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Information War: Unraveling the Gaza Hospital Narrative
A Minute-by-Minute Account of the Information War
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The fog of war isn't limited to the battlefield; it pervades our newsrooms, social media feeds, and conversations. On October 17, 2023, the fog thickened as rockets lit up the sky over the Gaza Strip, and reports of an alleged Israeli airstrike on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital poured in. As each side rushed to seize the narrative, the question arose—what is the truth? Initial reports from Gaza implicated the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). However, literally, in the light of the following day, the truth is revealed.
I will do my best to provide a timeline of the information war surrounding the rocket strike on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in the Gaza Strip, peeling back the layers of hearsay, biases, and outright misinformation that have muddied the waters.
The Information War Begins
Just past lunchtime in the U.S., the Associated Press (AP) fired the first shot. Their initial report, sourced from the Gaza Health Ministry, claimed that an Israeli airstrike had killed at least 500 people at the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza. Minutes later, Reuters echoed the account, citing a "civil defense official" and attributing more than 300 deaths to an "Israeli air strike."
8:43 p.m. (Israel)
8:47 p.m. (Israel)
Reuters published its first report at 1:47 p.m. EST with the headline “More than 300 killed in Israeli air strike on Gaza Hospital -civil defense official". The article will go on to be updated sixteen times.
This is where the lines of the information battle were drawn. AP and Reuters are newswires and serve as the primary sources for mainstream media outlets. Their reports often set the tone for other news outlets. And here they were, squarely laying the blame on Israel right from the get-go. The AP, at least, mentioned their source: the Gaza Health Ministry, controlled by Hamas. Reuters, however, took it upon themselves to directly accuse Israel.
And as quick as a repost, the mainstream media parroted this line, pointing fingers squarely at Israel for the tragic loss of life of over 500 civilians. In the race to be first, it seemed, fact-checking had taken a backseat. But let’s dig deeper because the devil, as they say, is in the details.
9:25 p.m. (Israel)
Hananya Naftali, an Israeli-Jewish influencer and media director to Netanyahu, jumped into the fray. He tweeted, "Israeli Air Force struck a Hamas terrorist base inside a hospital in Gaza."
Then, two minutes later, he deleted the post and replaced it with another. This time, he played coy, suggesting that the explosion was "mysterious" and could have resulted from a failed Hamas rocket. A post, by the way, that was community-noted on X. Many would say that Naftali did this because he “got the memo.”
This act of posting and deleting has become a significant piece of evidence for pro-Palestine supporters, suggesting that Israel was responsible for the airstrike on the hospital. If you dare to venture onto TikTok, every pro-Palestine account cites it as evidence that Israel is lying.
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What makes Naftali particularly interesting is his role as a media advisor to Netanyahu. Many pro-Palestine activists brand him as "Israel's spokesperson." It’s far to question Naftali and his behavior. After all, he's clearly got skin in the game.
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Naftali later admitted to deleting his original post, explaining he had first come across a Reuters report indicating Israel's involvement. His reasoning? He believed Israel had bombed the hospital because, in his view, "the IDF does not bomb hospitals," and he assumed they were targeting a Hamas base in Gaza. Whether you buy that line or not, it's worth noting that his posts roughly coincided with the initial reports, adding another layer of murkiness to an already cloudy situation."
Reuters released its first report at 1:47 p.m. EST, while Naftali posted his first message 25 minutes later on X, at 2:23 p.m. EST. Later, he deleted that post and posted another one at 2:25 p.m. EST, expressing his suspicion that it was a failed Hamas rocket.
Of course, one could argue that Naftali had more than four hours to develop this narrative and that he could have quickly done what I did—checked the timestamp on Reuters' initial report to support his argument but could also have seen Reuters’ initial report.
This is why it is important to exercise caution during the fog of war and amid information warfare. It is crucial not to jump to hasty conclusions and instead wait for information to unfold. Unfortunately, some journalists fail to practice this principle.
U.S. Representatives push that Israel is responsible
Both of these posts are still up with community notes.
10:08 p.m. - 11:12 p.m. (Israel)
Let’s check how some journalists are “journalism-ing.”
The line between traditional reporting and opinion journalism has been increasingly blurred in today's media landscape. Two recent video clips that circulated among Palestine supporters—one from the BBC at 3:08 p.m. EST and another from MSNBC at 4:14 p.m. EST—are cases in point.
