both Hamas and the IDF are lying about certain aspects of this in addition to no definitive investigation having yet been conducted on the ground; thus, I went from being pretty convinced it was an Israeli airstrike, to being even more convinced it was a failed Palestinian rocket, to still favoring the Palestinian rocket theory with less confidence and more doubt/questions to be answered.

Your not-so-humble author here has little to add to this incredibly inspiring self-sacrifice of the medical staff or the horror of the still-staffed hospital being struck by some weapon to devastating effect.  With the staff, the concept of the Hippocratic Oath taken to such an extreme level will inspire long after this conflict.  The bottom line for the purposes of my article is that, hypothetically speaking, if it was an Israeli strike, such a situation is generally quite avoidable, especially given how large hospital complexes tend to be.  Yet it is far less avoidable with the current Israeli approach.

Their bravery and sacrifice of the medical staff and the helplessness of their patients mean that, despite the crimes of Hamas, these doctors and their patients deserve all the care Israel can take to save them.  Even if this situation was not the result of an Israeli strike—and I am not stating that is the case—the current approaches leave such a possibility wide open, even likely, to still happen.  To this end, I call on the IDF and other Israeli authorities to reach out directly to the administrators of the hospitals and to try to coordinate delivery of aid to the hospitals and to coordinate if possible the IDF securing the hospitals as safe zones for civilians and patients unable to be safely moved as well as for the medical staff tending to them.  To the degree that Hamas avoids using these hospital as defensive positions or staging areas, there is great opportunity for clear, careful, open coordination avoiding needless loss of life or IDF attacks at these hospitals.

See all of Brian’s work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here.

© 2023 Brian E. Frydenborg all rights reserved, permission required for republication, attributed quotations welcome

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