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Failing the Hamas Litmus Test

The inflammatory Al-Ahli hospital hoax shows that much of the Western media remains compulsively addicted to dangerous and self-defeating war journalism.

· 13 min read
Failing the Hamas Litmus Test
Palestinians evacuate the Al-Ahli Arabi Baptist Hospital for safer spots after it was hit in Gaza City Palestinians evacuate the Al-Ahli CBaptist Hospital for safer spots after it was hit in Gaza City, Gaza on October 18, 2023. Alamy

If the unfathomable violence of October 7th showed us Hamas’s true nature and goals—and if the exultant response from Palestinian activists in the West taught us what they mean by a “non-violent civil society movement for freedom, justice and equality”—then what happened ten days later, revealed to the full light of day, the stunning, self-destructive dysfunctions of the Western media.

On October 17th, an explosive projectile was reported to have hit the Al-Ahli Baptist hospital in Gaza City at about 21:30. Hamas quickly alleged that an Israeli airstrike had destroyed the building and killed as many as 500 people. In fact, an errant jihadist rocket, fired from within Gaza, had fallen in the hospital’s parking lot. Although the final casualty figures are still not established, given the limited size of the blast and the few photos of the bodies, one European intelligence source estimated that 10–50 people died.

When Western journalists first approached the Israelis for comment about the alleged strike, they were told that Hamas’s claims were being investigated. But instead of awaiting further details, many of these reporters simply printed Hamas’s version of events. Like “stenographers,” journalists at the New York Times, BBC, AP, France 24, Reuters, CNN, the Washington Post, and the LA Times all repeated the unsubstantiated claims of a terrorist organization. Despite the egregious implausibility of those claims, and the highly volatile situation in which they were being made, the West’s legacy media carried the story just as Hamas wanted. Jihadist war propaganda was transformed into news.

Within hours, the IDF produced compelling evidence—including clips from Al Jazeera Arabic, of all places—that the blast had been caused by a PIJ rocket. But by then, it was too late to prevent riots from breaking out across the Muslim world and angry protest marches from erupting across the West. Calls were raised for the overthrow of cowardly Arab governments, including the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, while protestors took to the streets of New York and other Western cities to demand a global intifada. The news of an alleged Israeli atrocity gave a shot in the arm to the already aggressive forces of Palestinian and global jihad, who duly began to accuse Israel of committing genocide.

This phenomenon of Gazan rockets landing in Gaza and killing Gazans is hardly new, and the same routine follows whenever such a mishap occurs. International journalists are kept out until the incriminating shrapnel can be removed, then reporters are brought in to hear anguished denunciations of Israeli criminality. In such cases, jihadis have not hesitated to use the bodies of dead Palestinian children as props in grotesque photo-ops intended for consumption by the Muslim and global media alike.

Hamas chief Haniya and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood Foreign Minister Kandil kissing a child killed by Hamas in 2012.

And since some 20 percent of jihadist rockets meant for Israeli civilians fall short inside Gaza, there are many cases in which the Western press has to acknowledge that the terrorists killed their own citizens. But even journalists who refuse to participate in this theater often remain silent while they are in Gaza for fear of “Hamas retaliation.” As one journalist tweeted during the 2014 Gaza war:

Others, however, continued to insist that allegations of intimidation were part of an “Israeli narrative”:

As a result, only the Zionist ghetto of the public information sphere has any proper knowledge of the disturbing contempt Palestinian leaders display for the lives of their own people. Even those journalists and commentators who attempt to provide even-handed analyses have ended up subtly promoting the Palestinian case. The upshot is that credulous Western reporters and editors ignore their own errors, learn nothing, and repeatedly fall for the same crude propaganda ploy. In this way, when Hamas accidentally kills their own, they succeed in turning a human-rights disaster into a PR cudgel with which to beat Israel in the court of public opinion.

