The real story behind the Gaza hospital explosion

Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
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There are consequences to jumping to conclusions, especially when they are based on terrorist propaganda

Steve AmblerOn Oct. 17, an explosion occurred at or near the al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. Hamas immediately accused Israel of launching an unprovoked attack on innocent civilians, a claim that Israel firmly denied.

Although many media outlets simply reported Hamas’s accusation, some also included Israel’s denial, treating both statements as equally valid. Even Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly pointed the finger at Israel.

In the days following the explosion, military intelligence officials from the U.S., Canada, and other countries analyzed available video footage, the type of crater left by the blast, the resulting fire (which indicated the presence of unburned rocket fuel not typically found in Israeli bombs), and a purported audio conversation between two Hamas members intercepted by Israeli intelligence.

Gaza hospital
Photo by Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona
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Their conclusion, with a “high degree of confidence,” was that the explosion was caused by a misfired rocket from Gaza, likely launched by the terrorist group Islamic Jihad, known to store its rockets near the hospital. Moreover, the explosion’s epicentre was the hospital car park, not the hospital building itself, and the number of casualties was likely far less than the 500 or more claimed by Hamas.

Several factors should have made Western media and government officials highly skeptical of Hamas’s initial announcement. All of these factors are well known to those paying attention, but they are worth repeating since many people are ignorant (or wilfully ignorant) of them.

First, Israel stands to lose the most from bombing a hospital and causing civilian casualties. Even now, the claim by Hamas has almost certainly been shown to be false, it is still helping to fuel pro-Palestinian and pro-Hamas demonstrations in the West, threatening to erode support for Israel’s efforts to dismantle Hamas’s military capabilities.

Second, it is possible to discount with almost 100 percent certainty that the Israelis bombed the hospital by mistake. The Israeli Air Force (IAF)  is known for its precision, often dropping leaflets to warn civilians before striking targets used by Hamas. They do so even knowing that this allows Hamas terrorists to escape unscathed and military equipment to be shifted. Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, has called the Israeli army “the world’s most moral army.” Given this, it is hard to believe that any credence was given to the idea that the IAF would intentionally bomb a hospital without warning or bomb it by mistake.

Third, Hamas’s use of human shields is widely recognized. Their Oct. 7 attack explicitly targeted Israeli civilians. Killing Israeli civilians is a propaganda victory for Hamas, but causing Palestinians to be killed through their use as human shields is almost as much of a propaganda victory.

Fourth, Hamas and Islamic Jihad have lobbed thousands of rockets from populated areas in Gaza toward Israeli towns. These rockets have a well-documented failure rate, with as many as a quarter of them landing in the Gaza Strip itself. While Hamas’s bomb-making technology has improved (with the financial and technical assistance of the Iranians), it is still primitive compared to Israel’s military technology. A video clip, purportedly released by Hamas itself, showed operatives digging up water pipes supplied by Israel to Gaza and using them to manufacture rockets.

Finally, and most importantly, we should recognize that Hamas is a fundamentalist Islamist movement and not a national liberation movement. The concept of deception is enshrined in the Quran itself. It teaches that Muslims should be truthful to each other but may lie to “gain the upper hand over an enemy.” The Quran dates from the seventh century CE, so this has been known for well over a millennium.

A positive outcome of this incident would be for the Western media and politicians to learn their lesson and to treat any announcement by Hamas as propaganda to be taken with a shovelful of salt.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the case.

Steve Ambler is professor emeritus of economics in the École des sciences de la gestion, Université du Québec à Montréal.

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By Steve Ambler

Steve Ambler taught at l’École des sciences de la gestion de l’Université du Québec à Montréal (ESG UQAM) from 1985-2020, and chaired the Department from 2012-2015. He has held visiting positions at the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne), the European University Institute, the Institut für Höhere Studien in Vienna, and the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Austrian central bank). He is the author of numerous articles in journals such as the Journal of Monetary Economics, the Review of Economics and Statistics, and the Journal of Money, Credit and Banking. He is a past president of the Société canadienne de science économique (1998-1999). He has been an Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Economics (1992-1995) and of Canadian Public Policy (1998-2003). He was on secondment to the Bank of Canada as Special Adviser from September 2006 to July 2007. He was Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Economics Association from 2007 to 2012.

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