Israel’s red mist of rage

Summary: as the full horror of the Al Ahli Hospital massacre is revealed to the world, Israel continues to present itself as the sole victim of the 7 October Hamas attack.

While claims and counter-claims fly back and forth about who bombed Gaza City’s Al Ahli Hospital what is not in dispute is the casualty count. At least 500 dead, more than a thousand wounded, patients and medical staff in the hospital as well as families sheltering there because they thought it was a safe haven; among the casualties many women and children.

1000 patients and 5000 seeking sanctuary from Israeli airstrikes. Why were those 5000 on the grounds of the hospital? They were there because of Israel’s relentless bombing campaign. Regardless of who is to blame for the bombing of the hospital, that context is important.

Clearly there are no safe havens in Gaza as Israel continues its heavy air strikes ahead of a likely land invasion. In preparation for the invasion, the IDF instructed Gazans to flee to the south of the Strip, even as it continues to bomb there as well as in North Gaza.

It would appear, then, with the civilian toll in Gaza continuing to mount inexorably that Israel’s rage and its thirst for vengeance is unslaked. And the death count in the West Bank has reportedly risen to more than 50 since 7 October with settler vigilantes carrying out assaults and the IDF firing on and killing Palestinians there.

The 7 October attack that left 1400  Israeli civilians dead was a huge military and intelligence disaster, one that punctured the country’s belief in the invincibility of its armed forces and security personnel. The rage, the red mist that has descended in the hours and days after the Hamas offensive is causing another loss. Israel, despite the best efforts of Western leaders, is haemorrhaging support on the global stage. The country’s vaunted hasbara, the smooth PR machine that has, over many years, shaped public opinion against the Palestinian cause is starting to come apart at the seams.

The Courtyard and Parking Lot at Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital in Northern Gaza
The Courtyard and Parking Lot at Al-Ahli Arab Baptist Hospital in Gaza City the morning after the bombing [photo credit: Mohamed Al Masry]
Yesterday an IDF spokesperson hectored and lectured BBC Radio 4’s Mishal Husain. In a nearly 10 minute rant, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner blamed the BBC for the protests that have erupted in countries across the Middle East. He was outraged at the suggestion that Israel submit to an independent process to confirm the IDF’s version of events that an Islamic Jihad rocket fell short of its target and hit the hospital. “We do not target hospitals” he said despite the fact that Al Ahli Hospital had been hit and damaged in an Israeli airstrike on 14 October.

Hamas chose to go to war against Israel. We will win this war because we are right. Anybody with a decent bone in their body needs to acknowledge this terrorist organisation cannot hold us hostage ever again. It has to release the 199 hostages and also let go the poor people of Gaza Strip who are also being held hostage. This terrorist organisation must be banished from the realm of existence.

 (You can find the full interview and Jeremy Bowen’s response here beginning at 08:16)

Palestinians inside and outside Gaza and many independent observers will argue with good reason that the opposite is true: it is Israel who is holding 2.3 million people hostage inside what has been called the world’s largest open air prison.

Israel had already ordered the complete evacuation of all hospitals in North Gaza. Ehab Bader is a Canadian paediatrician volunteering in the neonatal unit of Gaza City’s Al Shifa Hospital. He has 40 newborn babies under his care most of whom are being kept alive on ventilators, incubators and monitors. As of Monday the hospital had only enough fuel to keep the generators that supply electricity running for another 24 hours. He told the Globe and Mail newspaper “If we run out of electricity, that’s it, they will die on the spot.” Dr Bader said the evacuation order posed a huge logistical challenge. And for those babies as well as others needing medical equipment such as ventilators and dialysis “most patients we have would not survive.”

The immediate analogy that comes to mind is of the Khmer Rouge emptying the schools, homes and hospitals of Phnom Penh in their brutal campaign in the 1970s. This is the image, the reality that Israel is now projecting and no amount of hasbara, of hectoring and bluffing can conceal that reality from the eyes of the world.

On Tuesday evening another IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht when asked about civilian casualties told Newsnight’s Emir Nader he was “amazed at these questions coming from the BBC.” He then went on to say:

We don’t target civilians. We are doing everything we can to minimize collateral damage. There is no humanitarian crisis right now in Gaza. We asked people to move. There is water and electricity. I am focussed on what happened to the Israelis.

By any measure it was an extraordinary claim to make with civilian casualties in Gaza constantly rising and clear evidence that the Israeli decision to cut off water, food, electricity and medical supplies in the wake of the Hamas onslaught is causing an enormous humanitarian crisis.

As we noted in our Tuesday newsletter the Israeli President Isaac Herzog declared that there is no distinction between Hamas fighters and civilians in Gaza: “it is an entire nation out there that is responsible….We will fight until we break their backbone.”

Such statements mean that even as a pro forma hasbara exercise Israel cannot express condolences to civilian Palestinian victims and their families. The IDF spokespeople and the government are themselves hostage to a narrative that is verifiably and obviously false.

President Biden was supposed to be meeting with Arab leaders as well as Benjamin Netanyhu yesterday to discuss ways forward. After his plane touched down in Tel Aviv he promptly accepted the Israeli version. Later in the day he announced that Israel would allow a humanitarian corridor to be opened. But by that point a summit in Amman with Jordan’s King Abdullah, President Sisi of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas had already been cancelled.

Arab states including all those who recognise Israel as well as Saudi Arabia have condemned the attack. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who was warming to the idea of joining the so-called Abraham Accords immediately before 7 October used his foreign ministry to state:

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia condemns in the strongest possible terms the heinous crime committed by the Israeli occupation forces….

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia categorically rejects this brutal attack which is a flagrant violation of all international laws and norms, including international humanitarian law, and denounces the failure of the Israeli occupation to stop its continuous attacks against civilians despite many international appeals.

The United Arab Emirates, the driving force behind Arab states normalising with Israel echoed the Saudi statement as did countries across the Arab world. Beyond calling for restraint,  Western leaders have been conspicuous by their silence.

Whatever the facts of the Al Ahli bombing, the narrative that has lodged points blame at the Israelis. That they reject out of hand an independent assessment that might help to shift the narrative, that they stick to absurd claims that are verifiably false, that they continue a bombing campaign when what is needed is a ceasefire, that they escalate when de-escalation would help to temper the global revulsion that has come their way, all are a measure of a public relations war that they have lost disastrously.

Meanwhile the region and the world is on a knife edge waiting to see what will happen next. Now must surely be the time for Israel to step away from the red mist of rage it has descended into.

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