The hasbara manipulation: How Israel uses social media to justify bombing hospitals in Gaza

How Israel uses hasbara to justify bombing Gaza's hospitals
7 min read
01 November, 2023

“Hamas is a plague hiding in a hospital.”

This is one of the many posts on the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) account on the popular social media platform X (formerly Twitter).

The statement is coupled with a video which asks whether Hamas’ headquarters are under a school, a university, a mosque or a hospital.

The multiple choice question is subsequently answered with “All of the above” as the video goes on to identify the Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in Gaza as the main HQ of Hamas.

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It accuses Hamas of using their civilians as human shields and abusing vital energy sources at the expense of the Gazan people.

The video ends with the narrator saying, “This is a tragic reality for Gazans. And Hamas is responsible for it.”

"The idea, as always, is to drum up support for its heavy bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza to 'dismantle' Hamas and bring hostages home, and in turn, justify civilian casualties and the displacement of millions of Gazans"

This is not the only post about Hamas hiding and carrying out its operations from underneath Al-Shifa Hospital on several Israeli official state accounts on X.

Whether it is the Israel Defense Forces account (@IDF), the official account of the Israel Foreign Ministry (@IsraelMFA), or the Office of the Prime Minister of Israel (@IsraeliPM), all of them are peppered with posts on Gaza’s largest hospital as the headquarters of Hamas.

Even the Israeli PM, Netanyahu posted on his account on X, saying “Hamas-ISIS is sick. They turn hospitals into headquarters for their terror. We just released intelligence proving it.” He shared an 'intelligence-based' illustration video regarding Hamas’ alleged use of Al-Shifa Hospital both above and below the ground.

Both Israel and Hamas have made use of social media to communicate information and advocate for their actions to international audiences.

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In the past, each side has used social media to attempt to put their actions in a better context and denigrate the opposition.

In the 2012 Gaza Conflict, Israel and Hamas made extensive use of hashtags, specific words, or phrases to highlight their messages and garner support for their actions, as well as let other Twitter users extend solidarity by sharing those hashtags on their Twitter feeds.

At the time, the most prominent and competing hashtags were the #GazaUnderAttack to raise awareness for the Palestinian cause and the #IsraelUnderFire hashtag to generate support for Israel.

However, the extensive use of social media, specifically X, by Israel after October 7 has been unprecedented.

During the 2008–2009 war, the IDF maintained an official blog, disseminated press briefings, and used other, more traditional media sources to justify its offensive.

The perception among critics of Israeli actions at the time was that the IDF disproportionately targeted Palestinian civilians— with the skewed casualty numbers cited as evidence of the IDF’s blatant disregard for civilians. Hence, to attempt to counter this international public opinion, during the 2012 Gaza Conflict, the Israeli Defense Forces was extremely active on its Twitter feed.

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It attempted to both place Hamas’s actions in a negative context and put a positive spin on IDF’s actions and justify its military offensive in Gaza as imperative to terminate Hamas and restore peace in the region.

And this is exactly what Israel is doing at present, except in a much more intensified manner.

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Since Hamas’ attack three weeks ago, Israel has fired up its social media gears to the maximum by pushing numerous ads online on platforms such as X and YouTube that include graphic photos and videos.

The idea, as always, is to drum up support for its heavy bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza to “dismantle” Hamas and bring hostages home, and in turn, justify civilian casualties and the displacement of millions of Gazans.

While Israel had been bombing residential areas non-stop, there was a deadly strike at the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, which killed more than 470 civilians on October 17, making it by far the highest death toll of any single incident, with hundreds injured and trapped under the rubble.

On the same day, there was another strike on a UNRWA school located in the Al Maghazi refugee camp that sheltered some 4,000 displaced people, along with two other densely populated refugee camps.

"With most communications lines being cut off through constant bombardment that has destroyed cables and cell towers, there is no saying to what extent the Israeli state and military will go to carry out genocide in Gaza"

Israel refused to take responsibility for the strike at Al-Ahli hospital, saying it was caused by a misfired rocket launched by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which subsequently denied the allegation as well.

Now, Israel has threatened to target Gaza’s largest medical complex, Al-Shifa, alleging that it is being used as the main headquarters and as a “shield” for “Hamas operations”.

Israeli warplanes have already bombed areas in the vicinity of Al-Shifa and Indonesian hospitals in Gaza.

Not only that, but the Palestinian Red Crescent Society said that the Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza received serious threats from the occupation authorities to immediately evacuate as it is going to be bombed as well.

Quds News Network also reported that Israeli jets bombed a target in the vicinity of Al-Quds Hospital, which 14,000 displaced civilians are taking refuge in.

Earlier, Israeli army spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said, “In this war, all options are on the table,” implying that if needed, they would even carry out airstrikes on hospitals, especially Al-Shifa.

In a news conference on Friday, October 27, Hagari alleged that “Hamas has turned hospitals into command and control centres and hideouts for Hamas terrorists and commanders.” He also shared some diagrammes and audio recordings as “proof” acquired by the Israeli intelligence to support this allegation.

Since then, Israel has flooded social media, especially its various accounts on X, with intelligence videos, audio recordings, as well as confessional videos from alleged Hamas fighters who were captured, saying that Hamas is using the Al-Shifa Hospital to house explosives, weapons, food, and medical equipment.

“I told you. Shifa is a safe place. It will not be struck. To them (Hamas) it is safe. That’s what we know,” one of the men being interrogated says in the video shared across the official state accounts of Israel on X. 

All these posts showing “evidence” for their claim that Hamas is using Al-Shifa Hospital as its base seem to be building a case to justify its bombardment.

“There is no basis for the claims made by the [the Israeli military spokesperson] over the presence of Hamas commands under Al-Shifa Hospital,” senior Hamas official Izzat Rashaq has said in a statement on Telegram, saying that this was part of a “series of lies on which [Israel] builds its narrative.”

He added that Israel was using these false allegations as a “prelude” to “commit a new massacre bigger than the one on Al-Ahli Hospital,” and called on world leaders “to act to stop the crimes of genocide.”

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Al-Shifa Hospital is barely functioning on solar-powered generators, and is on the verge of collapse like the rest of the healthcare system in Gaza.

It has been housing more than 50,000 displaced Palestinians, squeezing in waiting rooms and corridors, even outside in the courtyard.

With most communications lines being cut off through constant bombardment that has destroyed cables and cell towers, there is no saying to what extent the Israeli state and military will go to carry out genocide in Gaza.

By the time it is reported, it would have been too late and the allies of Israel would already have a narrative provided by Israel through its powerful social media propaganda to defend its actions.

Editor's note: This article was first published on The Friday Times 

Maliha Khan is a writer from Karachi, Pakistan. She writes both fiction and nonfiction and her work has appeared in the Tint Journal, The Remnants Archive, and Enthucutlet among others. She is a South Asia Speaks 2022 Fellow and she is currently working on her first book about her experiences in Delhi, India where she spent a number of years living

Follow her on Twitter: @malihakhnwrites