Hundreds of people were killed yesterday in the bombing of the Al-Ahli al-Arabi (Baptist) Hospital in the Al-Zeitoun district of Gaza City. The hospital was not only looking after its own patients – many injured in Israeli airstrikes – but was also sheltering thousands looking for safety from the IDF onslaught. As the news spread, tens of thousands of angry protesters immediately took to the streets in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Tunisia and the West Bank, attacking Israeli embassies and the US and French imperialists’ buildings. A summit between Arab leaders and Biden in Jordan has now been cancelled.
The Israeli state was quick to deny any responsibility, as always. First it blamed a malfunctioning Hamas rocket. Then it changed its story to blame the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organisation. The Israeli propaganda machine went into overdrive, providing all sorts of ‘evidence’ to distance themselves from the horrible massacre. We have been here before. In fact, this is the modus operandi that the Israeli state defaults to when trying to minimise the fallout when it commits a particularly callous act of brutality against the Palestinians.
History of lies
Let us just give one relatively recent example. In May 2022, the Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while covering an Israeli army raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank. Israel first denied any knowledge or involvement. Then they claimed the journalist had been killed by fire from a Palestinian militant. That didn’t fit the facts so they changed their story: Shireen had been killed in crossfire between Palestinian militants and Israeli soldiers, a ‘tragic accident’. But there were no Palestinian militants in the line of fire at the time when she was killed. Finally, it was proven beyond doubt that she had been killed by an Israeli sniper who had deliberately targeted her, despite the fact that she was wearing a very visible “Press” jacket. No one has been brought to justice for her killing.
To add insult to injury, on the day of her funeral, Israeli security forces raided the murdered journalist’s family home to seize Palestinian flags and prevent them from being flown at the funeral. Not content with that, they attacked the pallbearers at the funeral procession, almost forcing them to drop the coffin.
After Israel had brazenly lied about the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh ... then they raided her family home taking away Palestinian flags and attacked the pall bearers at her funeral procession. pic.twitter.com/8crFs1fOr1— Jorge Martin ☭ (@marxistJorge) October 18, 2023
We have another recent example, which has even closer parallels to what happened yesterday. In August 2022, an Israeli airstrike hit the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza, killing five children. The first reaction of the Israeli state was to say… wait for it… that they had been killed by a malfunctioning PIJ rocket! A week later, they were forced to admit the truth. There had been no launching of PIJ rockets in the area. The five Palestinian children had been killed by an Israeli Air Force strike.
To take another example from history, in 1996, Israel deliberately hit a UN compound in Qana, Lebanon with a missile strike. The UN compound was harbouring civilians from Israel’s attacks. 106 people were killed, 52 of them children. This was Robert Fisk’s report:
“Not since Sabra and Chatila [when the Lebanese Phalange murdered thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese Shia civilians in 1982] had I seen the innocent slaughtered like this. The Lebanese refugee women and children and men lay in heaps, their hands or arms or legs missing, beheaded or disembowelled. There were well over a hundred of them. A baby lay without a head. The Israeli shells had scythed through them as they lay in the United Nations shelter, believing that they were safe under the world's protection.”
First Israel claimed that there had been a targeting error. Then it blamed Hezbollah for “using civilians as human shields”. Eventually, comprehensive investigations by the UN, Amnesty International and Israeli newspapers determined that the Israeli army had deliberately targeted the compound.
The Israeli story about the bombing of the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital is full of holes. Right after they published the story about the “malfunctioning PIJ rocket”, freelance journalist Séamus Malekafzali pointed out that one of the videos the Israeli spokespersons were using to back up their claim of the hospital being hit had been filmed between half an hour and an hour after the strike on the hospital. This forced Israel’s official accounts to delete or edit their tweets accordingly. They were lying and had been caught in the act.
And the Israeli PM's office has deleted their publishing of the video as well. Guess this narrative didn't work out so well, they'll try another tomorrow.https://t.co/yZXiB2W9Xb— Séamus Malekafzali (@Seamus_Malek) October 17, 2023
Immediately after the attack, a number of Israeli official and semi-official sources offered completely different explanations, in some cases claiming responsibility for the attack and trying to justify it. Hananya Naftali, an Israeli propagandist who worked as media adviser for Netanyahu, argued that the IDF strike had been targeting a Hamas base inside the hospital. He was then forced to delete the post and offer ‘an apology’.