A New York Times journalist, apparently unaware that she was describing her own paper, told MSNBC that running a headline jumping to premature conclusions on a story like this one would be “crazy.” In fact, the first headline to appear in the Times over the Al-Ahli story read: “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.” In order to make up for the lack of a photo of a damaged hospital, the Times published a picture of a destroyed building from Khan Younis right under that stunning headline. They published a picture of the actual site of the explosion on their front page five days later:

With this triple falsehood (it was not an Israeli strike, it did not hit the hospital, there were nowhere near 500 dead), the jihadis could not have asked for more favorable coverage. An event they had caused was turned into a mass murder of which they were the victims. Doctors even staged a presser surrounded by the bodies of the dead:

Subsequently, as additional information emerged, the NYT headline was quietly amended. But the blast was still described as a hospital strike, there were still 500 casualties, and the report still rested on the same source—the Ministry of Health in Gaza, which a general readership could not be expected to realize is a Hamas mouthpiece. There was a palpable reluctance to reconsider the whole story, and admissions of error were made as slowly and reluctantly as possible. Some editorial decisions, the paper’s Pentagon correspondent conceded, had not been perfect, but its media correspondent reassured readers that those decisions were nonetheless legitimate responses to fast-moving events.

The evolving headline at the New York Times.

To make matters worse, on October 19th, it emerged that the Times had rehired a Hitler-praising Hamas propagandist to cover the hospital affair. When contacted for comment, a Times representative praised their stringer’s “high journalistic standards” and “important and impartial work.” It was not until October 23rd that the Times published an Editor’s Note admitting that “the early versions of the coverage—and the prominence it received in a headline, news alert and social media channels—relied too heavily on claims by Hamas, and did not make clear that those claims could not immediately be verified.”

The BBC’s coverage could not have disappointed Hamas either (although that did not prevent Hamas’s sympathizers from chanting invective in the streets of the British capital). The BBC’s Jon Donnison has firsthand experience of Hamas’s friendly fire. In 2012, he promoted the death of his cameraman’s son into an icon of the pain inflicted by Israel:

When confronted with news that the death had likely been caused by a Hamas rocket, Donnison doubled down in defense of his reporting. Now, following the Al-Ahli blast, he once again rushed to blame Israel before the facts were in:

Donnison ... leapt to the conclusion that Israel was responsible for the attack, without any clear evidence, and that the numbers of dead and wounded reported by the Palestinian Health Ministry were accurate, again with no evidence. Donnison said, “it is hard to see what else this could be … other than an Israeli air strike or several air strikes.” Perhaps it would have been less “hard” if he had waited for more evidence and analysis to come in. Donnison insisted this attack “was a gamechanger”—though since he didn’t actually know who was responsible, it is not clear how it could have been.

On October 20th, with characteristic British understatement, deputy chief executive of BBC News Jonathan Munro admitted that the language in the corporation’s coverage of the hospital attack “wasn’t quite right.” Munro added: “[Donnison] was wrong to speculate about the cause of the explosion of the hospital. At no stage did he actually say it was caused by the Israelis … but nonetheless, when the impression is left that we’ve speculated, [it] is important to correct that which we’ve done.” This was own-goal journalism at its least edifying.

A larger frame underlines how just how dangerous this kind of journalistic malpractice can be. According to some expert analyses, political Islam now commands the Middle East, and as reporting of the alleged hospital attack inflamed Muslims around the world, calls for jihad spread to Iraq and Syria. “Elite disinformation,” wrote Nick Timothy in the Telegraph, “is a far greater problem than fake news on Twitter.”

There is nothing more gut-wrenching than seeing images of dead bodies and grieving mourners who imagine that hundreds of innocents have been incinerated in an Israeli airstrike—and on a hospital, no less. How could any Muslim fail to be enraged by the idea that Israel did this on purpose? And then they watch as the US president and the leaders of Europe pledge to stand with the genocidal Zionist murderers. For a Muslim, it’s hard to imagine a more powerful proof of Bin Laden’s global jihadist narrative than this—and it’s all confirmed by Western sources.

