Gaza Hospital Disaster Raises Odds Of Mideast Worst-Case

“The shreds of the bodies have overlapped.”

That’s a quote from a doctor at Al Shifa, a hospital in Gaza where scores of injured survivors were being treated following an explosion at Ahli Arab, another hospital nearby.

“There were so many bodies I couldn’t even photograph,” an Anadolu Agency photographer who spoke to The New York Times said.

Video from the immediate aftermath of the blast at Ahli Arab, a facility run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, showed men and rescue workers pulling bodies from rubble. Images from Al Shifa depicted stunned children with empty gazes, wailing mothers, wide-eyed infants and dozens of haphazardly arranged corpses, some zipped up in white plastic, others only partially covered by curtains, sheets and blood-stained rugs.

Hundreds were killed in what some Gazan officials initially described as an Israeli airstrike. Following a two-hour investigation, the IDF blamed a malfunctioning rocket fired by Islamic Jihad, a claim the group denied. “There were no operations… in the area at all,” a spokesman said.

It was (and will probably remain) impossible to verify the competing claims. If militants in Gaza did inadvertently kill civilians due to equipment failure, it most assuredly wouldn’t be the first time. The IDF’s claim wasn’t implausible. In addition, it would’ve been a poor strategic decision on Israel’s part to target a crowded hospital the day before Joe Biden was scheduled to visit Benjamin Netanyahu in a show of solidarity. Biden has already cautioned Israel against occupying Gaza and he’s under pressure from some Democrats (not to mention many interested parties in the international community) to use his sway to shield Palestinian civilians. Deliberately killing hundreds of innocents sheltering at a healthcare facility might’ve prompted Biden to cancel his trip.

Still, Israel has made it abundantly clear that civilian casualties, while regrettable, are an acceptable outcome if it means eliminating Hamas’s leadership and degrading its infrastructure. Thousands of Gazans have been killed in Israeli airstrikes since October 7, many of them children. Thousands more will die. The ratio of dead Gazan civilians to militants killed is, and will stay, quite high.

The problem for Israel is that, frankly, the Muslim world doesn’t care who was actually responsible, and even if it were possible to prove that it was, in fact, an errant missile fired by Islamic Jihad, many in the Mideast would say the proof was fabricated. Hezbollah called it a “massacre” and demanded a “day of rage,” which is exactly what you don’t want to hear if you’re Biden. Lebanon will close schools on Wednesday. It’s very likely that clashes between Hezbollah and the IDF will worsen in the days ahead. Axios reported Tuesday that the White House has discussed “the possibility of using military force” in the event Hezbollah engages Israel in more than sporadic exchanges.

The hospital tragedy was another blow to the Biden administration’s efforts to push for normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. The Saudis blamed the IDF for the blast, calling the explosion a “barbaric attack” and a “flagrant violation of international law and norms.” Egypt blamed Israel too, accusing the IDF of “deliberate strikes on civilian facilities and targets.” Hamas called it “genocide” and encouraged Palestinians in the West Bank to “take to the streets.”

Speaking of the West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas headed back, cutting short a stay in Jordan where he was supposed to meet Biden at a summit to discuss the war. Biden subsequently canceled his plans to visit Jordan, which, along with the West Bank, will observe a three-day mourning period for the victims of the hospital blast. Jordan ultimately canceled the entire summit.

Whoever was responsible, this was an unmitigated disaster. Many of the dead were sheltering at the hospital following the IDF’s evacuation order which, Israel helpfully reminded the world on Tuesday, did include hospitals. The facility itself ultimately falls under the authority of the Anglican Episcopal Church.

“The hospital was one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military,” WHO said, in a statement. “The order for evacuation has been impossible to carry out given the current insecurity, critical condition of many patients, and lack of ambulances, staff, health system bed capacity and alternative shelter for those displaced.”

Biden issued a statement after Air Force One took off for Israel. “I am outraged and deeply saddened by the explosion at the Al Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza, and the terrible loss of life that resulted,” he remarked.

Iyad al-Bazm, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior and National Security in Gaza, participated in a press conference outside the Al Shifa Hospital. “America is a partner in the killing of our people,” he said. Last week, he exhorted Gazans to defy Israel’s evacuation order.


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14 thoughts on “Gaza Hospital Disaster Raises Odds Of Mideast Worst-Case

  1. Failed Islamic Jihad rocket lands on hospital where a weapons cache causes a large secondary explosion – is what I’m thinking, and reportedly Israel intercepted IJ phone convo proving it (Gaza cellphones are routed through Israel). We’ll find out more in coming days.

    Regardless, feels like two plausible scenarios now.

    First is war proceeds with IDF ground attack and a higher risk of a broader war, including Hezbollah in north, general uprising in West Bank. Not sure markets would care too much. I still think threat to oil supply or transport is pre-requisite to caring.

