Following senior officials’ lead, many prominent Western news outlets started linking Hamas to hospitals in Gaza.

by Matthew Petti, Responsible Statecraft

Western media never had any problem with health statistics from Gaza — until Israel was accused of bombing a hospital there. For years, English-speaking journalists straightforwardly cited reports from the “Palestinian health ministry in Gaza,” using its official name. But after the October 17 attack on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital, media outlets began portraying the ministry as an arm of the rebel force Hamas.

Foreign journalists had struggled to make sense of the carnage on October 17, and whether Israeli or Palestinian forces were to blame. The New York Times edited its headline several times, and initially reports may have overstated how many hundreds died. The Israeli army and U.S. President Joe Biden took advantage of the confusion to cast doubt on the truthfulness of Gaza’s medical authorities.

Israeli Army engaging in mass surveillance of innocent civilians

The stakes are critical. The health ministry has reported over 11,000 Palestinian deaths, nearly half a percent of Gaza’s entire population, including thousands of children. Even though U.S. officials have come to accept the accuracy of those numbers, the damage to the health ministry’s credibility is done.

Meanwhile, the Israeli military has moved from attacking the health authorities’ claims to marking them as military targets. Israeli forces raided Al-Shifa Hospital, the health ministry’s headquarters, on Wednesday. Hundreds of doctors, patients, and displaced people have evacuated since. The health ministry has reported severe difficulties updating the death toll due to Israeli attacks, communications blackouts, and the sheer volume of casualties.

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