The Wafa hospital in the Shuja’iya neighbourhood of Gaza City was featured in several BBC reports produced during the conflict between Israel and Gaza Strip-based terrorist organisations this last summer. Those reports include the ones below, all of which have the common denominator of denial of Hamas’ use of that institution for military purposes and hence imply that Israeli actions against that hospital were unnecessary, unjustified and even unlawful.
“Israel says rockets have been fired from Basman al-Ashi’s hospital, a charge his staff deny completely.”
“World Update” interview with ISM activist, BBC World Service radio, July 31st 2014 – discussed here.
Damon: “Because you will know that there have been all kinds of rumours on the internet about hospitals being used to hide men and indeed weapons. Any evidence?”
Catron: “Oh yes; I’ve heard all these…all kinds of these rumours. I’ve seen numerous claims that al Wafa hospital where I stayed for a week in Shuja’iya was the centre of a Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant command centre. Now every journalist that came into the hospital from every major news agency had full run of the place. They could go anywhere in it they liked. How none of them ever noticed this command centre….”
“The Israelis say they have to bomb the hospitals and shelters because there are fighters here, but that is not true. The only people we have are sick people.”
As has been noted here previously (see related articles below), the Israeli Military Attorney General (MAG) has published the findings of some of the investigations conducted into incidents which occurred in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge. In relation to Wafa hospital the findings are as follows. [all emphasis added]
“Allegations Concerning Attacks on Al-Wafa Hospital (11-23 July 2014) –
In reports received by the MAG Corps, and in correspondence from various NGOs, it was alleged that the Al-Wafa Hospital was unlawfully attacked by IDF forces on a number of occasions between 11-23 July 2014. As a result, and in accordance with the MAG’s investigation policy, it was decided to refer the incident for examination by the FFAM [Fact Finding Assessment Mission – Ed.].
According to the factual findings and materials collated by the FFAM and presented to the MAG, Palestinian terrorist organizations used the hospital compound for a range of varied and multiple military purposes throughout the period noted above, as well as beforehand. Such, it was found that Hamas used structures in the hospital for positioning surveillance devices so as to track IDF operational activity, that the hospital structures were used on multiple occasions as firing positions towards IDF forces, and that rockets were launched from the immediate vicinity of these structures. Further, according to materials presented to the MAG, reliable information indicated that the sole use that was made of the hospital, from a certain date onwards, was for the military purposes of Hamas, by Hamas’ military operatives. At this point, the hospital had already been evacuated of all civilians – patients and staff.
According to the factual findings, on a number of occasions during this period IDF forces were forced to return immediate fire, in a discerning and precise manner, towards sources of attacking fire that posed a serious and immediate threat to those forces. The MAG is not aware of any civilian harm resulting from these incidents. At the same time, in light of the ongoing and widespread military use made of the hospital by Hamas, a number of warnings were provided by the IDF to official entities in the Gaza Strip and to the Palestinian Authority, as well as to international organizations, requiring that the military use of the hospital be ceased.
On 23 July 2014, after these warnings went unheeded and after fire was again directed at IDF forces from the hospital, it was decided to attack the hospital. The attack was only carried out after the IDF had ensured a number of times, that all civilians had evacuated the hospital and that the hospital was being used at that time solely for military purposes.
After reviewing the factual findings and the material collated by the FFAM with regard to each and every incident of attack, the MAG found that, with exception to one instance which will be discussed below, the attacks were conducted in accordance with Israeli domestic law and international law requirements. The attacks were directed against military objectives, while adhering to the requirements of the principle of proportionality. Likewise, the MAG found that the attack was executed only after various precautions were undertaken, with significant efforts to minimize civilian harm. With regard to the incidents where IDF forces were faced with a serious and immediate threat to their lives, the forces returned fire immediately towards the source of the attacking fire, in a precise and discerning manner, and without harming civilians. The structures in the hospital compound were attacked and destroyed only after advance warning had been provided as required under international law, and no civilians were present at the time. The decision to attack was made in a careful and reasoned manner by the authorized authorities, after Hamas disregarded advance warnings and continued in its military use of the hospital compound, thereby resulting in the loss of the special protection from attack provided to the hospital under international law.
In light of the above, the MAG did not find that the actions of the IDF forces raised grounds for a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct. As a result, the MAG ordered the case to be closed, without opening a criminal investigation or ordering further action against those involved in the incident.
At the same time, the MAG found that one of the attacks, occurring on 11 July 2014, and directed against military surveillance equipment placed by Hamas on the roof and uppermost floor of one of the hospital’s buildings, was seemingly carried out without advance warning. It should be noted that this attack was directed at a defined point on one of the buildings in the hospital compound, where it was known that no patients or medical staff were present at the time, and that the attack was planned and carried out in such a manner so as to strike only the surveillance equipment and its immediate vicinity, without causing any collateral damage to civilians or adjacent buildings. Since this incident did not establish a serious violation of the law of armed conflict which requires criminal investigation, and in light of the other circumstances of the incident, the MAG found that there were no grounds for a reasonable suspicion of criminal misconduct in this incident. However, the MAG recommended that the Chief of General Staff examine the reasons why the relevant authorities did not provide the required advance warning and to take measures where deemed appropriate. In addition, the MAG recommended that the Chief of General Staff provide a clarification in the relevant IDF regulations reflecting the requirement to advance warning prior to an attack against a medical facility being used for military purposes.”
Clearly the impressions given to audiences in the above BBC produced reports are inaccurate and misleading. Those still available to the public on the BBC News website therefore need to be signposted accordingly – not least because they are potentially the source of editorial complaints. Additionally, a review of the practice of amplification of unverified claims by often inadequately presented politically motivated interviewees would obviously contribute to the avoidance of the presentation of similar inaccurate information to BBC audiences in the future.