    Second is Israel succumbs to pressure and does not enter Gaza, or enters in a limited and ineffectual way before quickly leaving. Biden looks weak at best or as betrayer of Israel at worst, loses in 2024, consequences follow.

    I think #2 is very unlikely but much worse. Granted that a civilian in Gaza would see it very differently.

    I wasn’t watching screens closely today – didn’t seem like market reacted to the news?

    1. What really happened may not be all that important. As H suggested, the belief that Israel was behind the attack will be hard to shake in many parts of the world. It is not hard to find people throughout the world who believe that no Jewish people died from the 9/11 attack (they were forewarned) or that Italian military satellites tipped the 2020 in Biden’s favor.

      While rational people will weigh the evidence and exonerative the IDF, many in the region will not be moved by any evidence presented. “It’s doctored video!” The reason that matters is that neighboring countries which were taking a circumspect/hands-off approach to Gaza will now find it harder to do so.

  2. SOP for IDF,,,,,,, been done before…..and took ages to get this far. All it takes is one likud pissed off idf pilot. who knows. bur with social media rapid in middle east, damage is done

    there is a “high possibility” Palestinian-American Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot and killed by Israeli fire while covering an Israeli military operation in Jenin in May, the IDF announced Monday.

    “[I]t appears that it is not possible to unequivocally determine the source of the gunfire which hit and killed Ms. Abu Akleh. However, there is a high possibility that Ms. Abu Akleh was accidentally hit by IDF gunfire fired toward suspects identified as armed Palestinian gunmen during an exchange of fire,” the IDF said in a statement.

    But the Israeli military does not intend to pursue criminal charges or prosecutions of any of the soldiers involved, IDF’s Military Advocate General’s Office said Monday in a separate statement.

  3. Since January, 2022 thru July, 2023, the US has given $77B to Ukraine. Our annual gift to Israel has been about $3.3B (prior to this recent war).

    What next and what is our (the US) goal/ the expected outcome of our financial aid? Or are we just picking a side and funding without regard to potential outcomes- even though it is known that US funding increases the size of the humanitarian crises?

    I don’t think the US (possibly mankind) can survive long term without a plan to be energy independent. This likely means a significant nuclear component and increased oil production in the US until then. Oil production in the US is up about 13% in 2023 over 2022, but this isn’t enough. I am all for not polluting and causing further damage to our planet, but given that the US isn’t willing to cut back on energy use, someone has to drill the oil that is wanted, so it might as well be the US over the ME, as the US hopefully has higher, or at least not lower, environmental requirements for drilling.

  4. As a quick reminder, because I’ve removed some comments here: We don’t allow links in comments unless they are to stories published my major international media companies. So, NYTimes, Reuters, AP, BBC, AFP, The Guardian and so on. No blogs, no “alternative” portals, etc. It’s not that I don’t want alternative perspectives, it’s that I don’t have time to fact-check all of that stuff.

    1. I try to be even-handed. I don’t think it’s especially helpful when people ask, over and over, “What is Israel supposed to do?!” as though anyone is arguing that what Hamas did is somehow not terrible or not something that needs to be avenged. Obviously, the entire developed world is terrified by the horrific prospect of militants breaking through a barrier fence and going on a murderous rampage, the same way it was terrifying to watch jihadists fly jumbo jets into skyscrapers. We could be those victims — citizens in an advanced economy minding our own business, enjoying our lives and then suddenly, we’re murdered in cold blood my extremists. It’s horrible. Absolutely horrible. That goes without saying.

      But the problem is that by saying it goes without saying, one risks accidentally trivializing it, which is certainly not my intent. All I’ve tried to emphasize is that just as it became increasingly counterproductive to angrily cite 9/11 while trying to formulate an effective strategy for Afghanistan, I’m not sure Israel does itself any favors by letting the horror of the attacks influence military strategy for Gaza.

      Everyone understands where Israel is coming from. Nobody wants to be murdered while eating cereal or fixing a sandwich or dancing with friends, just like nobody wants to murdered by an incoming jumbo jet while sitting at their desk on the 75th floor of a tall building. But that’s so self-evident that I just don’t think it’s useful when it comes to strategizing around a response.

  5. I’ve prefaced all my comments on Gaza by admitting I know very little and have not historically paid close or persistent attention to this conflict. But I have been trying since the attack by Hamas and, as our current state of journalism/social media would have it, find myself no closer to insight or understanding — the more I read, the more uncertain things seem to become. As H has said here, sadly we may never know the truth about this hospital disaster, and even more sadly, it probably does not matter much to the longer-term outcome.

    It’s sure frustrating, though predictable I guess, that conflicts abroad now instantly translate to conflicts here — not about what to do or how to respond, but to vociferously debate what the hell even happened in the first place and whose fault it is.

