A video distributed by the Israeli military in July suggesting that Palestinian fighters had fired from the Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital in Gaza City was not shot during the recent Israeli attack on Gaza, and both audio and video clips were manipulated to cover up the fact that they were from entirely different incidents, a Truthout investigation has revealed.
The video, released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on July 23, the same day Israeli airstrikes destroyed Al Wafa, was widely reported by pro-Israeli publications and websites as proving that the hospital was destroyed because Hamas had turned the hospital into a military facility. But the video clip showing apparent firing from an annex to the hospital was actually shot during Israel’s 2008-09 “Operation Cast Lead,” and the audio clip accompanying it was from an incident unrelated to Al Wafa.
The misleading video was only the last in a series of IDF dissimulations about Al Wafa hospital that included false claims that Hamas rockets had been launched from the hospital grounds, or very near it, and that the hospital had been damaged by an attack on the launching site.
The IDF began to prepare the ground for the destruction of Al Wafa hospital well before Israeli ground troops entered Gaza on July 17. On July 11, the IDF fired four warning rockets on the fourth floor of Al Wafa, making a large hole in the ceiling – the standard IDF signal that a building was going to be destroyed by an airstrike.
On July 17, the hospital was hit by a total of 15 rockets, according to Dr. Basman Alashi, Al Wafa’s director. After the first few rockets, a phone call from the IDF “asked how much time do you need to evacuate?” he told Truthout. After the second and third floors were largely destroyed, the patients’ rooms were filled with smoke and the hospital lost electricity, he gave the order to evacuate the hospital.
An IDF spokesman told Allison Deger of Mondoweiss that Hamas rocket launches had come “from exactly near the hospital, 100 meters near.” A slide show released by the IDF August 19 includes an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked that are clearly much farther from the hospital than the 100 meters.
Even if that IDF claim of 100 meters were accurate, however, it was more than sufficient to allow the IDF to hit the launch site with precision-guided munitions without damaging the hospital. Israeli air to ground missiles, especially those fired from drones, are known to be able to hit small targets without causing collateral damage to nearby buildings. An IDF video posted on August 9, for example, shows a missile destroying what is said to be a hidden rocket launch site without harming a mosque only a few meters away from the explosion.
IDF spokesman Captain Eytan Buchman nevertheless blandly suggested that it was collateral damage from striking the launch site. He said the IDF was “left with no choice” but to “target the launcher with the most precise munitions capable of ensuring its destruction.”
On July 21, the IDF Spokesman’s Office pushed its propaganda line linking Al Wafa and rocket launching sites even further, claiming in a tweet and on its blog, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.” Under that headline was an aerial photo enhanced to highlight what was said to be Al Wafa Hospital, along with a red dot representing an M-75 rocket launch site that was not on the hospital grounds, but appeared to be a few meters away.
But the building shown in the aerial photo was not Al Wafa hospital, as Dr. Alashi quickly pointed out. A Google map of Al Wafa hospital shows none of the buildings resemble the one the IDF identified as Al Wafa. The building in the IDF image belongs to the Right to Life Society.
After that prevarication had been revealed, the IDF added a new claim that “the hospital grounds” had been used by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad as “a post enabling terrorists to open fire at soldiers.”
The IDF said that Hamas had “fired at Israel and at IDF forces from the hospital” despite warnings from the IDF, and the IDF had been forced to attack targets on the hospital site.
The statement was accompanied by a video purporting to document the firing at Israeli troops. Based on the camera angle and altitude, the video was taken by an Israeli drone, according to a former US intelligence officer, with experience in interpreting military-related images, who analyzed the video for Truthout.
The first segment of the video is a grainy, black-and-white aerial shot of a building that starts with the legend, “Terrorists Threaten IDF from inside Wafa Hospital.” The building shown is not Al Wafa hospital, however, but an annex to the hospital that had been empty, both Dr. Alashi and Charlie Andeasson, a Swedish activist who was in the hospital when it was attacked on July 16, told Truthout.
The eight-second video shows what could be two brief bursts of fire from one of the windows on the third floor and then a third flash in a fourth story window. The former US intelligence officer confirmed that the footage of the building was selected from two different times of day. After the first three seconds of the video, the camera angle and the amount of light both change perceptibly. Nevertheless an exchange between the two voices on the audiotape accompanying the video continues as though the scene were continuous during the entire eight seconds.
The first voice heard on the audio recording says, in Hebrew, “Do you see this firing? Have spotted fires from within the house.” The English subtitles accompanying the audio add “hospital” in parentheses after the word “house,” but Seattle-based blogger on Israeli affairs Richard Silverstein, who speaks Hebrew, confirmed to Truthout after listening to the audio clip that the speaker uses the word “bayit,” which can only mean “house.”
A second voice then says, according to the subtitles, “Positive, fire from within the house.” But the speaker actually uses the term “small house” (“bayit ha katan hazeh”), according to Silverstein.
Those references to firing from a small house indicate that the audio clip was taken from an entirely different incident at another location. That device was obviously used because there was no audio of an incident involving firing from the hospital.
Dr. Alashi said he believes the eight-second video clip portrays firing from the annex that occurred in the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza. “People confirmed to me that there was firing from the building then,” he told Truthout. That building was, in fact, attacked on January 16, 2009, by Israeli tanks only 70 meters away from the hospital, damaging the third and fourth floors of the building – the very floors from which the flashes are shown in the video – as the UN Fact-Finding Mission noted in its September 2009 report.
The last segment of the video showing the bombing of the Al Wafa hospital, bears the legend “secondary explosion” – meaning explosions of weapons – as each building is shown being destroyed, in line with the Israeli argument throughout the operation that Hamas stored rockets and other weapons in hospitals, schools and mosques.
The video fist shows the hospital itself being blown up, followed by heavy billowing smoke covering the entire hospital and then another flash of fire. But the former intelligence official who viewed the video said that flash indicated another Israeli missile strike on the target rather than a secondary explosion.
The clip then cuts to the destruction of the annex, again with the “secondary explosion” legend. The billowing smoke from the initial bomb explosion covers the building, and then two or three small puffs of darker smoke appear. Those puffs of smoke would suggest a secondary explosion, according to the former US intelligence officer. But he also observed that a hospital would have flammable materials other than hidden weapons that could cause the darker smoke to appear.
Given the existence of Hamas’ complex network of tunnels, which provided plenty of storage space for its rockets and other weaponry, it would have made no sense for Hamas to store rockets in a hospital that it knew had already been targeted by the IDF.
In its final seconds, the video focuses in to show a square which the legend describes as a “tunnel opening near Al Wafa.” But Dr. Alashi told Truthout that it is actually a water well.
The IDF real reason for the destruction of Al Wafa hospital appears to be related to the determination to raise the cost to the civilian population of Gaza for Palestinian resistance, in line with the approach represented by its “Dahiya doctrine,” named after the Beirut suburb dominated by Hezbollah, much of which the Israeli Air Force reduced to rubble in the 2006 war.
That strategy, recognized as a violation of the international laws of war, was pursued most obviously in the complete destruction of every house in several square blocks in three separate areas of the Shujaiya district of Gaza City July 19-20. But it was also evident in IDF attacks on Al Wafa and in the series of mortar and artillery attacks on six different UN shelters from July 21 though August 3. Those attacks killed a total of 47 civilians and wounded 341, according to a survey of the incidents by The Guardian.
In none of the six cases where UN shelters were hit by IDF mortar shells was the military able to offer a plausible explanation, and in three cases, it offered no explanation whatever.