Incubators, Israel, and the illusion of information

Incubators, Israel, and the illusion of information
12 min read
21 November, 2023
Israel's siege of Gaza's hospitals has left thousands stuck between life and death, none more so than dozens of premature babies in incubators. Yet Israel's misinformation campaign to deflect blame for their perilous fate has failed to gain traction.

As you read these words, a precious baby girl fights desperately for her last breaths.

Tore from her mother’s womb, she entered this world through a harrowing Caesarean section, miraculously rescued from her mother's lifeless body amidst the wreckage and rubble which was once their family home.

Born prematurely, her journey was destined to be fraught with challenges, exacerbated further by the dystopian reality of a healthcare system that has completely collapsed.

Live Story

The tiny baby's first breaths had come through a haze of dust and debris, providing a harsh introduction to the world she had just been born into.

Nameless and frail, she trembles in darkness, surrounded by the wailing of the suffering and the deafening explosions of artillery shells in the distance.

The once-vital incubator sat powerless, unable to protect her from the hostile environment. She lay there shivering, wrapped in foil intended to serve as a substitute for the now-defunct machinery meant to save her life.

As her brief life comes to its end, the world is crumbling around her. Her image is spreading like wildfire on the internet, leaving viewers heartbroken as they watch helplessly as the flicker of life is extinguished from her small, feeble frame. Nothing and no one can prevent her tragic death.

"Under international humanitarian law, both schools and hospitals are protected civilian objects, and therefore benefit from the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality"

Hostility and hospitals

Gaza is experiencing a devastating crisis as a result of ongoing bombardment and crushing sanctions on fuel, electricity, food, and water by the Israeli state.

The severe shortage of essential resources and the crumbling healthcare infrastructure paint a grim picture for the besieged Palestinians of Gaza.

Live Story

Most hospitals in Gaza have now been rendered inoperable, with the few that are left barely hanging on. Al-Shifa, the biggest hospital in Gaza, has ceased to function effectively, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), after being bombed multiple times in the past month and suffering at the hands of Israel’s sanctions.

Attacks on schools and hospitals during conflicts are among the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. Israel's persistent shelling of hospitals and their surrounding areas constitutes multiple war crimes.

“Under international humanitarian law, both schools and hospitals are protected civilian objects, and therefore benefit from the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality,” it states on the official United Nations site for Children and Armed Conflict.

On November 11, the last generator at Al-Shifa Hospital exhausted its fuel reserves due to Israel's embargo on fuel and aid. This left the hospital with no option but failure, jeopardising all its resources. This swiftly prompted the shutdown of all its incubators, a catastrophic situation to say the least, resulting in the heartbreaking death of three premature babies, while an additional number of infants faced imminent peril.

Incubators are crucial for maintaining an optimal temperature and environment for premature or ill babies. Without them, vulnerable newborns risk deteriorating their conditions or even worse, death.

In a desperate attempt to keep children warm and prolong their delicate lives, the hospital staff took to crowding seven or eight babies into a single bed.

Israel then raided Al-Shifa on November 15, with the hospital becoming a focal point for Israeli operations, with the army claiming Hamas uses it as a base. Hamas, and medical staff, have denied the accusations.

On November 19, Palestinian medics were able to evacuate 31 premature babies from Gaza City's war-torn Al-Shifa Hospital on Sunday in a high-risk operation, the UN said, pledging to also move patients and staff who remain there.

Mohammed Zaqut, director general of hospitals in Gaza, told AFP  that "preparations are underway" for them to enter Egypt. The infants were taken in Palestinian Red Crescent Society ambulances to a hospital in southern Gaza for assessment and treatment, the WHO said in a statement, with 11 in critical condition.

Doctors found that "all the babies are fighting serious infections due to lack of medical supplies and impossibility to continue infection control measures in Al-Shifa Hospital."

Live Story

Hoaxes and headlines

A crucial element contributing to the global support for the recent aggression in Gaza is the misinformation campaign disseminated by the Israeli state.

A month ago, a news report claiming that 40 Israeli children had been murdered by Hamas fighters — many of them allegedly beheaded — flooded the headlines.

The story of "40 beheaded babies" went viral on both social and mainstream media, even making it to the front pages of British newspapers. This triggered international outrage and garnered support for the Israeli government's decision to take even more severe measures in response.

The entire world was incensed, echoing calls for Palestinians to pay a heavy price for this kind of barbarism, despite the absence of a single shred of proof.

Both politicians and celebrities showed no qualms about endorsing an unrestricted military response, and this narrative served as a foundation for the continuous genocide that we are currently witnessing.

The story originated from a video interview featuring Nicole Zedeck, a correspondent on the privately owned Israeli news site i24NEWS. In the clip, she stated that she had received reports from Israeli soldiers about finding "babies, their heads cut off." Additionally, she shared on Platform X that she had been informed by certain soldiers that "40 babies/children were killed."

It quickly spread like wildfire from there. Academic Marc Owen Jones, who researches disinformation in the Middle East, posted on the morning of October 11 that tweets concerning the topic of the "40 murdered babies" had received 44 million impressions.

Shortly after this uproar, IDF spokesperson Doron Spielman informed NBC News that he couldn't confirm i24NEWS's report. However, by that time, it was too late. The debunked story had already fulfilled its purpose in fuelling the flames of war.