    But lacking any real insight or understanding, my dumb brain tells me to focus on the outcome. And to me the outcome here is most decidedly not in the Palestinians’ favor. Regardless of whether the hospital was also being used as a weapons depot by Hamas, the Palestinians have lost several hundred more civilians, are down yet another critically needed hospital and have no more clarity on whether to peacefully try to stay, resist and try to fight, or abandon all hope and just flee. And as the smoke clears, Biden’s meeting with Israel proceeded, while all the Arab meetings were canceled. I don’t mean to be glib, but in the absence of a more definitive take I can rely upon, it sure looks like Israel “wins” this round, which to me seems to be the most reliable indicator of blame/responsibility, no matter how facile and controversial that may appear.

  6. While I agree it won’t matter for the Muslim world, I think the evidence is pretty indisputable that this was a rocket failure. There is literally multiple videos showing this, on top of the evidence from IDF. It’s frankly amazing how the media immediately took Hamas’ side of the story and ran with it, and even now this “we can’t know for sure” narrative continues. It is 99% chance of rocket failure, but sure let’s fan the flames with this BS.

    1. You’re aware of the IDF’s track record on this sort of thing, right? Both in terms of civilian casualties and not always being completely forthcoming about it? While I would tend to agree that this time it wasn’t them, the idea that any of us are experts and can say that the grainy videos we’ve seen are “pretty indisputable” and/or assign “99%” odds, is obviously silly. You don’t know anything about ground-fired rockets and neither do I. And it wasn’t really “Hamas’s side of the story.” It was more, “Well, over the past 10 days, the IDF has been bombing Gaza night and day, and thousands of civilians have been killed. The same hospital was hit by a round that Hamas doesn’t possess just days previous.” (Were you aware of that latter bit? If not, it’s notable.) So, yes, it made complete sense to initially suspect the IDF. I realize this situation is quite uncomfortable, because a lot of people are having to come to terms with the possibility that Israel is targeting civilians in retaliation. But, the fact is, Israel is not (and never has been) shy about killing civilians in this never-ending conflict. The number of civilians killed by the IDF (inadvertently or otherwise) over the years is nothing short of staggering. That’s just a fact. It was true before October 7.

    2. And just to follow up, I am not seeking out one position or another. My attention was drawn to focus here due to the chasm I observed between funding/supporting Israel vs funding/supporting Ukraine issues. The same people seemed to be strenuously arguing polar opposite positions that was hard for me to rationalize given my underlying ignorance and lack of background. But as I said, my conclusion about the hospital disaster was not based on video evidence or anything empirical — just looking at the outcome and who did or did not likely benefit (IMO).

      Having said that, and in light of H’s comment, I would also point out that Israel made a big deal about discovering huge caches of Hamas weapons as they worked to clear the terror sites — displaying them sort of DEA style for the cameras. At the time, and this was before the hospital disaster, Israel emphasized that these caches demonstrated that Hamas was geared up for a much larger and longer fight. Now, and again knowing nothing, seems like there are two possible conclusions if the hospital disaster was incontrovertibly caused by a Hamas weapon: 1) either Hamas (or an affiliate) generated a disastrous own-goal and not only misfired its own munition, but also managed to land it in about the worst possible place, or 2) someone else launched that weapon, whether at the hospital or otherwise. Not jumping to conclusions or courting conspiracies, but on the day of the hospital disaster, two of the very few facts we actually know is that both Israel and Hamas possessed Hamas weapons and that both were in the area. Doesn’t mean Israel did it. But it may also mean that Hamas/affiliate didn’t do it either.

      1. Look at morning-after photos/videos of the location (can find on WSJ). It is a small (15 car size?) parking lot amongst buildings. There is minor damage to the (cobbled) pavement (depression a few feet wide, a foot deep) and 8-9 cars that are burned out but (other than one right by the pavement damage) intact. The buildings are intact, exterior and interiors. Also look at video of the nighttime explosion (note there are fakes out there). The explosion is a very large fireball. Then look at photos/videos of missile strikes on buildings, the explosion, and the resulting damage. Lots of recent photos from Gaza (Israeli strikes), also Ukraine etc. When I did that, my first thought was military high-explosive warheads produce a huge cloud of dust and debris, not a big fireball (it’s not like the movies), then after the dust clears there is far more damage than seen here. The assessments (by weapons experts) then made sense to me. I also don’t see how 470 people could have fit in that parking lot, absent standing up and packed shoulder-to-shoulder among the cars (in the middle of the night?). And, horrible as this is to say, remains from 470 persons burned up or blown apart should be apparent in the morning-after photos. Sorry if this comes across as callous. The ME is full of lies, on all sides, and first reports can seldom be believed.

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