All loss of innocent life is tragic, Hamas has most to gain from misinformation
The explosion at the Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza marks a tragic milestone in the war started by Hamas’ invasion of Israel and massacre of Israeli civilians on October 7, 2023. The tragic, heartbreaking scene of innocents killed and maimed by a blast in a hospital compound should give us all reason to take a moment of silence in the memories of the victims. To remember that war is horrible. That in war innocent people die, which is why we should avoid war whenever there is another way to keep our families safe.
Unfortunately, the court of public opinion doubled down on the tragedy by immediately quoting the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza. The New York Times sent a breaking news push to millions of phones around the world saying: “Breaking: Israeli strike kills hundreds in Hospital.” Almost all major international news organizations followed. Political leaders and pundits around the world were quick to follow with their condemnation. All seem to have forgotten the ancient wisdom shared by Aeschylus that “in war, truth is the first casualty.”
Hours later, as befits a responsible investigation into the causes of such a blast, the government of Israel shared footage and data points indicating the blast at the Christian hospital was caused by the Islamic Jihad’s own rocket as captured on an Al-Jazeera livestream. The blast being caused by a Hamas or Jihad rocket was confirmed by a neutral open-source intelligence network, GeoConfirmed, shortly thereafter.
Given the tremendous damage already done by the misinformation amplification, and the urgent need for public diplomacy, what can we do – those of us who care about the lives of all innocents, who must defend our homes in Israel from the murderous intentions of Hamas, and who most of all want our loved ones returned from captivity?
Here are a few practical considerations I recommend:
- Acknowledge the pain. All innocents should be kept safe, at all times. The explosion is a tragedy, an event that shouldn’t have happened no matter who caused it. Mourn the victims. They did not deserve this.
- Remind the world to act with caution when listening to Hamas. The same media sources that immediately broadcast Hamas’ claims just recently published pieces about misinformation. Remind them, and others, that misinformation is a weapon of war. Terrorists commit acts of wanton violence in order to get news coverage, because a bomb going off in a forest does not make a sound.
- Share information from non-Israeli government sources showing the likely origin of the blast. No one who amplified the claims that Israel attacked a hospital will trust the IDF Spokesperson saying it wasn’t Israel. It isn’t worth arguing why they would believe a theocratic dictatorship’s officials and not the democratic army of Israel. They just won’t. Instead, share, without arguing, that trusted sources show the tragic blast was caused by the Islamic Jihad, and that the Islamic Jihad and Hamas do not have a history of caring about Christian lives, let alone the lives of innocents.
- Focus on what will end the war: War is horrible. Even just wars. From the moment we declare war, we need to be singularly focused on what will end it. In this case there is a single thing that will end this war: the unconditional surrender of Hamas. If Hamas would emerge from their bunkers with a white flag, weapons on the ground, hostages unbound, and turn themselves over to an international force – Americans, Egyptians, British, French, UN peacekeepers, whoever – the war would immediately end.
Finally, if I were advising the government of Israel, I would recommend immediately opening all available data to the international media and demanding a full and public retraction if the media confirms. The media must be reminded this is not because we want to be “right,” but because rumors and information warfare can lead to real harm to real people.
I would ask that the WHO be the main neutral party to review the data first, since the blast was in a hospital, and since the Director-General of the WHO was the only high ranking official I know who immediately responded without assigning blame. If they are convinced, I would open libel lawsuits across multiple jurisdictions against these news agencies since sharing information that incites millions to blame Israel for the deaths of innocents it did not cause is no less than a blood libel threatening the lives of innocents in Israel and Gaza.
I fear this will only be one of many tragedies still to come during this war. Hamas, seeing the success of this information battle, will be incentivized to replicate it. They have not shown restraint with using the lives of innocents as weapons of war. We need to be prepared to respond to additional horrific events such as this one, and to use the tools of public diplomacy to prepare the court of public opinion too.