Back in 2021, the NYT published the faces of 69 children who perished during the conflict between Israel and Gaza’s terrorist groups that year, precisely as attacks on New York Jews were spiking. And they did this, even though at least nine of those children were Gazans killed by jihadist rockets, and many were teenage members of jihadist groups. One might think that this destructive past would give the legacy media pause, especially given their otherwise pious concern about not reaffirming the global jihadist narrative by inciting Islamophobia.

And yet, media irresponsibility continues to inflict immeasurable damage on the West and the global community at a particularly fraught moment by arousing global jihadist wrath. In anticipation of the Friday following the attacks (October 13th), Hamas called for attacks on Israel from the West Bank and within Israel, and mass demonstrations in the West to “earn the honor of taking part in defending Al-Aqsa Mosque.” On October 20th, ISIS issued a call to attack Jewish interests and institutions the world over. Jewish families in the US are afraid to send their kids to school, and children attending Jewish schools in London are being advised not to wear their blazers lest they attract antisemitic abuse or worse.

The legacy press behaved like arsonists, even as Hamas sympathizers called for further slaughter in Israeli towns, the fall of “moderate” Arab governments, an intifada in the US, and attacks on synagogues. Could anyone have given more powerful support to their murderous cause than reckless reporting that galvanized radicals on American campuses and on the global Muslim “Street,” who now had an excuse to ignore or even cheer Hamas’s atrocities?

The media should not be allowed to argue inadvertence. Past experience has provided ample evidence of Hamas’s strategy of engineering the death of their own people for PR victories. But that strategy cannot work without Western media complicity in hiding Hamas’s responsibility and promoting a presumptive narrative of Israeli guilt. Getting your own people killed in order to aggravate world horror and hatred of your enemy will only succeed if the enemy’s media are willing to endorse and transmit your messaging to their own publics. When a major news agency like AP issues a lengthy report confirming Israeli counterclaims that a Palestinian missile hit the hospital parking lot, but neither reconsiders the “genocidal” number of dead nor examines its own earlier misreporting, journalistic misconduct will assuredly continue.

If, on the other hand, the media were prepared to report the horror of Hamas’s use of its own people as sacrificial human shields… if journalists regularly asked their Arab interlocutors why there are no public bomb shelters among Gaza’s 300 miles of tunnels… if every time jihadis killed Gazans, reporters asked hard questions of Palestinian spokesmen and interviewed those prepared to testify that it was a jihadist rocket… if they reported on Hamas’s violent efforts to prevent Gazans from fleeing areas the Israelis have warned they’re about to bomb… if this ghoulish hypocrisy were revealed rather than concealed and celebrated by a compliant press... if all this were to occur, then Hamas’s strategy of human sacrifice would simply not be effective.

During the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, it was deemed prudent policy to make talk about “radical Islam” taboo. Why? “[Such talk] helps to create this clash of civilizations,” explained Hillary Clinton in 2015, “that is actually a recruiting tool for ISIS and other radical jihadists who use this as a way of saying, ‘We are in a war against the West―you must join us.’” The NYT and the rest of the liberal intelligentsia were happy to agree with this reasoning, as it appeared to serve their preoccupation with restraining public Islamophobia. But it was always predicated on dubious logic. After all, shouldn’t moderates be among those most eager to emphasize the distinction between violent radicals and peaceful believers? Shouldn’t they object to the religious deviants corrupting their faith as much as we do?

If the logic of Kerry, Clinton et al. had any utility, then, it was as one of Plato’s noble lies intended to calm matters down. But it had the opposite effect. Not only did it make Western government officials sound like fools, but it left them unable to distinguish between genuinely moderate Muslims and radicals only pretending to be moderate. And the problem is that Hamas is considered a legitimate and even authoritative Islamic movement by many mainstream Muslims, even those working as journalists for Western outlets.

