The fog of war in Gaza

The big picture is very clear. Israel's onslaught against Gaza is killing large numbers of civilians, including many children. Nobody can seriously dispute that.

When the big picture is so clear it's easy to slip into the habit of seeing every new incident as further confirmation, but war is rarely that simple. There are likely to be a few things that don't fit the overall pattern or situations where it is difficult, based on available evidence, to be at all certain what happened.

There have now been several apparent attacks in Gaza which Israel has denied carrying out – blaming the mis-firing of Hamas rockets instead. Let's look at one example.

Late on Monday afternoon an explosion near al-Shifa hospital reportedly damaged an outpatient clinic and injured two people. 

Shortly afterwards, Jon Donnison of the BBC posted a tweet saying: "IDF says: Al-Shifa Hospital and Al-Shati Refugee Camp were struck by failed rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants."

I retweeted that, but a few minutes later I noticed a report on NBC's website giving a different view. NBC's brief account included the Israeli denial of responsibility but also added that an NBC journalist had witnessed the attack on the hospital and said it had been fired by an Israeli drone. 

This was an interesting development, particularly because NBC is regarded as having pro-Israel leanings and thus might be expected not to contradict what the IDF says without being sure of its facts. Having already tweeted about the Israeli denial, I then posted a tweet linking to NBC's report and quoting the sentence about its journalist.

It wasn't long, though, before NBC re-edited its story and removed the mention of its journalist witnessing the explosion and the claim that it was an Israeli drone strike.

In the meantime, however, many people had retweeted my tweet – without bothering to check the link. Had they done so, they would have seen that the sentence I quoted was no longer there. A few did notice, but only a few.

I posted another tweet saying "Please keep in mind that NBC has since removed the sentence that I quoted", but it didn't make much difference. My tweet about the NBC journalist has now been retweeted 761 times, with 177 favourites, and two days later a few people are still retweeting it. 

Obviously, a lot of Twitter users would like to believe that Israel did it. Some may say: "Well, the IDF would deny it, wouldn't they?" – which is a fair point – but at present there doesn't seem to be enough evidence to form a considered opinion either way.

Hopefully, more facts will emerge. But they may not.
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 30 July 2014