First off, let's call it what it is. What these journalists are doing is not traditional reporting by any stretch of the imagination; it's opinion journalism. Yet, the pieces were branded and distributed as instances of "real journalism" on various platforms, including TikTok.
Now, let's talk timing. The MSNBC report aired just 14 minutes after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) released a statement at 4:00 p.m. EST. According to the IDF, based on multiple intelligence sources, the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization was responsible for the failed rocket launch that struck a hospital.
Facts or Fiction?
In the MSNBC segment, the journalist openly admits NBC had no boots on the ground in Gaza, no first-hand accounts. Meaning they decided to report relying heavily on unverified secondhand accounts. The IDF's statement was acknowledged, but only to plant seeds of doubt among viewers by noting the IDF's reliance on "undisclosed intelligence."
Contrast this with the credibility bestowed upon the Gaza Health Ministry. The MSNBC journalist lends weight to the organization's statements despite it operating under the umbrella of Hamas—a known terrorist entity. According to MSNBC, the IDF's intelligence-backed account is questionable, while the Gaza Health Ministry's word is gospel.
As the day progressed, one of the most surreal events was watching the narrative change in real time on my NYT app. The headline went from “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say” to “At Least 500 Dead in Strike on Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say” to finally, “At Least 500 Dead in Blast on Gaza Hospital, Palestinians Say.”
Wednesday 12:00 a.m. (Israel)
Doctors from Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza convened for a press conference that could easily be mistaken for a cinematic scene designed to evoke strong emotions. The visual presentation is undoubtedly jarring, set against a backdrop of shrouded, blood-soaked bodies, with men prominently sitting in the foreground clutching lifeless children. At the event, one doctor stated they had received a warning from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to evacuate the hospital due to a forthcoming airstrike. However, the IDF pushed back against this claim, asserting they had no operations planned near the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital.
Adding another layer of emotional heft, British-Palestinian surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders, shared his experiences working in Gaza, set to a score of poignant music. It's as if every detail of the press conference was painstakingly orchestrated to lay the horrors of war squarely at Israel's feet.
Let's cut through the theatrics for a moment: war is tragic, devastating, and comes with an unbearable toll on human life. There's no denying that. However, the arrangement of this press conference seems to serve a different purpose—propaganda, emotional manipulation, call it what you will—but it's far from conclusive evidence that Israel conducted an airstrike on the hospital.
For those of us who value critical thinking and fair reporting, it's essential to scrutinize the meaning of such emotionally charged allegations. That means asking hard questions, even when doing so is unpopular. Was the hospital given advance notice of an airstrike, as claimed? If so, why does the IDF deny any operational involvement in the area? Furthermore, is the emotionally charged setting, replete with haunting musical undertones, intended to inform or manipulate public sentiment?
In the end, while civilian casualties are a dreadful yet inevitable aspect of armed conflict, they should not be used to make sensationalist claims without concrete evidence. It's vital to separate the tragic facts from theatrically presented allegations, especially in matters such as war and peace.
Wednesday 5:12 a.m. (Israel)
In today's social media landscape, where everyone with a phone can act as a citizen journalist, evaluating the credibility and validity of videos, posts, and "evidence" can be like navigating a minefield. This is why it is crucial to be discerning and scrutinize what's being presented.
By Tuesday evening, social media platforms are ablaze with narratives and counter-narratives. One video from the IDF demonstrates how rockets often misfire—a point that may be relevant but could be viewed as defensive in nature. Meanwhile, a video published by Al Jazeera captures live on air of a rocket and subsequent blast. Then there is one published by Aljazeera Mubasher and another one that appears to be a phone recording of a television not sure of the original source. Finally, the one that I find most convincing is security camera footage from Nativ Ha’asara, a kibbutz on the Gaza border. Yet, these sources are diverse and present different viewpoints.
However, this doesn't prevent pro-Palestine accounts from refuting the narrative that it was a rocket misfire.
Enter Wednesday morning. Lord Bebo, an account that fancies itself an "Anti-fake news" resource, shares a video that diverges from the five I just shared. The video implies that the rockets were launched away from the hospital and suggests an Israeli jet appears in the top left-hand corner. He presents this as evidence that the explosion resulted from an Israeli airstrike. Interestingly, Lord Bebo's video's timestamp is one hour off compared to the other videos I shared. This might be chalked up to Israel's observance of daylight saving time, or perhaps it's a discrepancy to be wary of.