Earlier today I shared a report that was published on @reuters about the bombing at the hospital in Gaza which falsely stated Israel struck the hospital. I mistakenly shared this information in a since deleted post in which I referenced Hamas’ routine use of hospitals to store…— Hananya Naftali (@HananyaNaftali) October 17, 2023
He was not the only one to attempt to justify airstrikes on hospitals on the grounds that Hamas uses them as military bases. Pentagon deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh said Hamas “are putting their command and control units inside hospitals,” a claim that was completely made up. The BBC had also published a piece the day before asking the loaded question, “Does Hamas build tunnels under hospitals and schools?”' The UK’s public broadcaster provided justification for the bombing of hospitals and schools by the Israeli state.
What we actually know is this. For 10 days, the IDF has been bombing Gaza relentlessly. In fact, already in the first week they had used more bombs than the US invading force used in Afghanistan in any one year. This is a densely populated area, so hundreds of innocent civilians have been killed, including over 800 children at the last count, with many more suspected of being under the rubble. There is no ‘precision targeting’ in this campaign. It is aimed at striking fear into the hearts of 2.3 million people.
Already, before yesterday, 17 hospitals and health facilities had been hit by Israeli airstrikes. On the same day as the deadly attack on the hospital, a UN refugee agency school in the al-Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza had been hit by an Israeli airstrike, killing at least six, including UNRWA staff, injuring dozens and causing severe structural damage to the building. The school was being used as a shelter by Palestinians displaced by Israeli airstrikes, thinking the IDF would not hit a UN facility, as it has the GPS coordinates of all of them. They were wrong, tragically wrong.
Mass murder continues
Even after the massacre at the hospital, Israel continued pounding Gaza and its population with airstrikes. Not a pause, not even a respite. Two were killed in the bombing of a bakery in the Nuseirat refugee camp, near Deir al-Balah. What is the rationale behind such a target? Israel is already blockading Gaza, so neither food nor supplies can come in. Destroying the means to bake bread will force Gazans out of the north of the strip as they have been ordered to do by the Israeli state.
Did you think Israel stopped or paused strikes on Gaza after the massacre at the Al-Ahli Al-Arabi hospital? Think again. They bombed the bakery at the Nusseirat refugee camp, killing 2. At a time when they are blocking all food going into Gaza. pic.twitter.com/LImTQMvU9M— Jorge Martin ☭ (@marxistJorge) October 18, 2023
Early in the morning today, 25 people, men, women and children, were killed in an airstrike on the house of the Al-Astal family. Many of them were members of the same family, while others had been displaced from their homes by previous airstrikes.
We also know that Israel had ordered the whole population of north Gaza to evacuate to the south and that included specific instructions to evacuate hospitals. We know, because the World Health Organisation told us: “The hospital was one of 20 in the north of the Gaza Strip facing evacuation orders from the Israeli military. 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.”
Not only this, but the Al-Ahli al-Arabi hospital had already been hit by an Israeli airstrike on Saturday! According to a statement from the Anglican News Service: “The Diagnostic Cancer Treatment Centre of al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza has been hit by an Israeli rocket. Two upper floors of the centre, which houses the ultrasound and mammography wards, were severely damaged.”
On the morning of the attack, the Israeli army issued a specific warning to the inhabitants of the Al-Zeitoun district where the hospital is located. The head of the Arab language media operation of the IDF, Avichay Adree, threatened: “A message to the residents of the Zaytoun neighbourhood. You know that the neighbourhood is crowded and full of Hamas dens. Therefore, to preserve your safety and the safety of your families and loved ones head to the south of Wadi Gaza.”
All of the circumstantial evidence points towards Israeli responsibility for this horrific massacre. This is also the conclusion of Yolanda Álvarez, a former Middle East correspondent for the Spanish national broadcaster RTVE:
“On the massacre at the Al Ahli hospital, after having covered two wars in Gaza (2012 and 2014): Israel’s attacks alone can kill hundreds of people (with one-ton bombs). Hamas and Jihad rockets also kill, but they do not have that capacity. When the Israeli army launched its first deadly attack on a UNRWA school in 2014, in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, I received an SMS from their spokesperson saying: ‘It was Hamas.’ The independent UN investigation showed that all attacks on schools were by Israel.”
