By Wyatt Reed / The Grayzone
With Israeli troops storming Gaza’s Al-Shifa and Al-Rantisi hospitals, the United States and Israel are doubling down on discredited claims that Hamas has been maintaining “command centers” out of the basements of hospitals in Gaza, even after so-called evidence produced by Tel Aviv was thoroughly debunked.
“I can confirm for you that we have information that Hamas, and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, used some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them, to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday.
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Kirby’s claim echoed the assertion by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who maintained that “open-source reporting” shows “Hamas does use hospitals, along with a lot of other civilian facilities, for command-and-control, for storing weapons, for housing its fighters.”
On November 14, Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh told reporters that US intelligence had no “boots on the ground,” nor any intelligence assets capable of independently gathering intelligence from or about Shifa. When asked if the declassified intel briefing spun out by Kirby and Sullivan arrived through Washington’s “Israeli counterparts,” she refused to answer. But she strongly suggested the intelligence dump was politically motivated.
“This is newly-downgraded information that we felt was important to get out today, because there have been a lot of questions about the hospital and how Hamas operates, and so it was important to get out there,” Singh insisted.
Hamas denies using hospitals for military purposes, and both local healthcare workers and international humanitarian organizations back that up. “I’m sick and tired of these [Israeli] claims that there are Hamas command centers [in hospitals],” Norwegian physician Dr. Mads Gilbert told Al-Jazeera on November 12. Having performed life-saving procedures for several weeks inside Shifa during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Gilbert noted, “As I’ve said 100 times… we’ve never seen high-ranking Hamas people in Al-Shifa,” adding “we’ve been able to roam freely.”
But that did little to prevent Israeli troops from waging an all-out assault on the facilities. As Israeli forces surrounded Shifa hospital on Tuesday with the full-throated support of the Biden administration, arresting journalists outside the facility and violently clearing displaced people from its grounds, doctors inside were forced to move babies in intensive care from one wing of the hospital to another to save their lives. A lack of fuel had already forced many of those infants off vital oxygen supply units.
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have been unable to find any presence of hostages inside or around the hospital. As Israeli Army Radio reported on November 15, “There is no indication of the presence of abductees inside the hospital.”
Systematic Israeli misinformation campaign dismissed by US as “fog of war”
Israeli and American officials have yet to produced any proof that Hamas operates a “command center” under Al-Shifa. Video published by the Israeli military purporting to prove Hamas kept hostages in the basement of Al-Rantisi Children’s Hospital, Gaza’s last remaining medical center with a pediatric cancer ward, was less than convincing.
In that video performance, top Israeli army spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari claims that what appears to be a bomb shelter for young children is actually a Hamas torture chamber, citing objects as unlikely as a baby bottle and a woman’s clothes. In one particularly memorable and widely panned moment, Hagari insisted the days of the week written in Arabic on a calendar were actually the names of the “terrorists” meant to guard captive Israelis ostensibly being held there.
The Israeli military has since attempted to downplay the deception as a “mistake in translation.”
It was hardly the first round in Tel Aviv’s fake news campaign. In the weeks since Palestinian resistance groups launched their shock assault on October 7, native Arabic speakers have taken to social media to mock the audio recordings Israel regularly publishes which purport to show Hamas members gleefully discussing carrying out war crimes.
In November alone, official Israeli social media accounts have been forced to walk about at least a half-dozen false assertions. A video showing a crying woman describing how she retrieved her son’s decomposing body from the streets of Gaza was transformed by Israel’s embassy to the US, which used fake captions to falsely claim she was blaming Hamas for the siege. When questioned, the embassy subsequently deleted the post.
The same week, Israel’s main government account on Twitter had to delete its false claim that “AP, CNN, NY Times, and Reuters had journalists embedded with Hamas terrorists on October 7th massacre” – a lie which the New York Times condemned as “reckless” and said put its journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza “at risk.”
Days later, Israel’s official Arabic-language Twitter account deleted footage of a woman dressed in nursing scrubs who claimed to work as a nurse in Gaza’s Al-Shifa hospital denounced Hamas for supposedly stealing fuel and medicine. Other doctors and nurses at the medical center reportedly told journalist Younis Tirawi: “We don’t know this woman; she has never worked here before & we’ve never seen her at the hospital.”
Social media users claimed the woman was Israeli actress Hannah Abutbul, who moonlights as a social media manager of an Israeli company named Aish International that works alongside the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Abutbul denies appearing in the video.
On November 10, Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) claimed Hamas was “INSIDE the Indonesian hospital last night,” citing a video which appeared to show a firearm being displayed. An observer who pointed out that the object was actually a billy club had their reply ‘hidden’ by the official Israeli account.
Throughout the blood-spattered onslaught on the Gaza Strip, US officials have consistently taken Israeli claims at face value, even parroting Tel Aviv’s excuses when prompted. Following Biden’s now-retracted claim to have seen “confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children,” US officials continue to exhibit a remarkable willingness to side with the Israeli government and echo its talking points.
During a November 14 press briefing, a reporter asked State Department spokesman Matthew Miller about the Israeli government’s habitual spreading of “misinformation.” Miller responded by brushing off Israel’s parade of fabrications as an inevitable feature of the “fog of war.”