Although as of mid-November 2023, there was no absolutely dispositive evidence establishing who was responsible for the Oct. 17, 2023, blast at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza, mounting evidence — including reports from the U.S. intelligence community, independent experts, and visual investigations by multiple news outlets — contradicts definitive claims that Israel was responsible.
The hospital blast quickly became a heated point of contention with supporters of Israel and Palestinians blaming the other side. Soon after the blast, anti-Israel demonstrations erupted across the Middle East, including in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Tunisia.
However, in an Oct. 18, 2023, statement, U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said that a U.S. government assessment “based on analysis of overhead imagery, intercepts and open source information” found that “Israel is not responsible for the explosion at the hospital in Gaza.” On Oct. 24, 2023, U.S. intelligence officials, citing video footage and geolocation techniques, stated that they had “high confidence” that Israel was not responsible for the blast.
Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees issued statements saying that they had reviewed the U.S. intelligence assessment and were “confident” that the blast was not the result of Israeli military action.
Canada, France, and the U.K. came to the same conclusion. For example, Canadian Minister of National Defense Bill Blair said in an Oct. 21, 2023, statement: “Analysis conducted independently by the Canadian Forces Intelligence Command indicates with a high degree of confidence that Israel did not strike the hospital on October 17, 2023. The more likely scenario is that the strike was caused by an errant rocket fired from Gaza.”
Moreover, visual investigations by The Wall Street Journal, CNN, and The Associated Press all concluded that the blast was more likely to have been caused by a malfunctioning rocket launched from Gaza than by an Israeli airstrike. “A video analysis by the Wall Street Journal using security cameras and live feeds inside Israel and Gaza shows how a failed rocket caused the deadly explosion at Al-Ahli Arab Hospital,” The Wall Street Journal reported on Oct. 21, 2023.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post stated that its own visual investigation, coupled with analysis by experts, “provides circumstantial evidence that could bolster the contention by Israel and the U.S. government that a stray rocket launched by a Palestinian armed group was responsible for the Oct. 17 explosion.”
Reports from The BBC and The New York Times also noted that the crater from the hospital blast was not consistent with damage caused by Israeli bombs, which typically weigh 2,000 pounds. “The damage is too light to be from a 2,000-pound bomb,” Julian Barnes, an intelligence reporter at The New York Times, wrote in an article about the blast.
At the same time, The New York Times has raised questions about some of the evidence that has been cited as pointing away from Israel’s culpability. The Times wrote in an Oct. 24, 2023, report that Al Jazeera footage that was cited by U.S. and Israeli officials actually shows a missile detonating about two miles from the hospital, and so could not be responsible for the blast.
“The Times’s finding does not answer what actually did cause the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital blast, or who is responsible,” the Times article stated. “The contention by Israeli and American intelligence agencies that a failed Palestinian rocket launch is to blame remains plausible. But the Times analysis does cast doubt on one of the most publicized pieces of evidence that Israeli officials have used to make their case and complicates the straightforward narrative they have put forth.”
CNN, which published its own reporting about the Al Jazeera footage on Nov. 2, 2023, stated that the Times report about the Al Jazeera footage does not invalidate CNN’s conclusion that the source of the blast was likely an errant rocket. “While the new analysis adds to the evolving picture of what happened, it does not alter CNN’s earlier findings that the blast was likely caused by a malfunctioning rocket, not an Israeli airstrike,” CNN reported.
Nonetheless, Hamas and the governments of several Middle Eastern countries, notably Iran, have unequivocally blamed Israel for the hospital blast. However, they have yet to produce any evidence proving Israel’s culpability.
Correction: A previous version of this Misinformation Fingerprint overstated the findings of visual investigations by Le Monde, Bellingcat, and The Washington Post. While those investigations pointed away from Israel as responsible for the hospital blast, they did not reach firm conclusions as to who was responsible. References to Le Monde and Bellingcat have been removed, and The Washington Post’s findings have been described in more detail. NewsGuard apologizes for the error.
NewsGuard made the full version of this Misinformation Fingerprint available to the public on Nov. 13. You can read the full text of the Fingerprint here.
By Valerie Pavilonis