ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 141

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Op-ed

Haters won’t be swayed, but Hamas lies about Gaza hospital blast are being exposed

The Arab street won’t believe anything the IDF Spokesman has revealed about what happened, and our Arab allies are too fearful. But Biden now has the evidence to sustain his support

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Pro-Palestinian protesters march and denounce Israel in Las Vegas, Tuesday, October 17, 2023 (AP Photo/ Ty ONeil)
Pro-Palestinian protesters march and denounce Israel in Las Vegas, Tuesday, October 17, 2023 (AP Photo/ Ty ONeil)

As the fog of war begins to lift, or rather the heavy layer of Hamas disinformation, it appears increasingly clear that it was not a hospital that was hit in Gaza but a hospital parking lot, that the death toll was likely in the dozens not the hundreds, and that the culprit was not the IDF but a faulty rocket fired by Islamic Jihad.

And that Hamas knew this very quickly, and nevertheless worked very quickly to disseminate the “Israel to blame” narrative.

It was right and necessary for the IDF to thoroughly investigate before Spokesman Daniel Hagari stated definitively — albeit more than three hours after the blast at Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital — that Israel was not responsible for the horrifying death and destruction there on Tuesday night, and vital, many hours later, that he held an English-briefing and released materials to underpin the Israeli account.

“They shot [the rocket] from the cemetery behind the hospital,” an alleged Hamas member tells another in a call intercepted by the IDF and released by Hagari. “And it misfired and fell on them.”

It would have been still more admirable if Hagari had had the presence of mind, as soon as the Hamas false claims of Israeli responsibility began to percolate and the IDF began investigating, to state that the Israeli military does not target hospitals or deliberately fire on civilians, and that it seeks to minimize civilian fatalities even as it attempts to defang the terrorist groups who operate from within the civilian population.

But Hagari was apparently battling valiantly alone on the public diplomacy front. The Israeli government’s public diplomacy directorate, if there even is such a thing, was silent for hours. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor any competent political leader found 30 seconds to record a brief English-language statement assuring the world that Israel does not bomb hospitals and would quickly ascertain what had actually happened. And when the Foreign Ministry belatedly stepped in with its own statement, it appended a video ostensibly showing the deadly rocket fire in question but patently showing a different incident, which it then had to delete.

Bodies of Palestinians killed by an explosion at the Ahli Arab hospital are gathered in the front yard of the al-Shifa hospital, in Gaza City, central Gaza Strip, October 17, 2023. Israel said the explosion was caused by a rocket misfire by Palestinian terrorists, denying Hamas claims of an Israeli airstrike. (AP/Abed Khaled)

Nothing Israel has to say about the hospital blast, no matter how carefully checked and demonstrably accurate, would prompt Hamas and the terror groups to withdraw their “Israel did it” falsehoods, nor reduce the anti-Israel fury in Gaza, nor much temper the anti-Israel hysteria in much of the region and those parts of the international leadership and world public that immediately blame Israel for all this area’s ills.

But at least the IDF has given those who were prepared to suspend judgment a properly investigated narrative of what actually happened — underlining what effective public diplomacy can do.

Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari shows the press a graphic of alleged rocket launches near al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza at a press conference in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

Nobody should be surprised that an Islamic Jihad rocket fell short and wound up killing Gazans. Some 450 rockets, aimed to kill Israelis, have landed short, inside Gaza, since war broke out 11 days ago, the IDF says. And nobody should be remotely surprised that Hamas, focused on harming Israel and indifferent to the fate of Gazans, would energetically peddle a false narrative.

Related: IDF presents evidence misfired Gazan rocket caused hospital blast, slams Hamas ‘lies’

The wider fact of the matter, of course, is that Israel and Hamas are engaged in a bitter, deadly conflict because, on October 7, something in the order of 2,500 Hamas terrorists burst through the Gaza border into Israel and killed over 1,300 Israelis, 1,000 of them civilians, with thoroughly documented unspeakable cruelty. They entered, that is, from a territory on which Israel has no presence and stakes no claims, into our ostensibly undisputed sovereign state, and slaughtered our people.

Given that Hamas states openly that it seeks to destroy Israel altogether, is allied with a far more powerful Hezbollah terrorist army in Lebanon that says the same, and is backed by the regime in Iran that also avowedly aims for Israel’s elimination, Israel has necessarily determined that Hamas must be prevented from attempting anything like this again and therefore must be destroyed as a military force, with the further imperative to deter our other enemies.

Screen capture from an IDF video that it says shows IDF ordnance did not cause a blast at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, where hundreds were killed, released on October 18, 2023. (screen capture)

It is outrageous that Israel, the victim of the horrific October 7 attack, needs to take the utmost care to muster the most effective public diplomacy effort when it is manifestly seeking to prevent still further harm to its people by tackling the murderous aggressors. But the public opinion battlefield is, in many ways, at least as important as the actual conflict zone. If the battle for world hearts and minds is not properly fought, the room for military maneuver on the ground will quickly become constrained.

***

Palestinians rally in solidarity with the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on October 17, 2023, hours after a blast at a Gaza hospital (Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Terrified by the Arab street, fearful for their own regimes, Israel’s Arab partners and potential partners — in Egypt, Jordan, the West Bank and in the Gulf —  immediately capitulated to the false Hamas narrative. Condemnations of Israel poured in. King Abdullah of Jordan canceled the planned four-way summit with Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and the visiting US President Joe Biden.

What is vital, now, is that Israel hold its nerve. And that Biden, his visit to the warzone always fraught with dangers and now upended by the cancellation of the Jordan summit, hold his too.

US President Joe Biden with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023, (Haim Zach / GPO)

Evidently persuaded of the veracity of Israel’s narrative, it was crucial that Biden publicly endorsed it, as he broadly did, on arrival, when sitting with Netanyahu — “Based on what I’ve seen, it appears it was done by the other team, and not you,” he said — so that the international community better appreciates the Gaza terrorists’ indifference to civilian life, the cynicism of their propaganda, and Israel’s determined morality even as it fights this fateful war. And so that as much as possible of the clearheaded world maintains its support for Israel, and thus gives Israel maximal room for maneuver.

As Biden added, “There’s a lot of people out there who are not sure. So we’ve gotta overcome a lot of things.”

This is a war that Israel needs to win, to prevent a recurrence of October 7, to deter other enemies, and to restore the Israeli public’s confidence in the ability of our political and military leadership to protect us. To prevent our enemies from making life literally unlivable in our own land.

Keren Schem, with Mia’s brother and a photo of Mia, held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, at a press conference on October 17, 2023 (Facebook Live screen shot)

As Netanyahu told the visiting German Chancellor Scholz on Tuesday night, Hamas “would have killed every last one of us, murdered every last one of us if they could.” And we can be certain that the immensely more powerful Hezbollah and Iran would do the same, if they thought they could.

Israel needs to ensure they are denied that capability. Israel needs to defang Hamas. Israel needs to hold its nerve.

This requires not only immense clearheadedness, bravery and determination on the battlefield, but also integrity, skill and alacrity in explaining what is taking place there. Where the Israeli government’s public diplomacy effort was, as ever, missing in action, the IDF, to its credit, moved this time to fill the vacuum.

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