By John Roxborough, 10/27/2023
It’s Tuesday evening, 17 October 2023, when a notification on my phone causes it to vibrate violently: ‘150-200 killed, thousands injured in Israeli rocket attack on the Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza.’ I quickly login to multiple sites; NYT, CNN, the BBC, my go-to sources for fact-checked stories. The result is completely unexpected; somehow, these organizations have been able to verify the casualty count in scant minutes and are reporting the same details. Now it seems every website and social media account is referencing their coverage and running with the story. An hour later, a new notification…the death toll has climbed to 500, with 3,000 injured and it’s expected to rise – this is a staggering body count. Tragic. Painful. Heartbreaking. Avoidable. After a short, restless night I awaken at 5:00 am to a highly charged media landscape. The hospital that was ‘hit’ is now ‘the hospital that was targeted’ - an inhumane act. Around the globe, the news generates understandable outrage with calls for ‘a day of rage’. This threatens to derail on-going diplomatic efforts with consequences beyond the shores of the Middle East. The outrage is widespread but there are other concerns, namely the lack of reliable sources to confirm the casualties. In Gaza, the Health Ministry is an arm of the government – Hamas. It is notoriously unreliable. Every journalist knows it takes days, sometimes weeks, to get an accurate count of casualties, releasing figures this quickly is not standard operating procedure. My curiosity and journalism training kick in, so I begin the search for hard facts.
Is the casualty figure, correct? Why hasn’t it been verified by anyone else? Here’s what we know for sure. On Saturday 7 October 2023, at approximately 6:30 am, a murderous group of barbarians - Hamas Jihadists, invaded my homeland, the small nation of Israel, and over the course of 24 hours indiscriminately shot, stabbed, and bludgeoned to death 1,400 of our family, friends, and neighbors. These ISIS-like terrorists raped countless women of all ages, races, and nationalities. They killed unborn babies still in their mother’s bellies and slaughtered little angels, 40 of them while sleeping together in their nursery in a Kibbutz. The Jihadists beheaded and burnt civilians; some bodies are so disfigured hundreds of their remains are still unidentified.
Hamas decapitated some and filmed it all - then they celebrated. The victims are Jews, Arabs, Druze, Palestinians and untold other faiths and ethnicities – and soon, an entire nation mourned. To paraphrase President Franklin D Roosevelt; October 7th, 2023, is a day that will live in infamy, and one that we must never forget. I am out of the country, but like the rest of the world I recoil with revulsion at what I’m witnessing; this type of behavior is abhorrent, and to most – unthinkable. Though sitting thousands of miles away, I’m quite familiar with the culture and customs of the people. I know how much Israelis of all persuasions wish to live in peace with their neighbors, but the citizens of Gaza are caught in a vicious cycle – the are ruled by a terrorist organization. Fast forward 11 days to October 18, where on television and cable TV, talking heads - supposedly experts in their fields - are heatedly discussing the explosion at the hospital. The airstrike, they claim without proof, is a result of the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. The verbose language is surprising, and this despite the fact the incident is still unfolding, and accurate information is scarce. Events are moving so quickly it’s doubtful anyone has had the time to investigate the source of the rocket or the condition of the hospital. Thus far, the health ministry remains our only source.
Just days before, the IDF released a statement that 435 Hamas rockets had misfired out of the 6,800 launched to date -a figure that that has now greatly increased. The premature destruction of these highly volatile vessels would have resulted in the deaths of countless innocent Gazans. These are predictable outcomes as an independent analysis in 2021 by Michael J. Armstrong of Brock University showed the failure rate of Hamas rockets as high as 15%. But beware, these are terrorists with improving capabilities in rocket science. To this point, I’ve personally seen two videos of the purported attack; one supposedly filmed from a nearby Kibbutz and the other streaming on the Al Jazeera network. Both appear to show a rocket losing control after being airborne for a few seconds before plunging to the ground. That rocket, like many others before it, landed in Gaza. Around me, the wall-to-wall coverage of ‘the hospital attack’ is blowing up the internet - all of it. Preliminary accounts give little mention to the videos, or the rocket’s possible origin. It’s now Wednesday evening and judging by media accounts it feels like the whole world believes Israel is at fault. The apparent destruction of the Al Ahli hospital is reinforcing this narrative. These recent events defy comprehension. The explosion has gift-wrapped a group of ruthless Jihadists with the one thing they crave most - redemption. It couldn’t work out any better if they had written the script themselves. As the day ends and no new evidence materializes, I seriously question the media news loop, without solid confirmation these numbers are useless – my doubts grow.
‘But what if there’s no evidence - because it does not exist?’ This possibility troubles me, greatly. It’s conceivable the terrorists themselves may have a hand in this explosion and could have crafted the perfect narrative; an overcrowded hospital, defenseless civilians, and a vengeful nation drunk with blood in their eyes. It’s a compelling and irresistible storyline. Leaning back to get a better view of the situation it’s obvious that something isn’t right; the story does not pass the smell test. I, together with the rest of the world, may have been gypped. By the time we cross the 36-hour threshold I’ve morphed into a skeptic. A sinking feeling has settled in my stomach – I’m still not able to verify any of the news reports. This is taking far too long. Is it possible we’re living through a real-time misinformation campaign, one that’s playing out right before our very eyes? Facts are irrefutable, but when mixed with a dose of fiction they can be manipulated. There’s no doubt that an established organization, funded by a large state entity and masterminded by a group of highly trained operatives can succeed in spreading fake information to a worldwide audience, especially if aided by the full and misguided cooperation of the mainstream media. It’s unprecedented- but plausible. If living in the information age has taught us anything, it is that state sponsored campaigns are the battlefield of the future. Hamas, the most prominent group in Gaza, is a member of the joint operations room for the so-called “Axis of Resistance”, a like-minded group of fundamentalists terrorist organizations trained, equipped, and funded by Iran.
