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Al Ahli hospital
The scene at al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza on October 18, 2023 after the October 17 explosion. Photo credit: © Mohammed Saber/EFE via ZUMA Press

The Gaza hospital explosion illustrates that, instead of carelessly spreading propaganda, US lawmakers — such as Tom Cotton and Rashida Tlaib — on both sides should be much more judicious when it comes to which information they disseminate.

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When news broke that al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza was rocked by an explosion that had possibly killed hundreds of civilians, it didn’t take long for both sides of the current conflict in Israel to point fingers at each other.

Naturally, the Hamas-run Health Ministry blamed an Israeli airstrike for the carnage. And just as naturally, Israel’s military said a terrorist group, Islamic Jihad, was responsible because one of its rockets meant for Israel had misfired.

Nothing surprising here.

After all, nobody wants to be held responsible for killing hundreds of innocents, including many children.

Now, a discerning person may wonder how the Health Ministry managed so quickly to determine that 500 people had died. The explosion happened at night, and, amid the chaos that it must surely have created and the effort it must have taken to tend to survivors, one can wonder who was counting the bodies.

At the same time, it is also fair to ask the question of how Israel can be so sure what exactly happened.

There is, after all, such a thing as the fog of war.

Ultimately, it seems fair to conclude that it might not be possible for either side to make its definitive claims — especially not as quickly as they did.

However, since much of war is propaganda, and this conflict in particular is a lot about public perception, it is clear why both sides reacted so quickly.

If Israel were responsible, there would be an international outcry, the country would lose a lot of the good will it had earned after the Hamas attack from earlier this month, and calls for a ceasefire would grow louder.

Conversely, if militants were to blame for the explosion, in particular if they had used the hospital as a place to store weapons and the patients as human shields, then Israel would be absolved of future atrocities and justified to liberate the Gaza strip from this menace.

In light of how much is at stake here, it all makes sense for the two respective sides to act as they did.

What doesn’t make sense is what some US lawmakers did.

Instead of sitting back and trying to figure out exactly what happened, they spread the respective talking points of “their” sides and thereby poured gasoline on the conflict.

“Israel just bombed the Baptist Hospital killing 500 Palestinians (doctors, children, patients) just like that,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). No mention where the information came from, just a statement of fact.

Shortly thereafter, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) weighed in.

“Of course Hamas is responsible for the hospital attack,” he tweeted. “They want Gazans to be human shields to back their terror campaign.”

In addition to simply repeating something he read online, just about everything he said is very likely false. A misfired rocket, for example, is not an attack, which would also make the claim of patients being used as human shields false.

Both of them, and many other lawmakers and talking heads, are acting irresponsibly by simply echoing propaganda without waiting for the facts to be established.

Their attempts to “control the narrative” of the war will just result in fostering more resentment between the two sides and bringing the conflict to the shores of the US.

Tlaib, for example, has 1.4 million followers on Twitter, and Cotton has 500,000.

The chance that any of these 2 million people (we are assuming there isn’t a ton of overlap), are reading these tweets and deciding to take action because “[insert name of one side] are animals and something must be done to help the [insert name of the other side]” is not zero.

And next thing you know, another little Muslim boy is murdered or acts of antisemitism are being committed.

President Joe Biden did somewhat better in his visit to Israel Wednesday morning.

“Based on what I’ve seen, it appears as though it was done by the other team, not you,” he told the Israelis. “But there’s a lot of people out there not sure.”

That’s a much more nuanced take and more appropriate in light of how little we know so far.

Others should take note.

Instead of trying to use every bit of news coming out of Gaza for their own purposes, US lawmakers should try to find common ground, such as the condemnation of the killing of civilians on both sides.

Or they could do nothing, which would be better than spreading unvetted information that will only get people riled up.

In the case of the hospital explosion, we may never find out what happened. Sure, both sides will present lots of “evidence” in the coming days to bolster their argument, but how do you determine the definitive truth in a war zone?

Sadly, that probably works just as well for people like Tlaib and Cotton, because it will allow each of them to keep pointing fingers at the other.

Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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