The bombing of the Gaza hospital, which killed hundreds of sick and injured people, is a tragedy of the highest order.
It was also a failure for the media.
There was a rush to judge that the Israeli army had carried out this harrowing attack.
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The New York Times banner headlined: “Israeli strike kills hundreds in hospital, Palestinians say.” »
At least there was that attribution. But think about it: it was really Hamas who said that. Hamas, which controls the government. Hamas, which commits unspeakable atrocities against women, children and babies. Hamas, which has a long history of lies and deception.
Yet my knee-jerk reaction was to wonder why Israel could do this and be condemned around the world, especially hours before President Biden’s visit. Targeting hospitals is exactly the kind of thing the Israelis don’t do.
And it turns out not. The Israeli military said it had nothing to do with the hospital tragedy.
The New York Times was not alone in accusing Israel in its initial reports. The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters and AP were among those that published similar articles.
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The correct solution would have been to say that there was a terrible explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital, and we cannot confirm who is responsible, but we will bring you the latest news when we have it.
Israeli intelligence — and, Biden said yesterday, U.S. intelligence as well — says it was an errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israel’s Channel 12 broadcast footage of one such rocket fired near the hospital and the explosion moments later. And Tel Aviv claims to have intercepted a call between two Palestinians acknowledging that the rocket had been fired from Gaza. Islamic Jihad rockets are notoriously inaccurate.
Moreover, the main damage was caused in the hospital courtyard, not the building itself, so even Hamas’s claim of 500 deaths must be treated with skepticism, although the The place was also used as a shelter for evacuees.
Nonetheless, Biden’s planned meetings with Egyptian, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders were abruptly canceled. And anti-Israel protests took place across the region.
What about the facts? Facts don’t matter in war, especially for Hamas propagandists. No one on the terrorist side will worry about unfairly blaming the Netanyahu government, not when Hamas’ official position is that Israel should be wiped off the map.
So what did Biden accomplish in Tel Aviv?
He comforted community leaders and victims of Hamas violence, a moving scene even though whispered voices could barely be heard.
He gave another impassioned speech telling the Jews “you are not alone”:
The attacks “brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by millennia of anti-Semitism and genocide of the Jewish people.
“The world was watching then, it knew, and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing more. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
And the president won Israel’s reluctant agreement to allow U.S. humanitarian aid to Gaza, where the evacuation of the north has created an increasingly urgent need for food, water and medicine. (Israel may stop if Hamas starts stealing supplies.)
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Biden’s handling of the Middle East crisis has drawn a striking degree of bipartisan praise. Richard Haass, who worked in the Bush administration, said on MSNBC yesterday that Biden’s speech was “masterful.” Conservative columnist Bret Stephens, writing in the New York Times, called his handling of the war “the president’s finest hour.”
Things could still fall apart in the Middle East. Biden’s political problems and poor polling have not gone away. A majority of Democrats still do not want the 80-year-old president to run again.
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But today we see a shining example of how age and experience can be indispensable qualities in times of crisis.