But to what end?
Logically speaking, a smokescreen may be a clever attempt to divert attention away from the heinous crimes committed on October 7. If so, the killers have scored a resounding victory and the media has fallen for it, hook, line, and sinker. With less than 48 hours since the ‘Hospital bombing’ I’m scouring sites that feature the ‘attack’, but find no new statements, and less talk of casualties. Certainly, the real damage has already been done; fear and doubt have been sown in the hearts and minds of Israel’s friends and malice and hatred in her enemies. On the ground the information vacuum is deafening.
Then, voila! Some good news.
The first pictures from the hospital are in - but they are shocking. The Al Ahli hospital is still standing. It was not ‘hit’ or ‘destroyed’; it’s right where it was two days before. The buildings that surround it are also intact; though covered in a smokey tinge, they are, largely unscathed. The parking lot is a different matter, there are indications of a mass event here, a raging fire.
The initial photos show no gaping craters in the ground - the telltale footprint of an impact by an Israeli missile. But this ghoulish, rusting landscape appears to be the place with the most significant damage. Burnt-out vehicles, all in an upright position, their frames crumpled from the effects of intense heat, are the only witnesses to the recent event. All around, objects are singed and ashen. But no debris from a projectile - all evidence of the cause of the destruction, be it a missile or a rocket, has been removed. So, what’s really happened? Something else is missing from the scene, the one thing that should be visible everywhere - victims. The videos, the pictures, the tellers of human suffering.
Where are they? In post-disaster coverage it’s possible to recreate events by interviewing those most affected by it. Every reporter knows this, and the affected ones are always willing to talk to someone - anyone. But not here. The morgue is not packed with bodies and no lines of injured patients fill the hallways. There are no interviews to be had here. There’s only one conclusion – Hamas’ report of a hospital attack was and is a hoax. A masterful con-job executed right before our eyes.
Predictably, they would not have acted alone. A successful outcome for Hamas in this campaign would also mean a major victory for Iran and its proxies, an organism which includes a close group of terror organizations in the region.
In the short-term we may not know all the facts, but someday it’ll come out. There are people who know the truth in Gaza, but they’re silent - by will or by force. Of this one thing I am certain, it’s not possible to hide 500-700 dead bodies and 3,000 injured civilians in the space of 48 hours. As of this writing there’s no one who has gone on record to discuss the possibility of a misfire – and neither the hospital nor its doctors claim to have a handle on the number of casualties.
At this point, who would trust them? Then there’s the biggest red flag of all - the lack of photographic evidence in the digital age. Early on, Hamas promised proof of the alleged Israeli attack, in large part to counter the videos from the Kibbutz and Al Jazeera. But nothing has been offered to refute the minute-by-minute accounts of the IDF; audio of two Hamas operative discussing the misfire, and video recordings of the rocket crashing into the hospital parking lot. I doubt it’s forthcoming - I won’t hold my breath. There’s an unnerving quiet that has hung over this city for the past two decades – along with an overbearing sense of fear and intimidation. The unspoken truth is that the people of Gaza have been cowed into silence by a ruthless gang of terrorists - Hamas.
Their hopes and dreams are held hostage to a death-cult – wedded to a corpse that glorifies killing and intent on destroying the only neighbor they’ve known for half a century – a place where young boys can only aspire one day to become men. The terrorists use these helpless citizens as human shields and demand they follow them without question.
In this neighborhood, there’s no mention of the 800-pound gorilla lurking in the shadows, that would be fatal. So, the citizens dutifully follow the law of the jungle - keep your head down and your mouth shut - snitches get stitches.
The murderers of countless citizens on October 7 have certainly gained a public relations victory with the ‘targeted hospital’ story, and a boost to its misinformation campaign – they’ll reap their reward. Sadly, they aren’t the only ones at fault. There’s plenty of blame to go around and the media will certainly come into its fair share – they deserve it. A quote often attributed to Jonathan Foster reads, ‘the first rule of journalism, ‘if someone says it's raining, and another person says it's dry, it's not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the window and find out which is true. ´ Clearly, many journalists disregarded this and other basic rules; in their rush to get the scoop on a savory story they dropped the ball, failing to apply due diligence. This inattention to detail has predictably brought unthinkable hardship to millions of innocent Israelis and Jews, all over the world. There is a deep hope that this will not happen again. In the future, I suggest that we as journalists go back to our tried and proven processes of checks and verification. The next time there’s news of a rainstorm, let’s take a moment to open the window first, and look outside - before we head for the ark.
John Roxborough is a journalist, author, and Holocaust researcher, who has spent the past 12 years documenting the history of Jews in the Caribbean, and especially those who found refuge in Trinidad during WWII. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications from Florida International University and has been involved in the Holocaust Studies program at Haifa University, Israel. He makes his home in Jerusalem but is currently working at the Israeli embassy in Dakar, Senegal.