However, we should be skeptical; Lord Bebo does not reveal the source of this video, leaving its credibility open to questioning. Nowadays, it's not uncommon for videos to be edited or entirely fabricated to fit a particular narrative. Given Lord Bebo's failure to substantiate the footage with a verifiable source, we should take its claims with a grain of salt.
So, what do we do in this battle of information? Weigh the evidence. Lord Bebo's video is but a single piece of a larger puzzle. While it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, its unverified nature and lack of source disclosure certainly undermine its credibility, especially when stacked against the other five videos. Lord Bebo's video adds an alternative perspective. It doesn’t hold weight.
What does the evidence show?
The evidence I will present includes drone footage and an intercepted phone call recorded by the IDF. Of course, some pro-Palestine activists will either dispute this footage's authenticity or disregard it altogether. However, when we combine this evidence with videos captured by civilians, a compelling case takes shape: it strongly suggests that what occurred was indeed a rocket misfire, leading to an explosion in the hospital parking lot.
Wednesday 8:27 a.m. (Israel)
The first video, released by the IDF at 1:27 a.m. EST, consists of drone footage that shows the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital compound both before and after the explosion. This footage compares the damage to the hospital and offers evidence of what a crater caused by a missile strike would typically appear like. As shown in the video, the damage is concentrated in the parking lot within the hospital compound, with the surrounding buildings remaining intact.
Before we move on, let me show you a post that fueled this the Israel airstrike narrative. Pro-Palestine activist Remi Kanazi published a tweet at 1:33 p.m. EST on the day of the blast. The post went viral, clocking in at 4.1 million views and 7,500 retweets. Notice the image Kanazi posted with the image providing the camera view in the video. As you can see, the firey image is a parking lot and not a hospital building.
Wednesday 9:00 a.m. (Israel)
At approximately 2:00 a.m. EST, the first independent daylight images of the blast site became available. These photos corroborate the IDF's footage, confirming the explosion occurred in the parking lot—not in any of the hospital buildings. Moreover, these images fail to show a telltale crater, thus refuting the notion that this resulted from an IDF missile strike.
If you look closely at the video and the image on the right shared by Remi Kanaze, you can see what appears to be a carport cover in the background.
Here is also an image of the hospital building before and after the blast.
Wednesday 10:46 a.m. (Israel)
A few hours after the IDF released the drone footage, they released the recording of an intercepted phone call at 3:46 a.m. EST between two Hamas members. In the recording, they are discussing a rocket that misfired from a cemetery behind the hospital and stuck the hospital.
Call me biased, which I admit I am, but I think the evidence that it was a rocket misfire and not an Israeli airstrike is pretty compelling.
This isn't just a media blunder. It's a massive failure that lit a fire under already volatile international tensions. As a result of poor and irresponsible, protests erupted around the globe, including Libya, Morocco, Yemen, and Iraq and, beyond the Arab world, in the Netherlands, Colombia, and Puerto Rico. The most significant occurred in Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, and the West Bank with attempted breaches at Israeli and U.S. embassies. This uproar reached a fever pitch coinciding with President Biden's visit to the region, casting a long shadow over his diplomatic endeavors aimed at fostering peace. In response to the airstrike falsely attributed to Israel, a peace summit was canceled between Biden and Jordan’s King Abdullah, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Sissi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Let's not mince words: the explosion occurred in a neighborhood packed with civilians who had no choice but to evacuate due to earlier airstrikes. The heartbreaking loss of innocent lives was, sadly, a foregone conclusion. And amid the information war, we are still in the dark about the true extent of casualties, but it was not 500.
The recent information war highlights the importance of carefully verifying sources and avoiding jumping to conclusions. Initially, Israel was quickly blamed for destroying a hospital in Gaza. However, further investigation revealed that a rocket misfire within Gaza itself was responsible for the disaster. This underscores the need for accurate reporting and responsible journalism.
What we've got here is a wake-up call. It's easy for opinions to masquerade as facts in today's Twitter-fueled media environment. The difference between them isn't just some journalistic nicety—in a time of war, it's a matter of life and death.
So here's a novel idea: how about we go back to actually verifying facts before screaming them from the rooftops? And that doesn't just go for the media, but for everyone, me included. Let's commit to some basic standards of truth before we point fingers or draw conclusions. It's not just about journalistic integrity; it's about creating a world where cooler heads can prevail. In this age of instant news and instant outrage, a little patience and verification could go a long way in keeping the peace.