It is disgusting to see the hypocrisy and double standards of the western media and imperialist powers when it comes to human rights and so-called international law. If it is ‘our side’ which is committing atrocities, they always look for a justification (‘Hamas is using civilians as human shields’), or they demand extensive forensic examination before determining blame. Every type of rationale is invented, they talk of ‘collateral damage’ to cover up the naked fact that ‘our side’ is committing all sorts of brutalities against innocent civilians in pursuit of its imperialist aims.
How different from the hysterical front page denunciations of Russian war crimes and atrocities, real, made up, or grossly exaggerated, in Ukraine. The contrast could not be more striking. Then it was a question of softening up public opinion in support of ‘our side’. Now it is a question of moulding public opinion to support ‘our side’ too.
The latest ‘narrative’ promoted by western media and by the state of Israel is as follows: ‘Yes, we are killing civilians, but that is justified. Did we not kill lots of civilians when it was a question of defeating the Nazis?’ There’s not even an attempt to deny that innocent civilians are being killed by airstrikes, but rather it is a question of looking for a way to justify it.
Some in Israel do not even care about finding a justification. They openly blame the whole people of Gaza for the actions of Hamas and advocate collective punishment. “It is an entire nation that is responsible”, Israeli president Herzog said. And to underline the point he added: “It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”
Israeli atrocities, a continuation of 70 years of violence and oppression, are not just the responsibility of the Israeli state. They have for decades enjoyed the full support of western imperialism and particularly the US. This support has not wavered in the last 10 days of carnage in Gaza. All the western imperialist leaders have rallied publicly to support the so-called “right of Israel to defend herself”. The blood of the hundreds of victims of the Gaza hospital is also on their hands.
In recent days, prior to a threatened ground offensive on Gaza, which will only multiply the carnage, western leaders have queued up to visit Israel and publicly stress support for its murderous campaign: Scholz, von der Leyen, Macron, and now Biden. Both Germany and France, in a demonstration of how democratic they are, have banned Palestine solidarity demonstrations.
Masses entering the scene
The massacre at the hospital in Gaza has provoked a massive wave of revulsion across the Middle East and the Arab world. Thousands came out on the streets of Beirut, Amman, Istanbul, Tunis and other capitals to attack Israeli diplomatic buildings, but also, quite rightly, targeted US and French interests. In Turkey, dozens of protesters went to the US-manned NATO radar base of Kürecik and tried to breach the perimeter.
Large crowd of pro Palestine protestor trying to enter the NATO Kürecik Radar base in Turkey, manned by US Army. pic.twitter.com/67tDX8a3pW— Jorge Martin ☭ (@marxistJorge) October 18, 2023
In Hebron, Jenin, Ramallah and other West Bank cities and towns angry crowds chanted “the people want the overthrow of the president”, referring to the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Abbas, who acts as a local security contractor for the Israeli state. PA security forces clashed with protesters and opened fire, killing a 12 year-old girl.
The stage is set for a regional uprising against Israeli and western imperialism. The anger of the masses is also directed at their own rulers who are rightly seen as complicit, by their actions or lack thereof.
The mood is such that the Jordanian foreign minister announced the cancellation of the planned summit between Biden, Abbas, Jordan and Saudi Arabia which was to take place today. None of these leaders want to be seen as being close to US imperialism for fear of being overthrown by their own people. Even the governments which have already normalised relations with Israel were forced to issue strong condemnations, blaming Israel for the bombing.
On the one hand, Biden and US imperialism intend the visit to serve as a show of support for Israel, an ally which does not necessarily follow their orders. On the other hand, they are attempting to force a few gestures from the Israelis, in order to contain the danger of regional escalation of the conflict. In practice then, the US administration sees its role as being to prevent anyone else from getting involved while Israel massacres the Palestinians.
The situation was already complicated before, as the Israeli government, dominated by far-right elements, was and is in no mood for humanitarian corridors of any kind, and is determined to exert retribution from the Palestinians in Gaza as a whole. After the bloodbath at the hospital, Washington’s whole strategy lies in tatters. The masses in the Middle East and the Arab world are entering the scene.
Now is the time for escalating the campaign against Israel’s murderous war against Gaza, against Western imperialism and for the national liberation of the Palestinian people. The struggle for Palestinian national rights requires a revolutionary uprising in the whole region. The task of communists in the West is to show our solidarity and support and prepare the conditions for the overthrow of our own ruling classes, who are responsible for and complicit in the mass murder currently being committed.