The bombing of the hospital in Gaza, killing hundreds of sick and wounded patients, is a tragedy of the highest order.
It was also a failure for the media.
There was a rush to judgment that the Israeli military had carried out this heartbreaking attack.
The New York Times banner headline: “Israeli Strike Kills Hundreds in Hospital, Palestinians Say.”
At least there was that attribution. But think about it: it was really Hamas saying 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.
Still, my gut reaction was to question why Israel would possibly 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, they didn’t. The Israeli military said it had nothing to do with the hospital tragedy.
The New York Times wasn’t alone in the initial reports blaming Israel. The Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, Reuters and AP were among those carrying similar stories.
The right course would have been to say there’s been a terrible explosion at the Al-Ahli Hospital, and we can’t confirm who is responsible, but we will bring you the latest news when we have it.
Israeli intelligence – and, Biden said yesterday, U.S. intel as well – say it was errant rocket fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Israel’s Channel 12 has footage of such a rocket being fired near the hospital and the explosion moments later. And Tel Aviv says it intercepted a call between two Palestinians acknowledging that the rocket was fired from within Gaza. The Islamic Jihad rockets are notoriously inaccurate.
What’s more, the main damage was done in the hospital’s courtyard, not the building itself, so even the Hamas claim of 500 killed has to be treated with skepticism, though the place was also used as a shelter for evacuees.
Nonetheless, Biden’s planned meetings with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority were abruptly canceled. And anti-Israel protests were staged across the region.
What about the facts? Facts don’t matter in war, especially for Hamas propagandists. No one on the terrorists’ side is going to worry about unfairly blaming the Netanyahu government, not when the official Hamas position is that Israel should be wiped off the map.
What, then, did Biden accomplish in Tel Aviv?
He comforted community leaders and victims of Hamas violence, a moving scene even though we could barely hear the whispered voices.
He gave another passionate speech telling Jews “you are not alone”:
The attacks have “brought to the surface painful memories and scars left by a millennia of anti-Semitism and the genocide of the Jewish people.
“The world watched then, it knew, and the world did nothing. We will not stand by and do nothing again. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.”
And the president secured Israel’s reluctant agreement to allow U.S. humanitarian aid into Gaza, where the evacuation from the north has created an increasingly urgent need for food, water and medicine. (Israel can call a halt if Hamas starts stealing the supplies.)
Biden’s handling of the Mideast crisis has drawn a striking degree of bipartisan praise. Richard Haass, who worked in the Bush administration, said yesterday on MSNBC that the Biden speech was “masterful.” Conservative columnist Bret Stephens, in the New York Times, called his handling of the war “the president’s finest hour.”
Things may still fall apart in the Middle East. Biden’s political problems and lousy polling haven’t disappeared. A majority of Democrats still don’t want the 80-year-old president to run again.
But right now we are seeing a shining example of how age and experience can be indispensable qualities in a time of crisis.