Indeed, the BBC has had to keep an eye on its Arab journalists, some of whom have tweeted support for Hamas. An interesting exchange occurred shortly after the October 7th massacre between an Israeli Arab named Muhammad Kabiya, who believes that Hamas’s jihad is a violation of Islamic principles, and a BBC Arabic anchor, who had just interviewed Arabs supportive of Hamas:

Kabiya: Is this the Islamic religion, which Hamas is wearing as a cloak? The Islamic religion is innocent of Hamas. Innocent of these shameful acts against the Islamic religion and against everyone who claims to be Muslim.

BBC anchor: This is what you say, but Hamas has another point of view.

The silence about radical Islam from Western governments, and even intelligence services, has actually benefitted jihadists by helping radicals and their sympathizers operate in the Western public sphere unimpeded. If anything, the refusal to discuss radical Islam reveals an unspoken acknowledgment of the strength of the jihadist current in Islam among the “vast majority of moderate Muslims,” and a fear that, if offended, Muslims might openly embrace the radical option with its mighty appeal to resentment.

As a result, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen a damaging combination of silence about radical Islam on one hand, and incitement of Muslims worldwide with defamatory journalism about Israel on the other. Both work effectively to encourage jihad. Indeed, the only consistency in the two Western practices is that they comply with jihadist demands. Don’t refer to Muslims as terrorists, even when they embody the very worst of that emotionally charged word; instead, assist them by circulating their war propaganda, no matter how implausible and inflammatory it may be.

Personally, I don’t think that Clinton and Kerry, the worst at the NYT and the BBC, or some members of the socialist “squad” want to incite jihad. I don’t even think that the late Palestinian-American postcolonial professor Edward Saïd meant to enable global jihad as much as he did. Like Jodi Rudoren, who was NYT chief correspondent in Israel during the 2014 Gaza conflict, such people are simply unable and unwilling to confront the reality of Palestinian savagery and their own cowardice in the face of it. The same may be said of all the institutions in the West that have welcomed Islamic radicals under the misapprehension that they were moderates.

The massacre on October 7th and the hospital blast ten days later have given us a litmus test to deal with this. These events have drawn a line in the moral sand that any self-identifying liberal or a progressive of integrity must heed. It is not just Hamas’s genocidal goals that we can now see in the bright light of day; the sheep’s mask of Palestinian “human rights and dignity and freedom” has also been torn from the snarling face of the wolf.

The deeds of Hamas, PIJ, and other complicit Gazans, and the approval those deeds elicit among Palestinians and sympathetic Westerners, have shown us the true face of the Palestinian liberation movement. It is the polar opposite of everything it pretended to be and everything self-deluded Westerners wanted it to be. It is motivated by authentic genocidal hatred, incited daily by bloodcurdling speeches from Imams and politicians broadcast on PA TV. The only Palestinian deaths that matter to them, are those they can blame on Israel.

Israel is now fighting the heirs of Nazism in the last active front of World War II, which just opened up a new round of fighting. Unfortunately, much of the liberal and left-leaning Western media remains compulsively addicted to self-defeating war journalism. Recognizing the depth of the problem is a difficult intellectual and emotional task for anyone raised in the positive-sum world of the postwar West, where everyone could sincerely say, Nie Weider. We thought that this kind of hatred and savagery had been banished from our midst.

But reassuring delusions are of no use. During 20 long years wasted on self-deception, we have invited people into the Western public sphere who speak another language entirely, and our feckless elites have played along by replacing the Zionist narrative with an apocalyptic alternative dressed in the self-pitying drag of wretched victimhood. If well-meaning liberals are to avoid being conned into regurgitating the war propaganda of a death cult, they will need to come to terms with the terrible reality of Palestinian fanaticism that they have hitherto done their best to ignore.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that Hamas’s October 10th statement called for attacks on Jews worldwide. This call was issued by ISIS on Oct 20th. Apologies for the error.

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