Despite subsequent statements from news channels retracting their initial positions, these retractions didn't garner the same attention as the initial inflammatory statements. Subsequently, the narrative of 40 murdered babies has persisted as a weaponised talking point, encouraging the shelling of Gaza in the name of “self-defence.”

There is a phrase commonly used in the British language: "mud sticks." It is defined to mean that when something bad is said about someone, people will continue to believe it, even though it may have been proven to be completely untrue. In this case, the mud has definitely stuck.

Will the tears of those shed over the 40 allegedly murdered children now well up in their eyes for the 39 Palestinian babies facing certain death? Considering the extraordinary campaign of dehumanisation that Gaza's civilians have to face, it's highly unlikely to provoke the same international response.

Is a Palestinian life not valued equally to an Israeli life? The disparity became evident when Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant released a statement, saying, "We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly."

Live Story

A declaration made by US President Joe Biden was the most shocking of all. "I never really thought that I would see, have confirmed, pictures of terrorists beheading children," he said. A White House spokesman shortly afterwards stated that the president's remarks were predicated on news reports and assertions made by the Israeli government. The spokesperson clarified that US officials and the president have not independently seen pictures or confirmed such reports.

Why would anyone claim to have seen an image they haven't seen? What would be the purpose of doing so? It's evident that defending US interests is deemed more important than the truth. The real question is, where have we seen this before? This story's irony transports us back more than thirty years in time.

Khan Yunis to Kuwait

It is October 10, 1990, only two months prior had Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, in what was to be the build-up to the Gulf War. In the United States, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl stands in front of Congress and breathes a sigh of anxiety before beginning her testimony:

“Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, my name is Nayirah, and I just came out of Kuwait.” Her nervousness is evident as she looks down and begins to adjust the microphone. After fixing its position, she takes a deep breath and looks up to continue her story. 

She breaks down while recounting a harrowing tale of the atrocities she witnessed at the hands of the barbaric Iraqi soldiers. Indignantly, she expresses her desire to stay behind and contribute to her country, stating that she volunteered at Al-Adan Hospital.

"While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the children to die on the cold floor. It was horrifying," Nayirah states before breaking down in tears, attempting to maintain composure as she retells the story as coherently as possible.

“I could not help but think of my nephew, who was born premature and might have died that day as well,” she says while sniffling, before flipping a page in front of her and continuing.

"Due to the intermittent telecommunication blackout imposed on the citizens of Gaza, coupled with the absence of electricity and fuel, we may never receive the complete testimonies of all those who are suffering in the wake of this brutal assault"

Like the story of the 40 murdered babies, Nayirah's story was widely circulated throughout the United States in an attempt to shift public opinion, incite rage towards Iraq, and influence public sentiment about going to war. Her testimony was frequently referenced by President George H.W. Bush. 

Three months after she spoke to Congress, the United States launched the invasion of Iraq with Operation Desert Storm. The Gulf War's estimated civilian casualties amounted to between 100,000-200,000, and a 43-day U.S. bombing campaign against Iraq resulted in $232 billion worth of damage.

Similar to the debunked account of 40 killed babies, Nayirah's testimony was also proven to be false. The information she provided could not be verified by any organisation or publication, and it wasn't until two years later that the truth emerged, but by then, the war was over and won, rendering the authenticity of her testimony inconsequential.

It was disclosed that Nayirah was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and that she had received preparation for her appearance before the Congressional Committee from the renowned American public relations company Hill & Knowlton.

Conflicts and currency

While Joe Biden asserts with pride that there is "no possibility" of a ceasefire in Gaza, he stands in stark contrast to the sentiments of 66% of Americans, including 80% of Democrats, who are actively advocating for one. Why could that be?

Israel’s genocide in Gaza has resulted in a surge in business for prominent US arms manufacturers and military services firms, such as Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin. On October 9th, their stock values saw notable increases of 12%, 9%, and 8%, respectively.

“You know, the Israel situation obviously is a terrible one, frankly, and one that’s just evolving as we speak. But I think if you look at the incremental demand potential coming out of that, the biggest one to highlight and that really sticks out is probably on the artillery side,” stated Jason Aiken, Executive vice-president of General Dynamics, during an earnings call on October 25.

Given the current situation in which Israel is committing genocide against Gaza's civilian population, it becomes evident that the United States' participation in the dissemination of misinformation is crucial to sustaining Israel's persistent aggression against the Palestinian people, driven by their pursuit of financial interests.

Live Story

The purpose of this article is not to justify the heinous war crimes committed by Saddam Hussein during his time as the Iraqi leader, nor does it seek to minimise the suffering of the Kuwaiti people at his hands. Instead, it serves as a commentary on the extent to which the US is willing to go to uphold its doctrine of perpetual warfare.

The US governmental support for the Gulf War occurred at a time when the broader American public expressed a preference for a different course of action. It is particularly noteworthy how, over 30 years later, the sentiments of the American public seem to be actively ignored once more, suggesting that profiteering off of war remains a persistent underlying motivator.

“We are not putting any limits on how Israel uses weapons that is provided. That is really up to the Israel Defense Force to use in how they are going to conduct their operations. But we're not putting any constraints on that,” stated Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary, on October 30, 2023.

A fabricated story regarding incubators in October 1990 sought to convince Americans to approve of the US invasion of Iraq. Three decades later, we witness incubators literally collapsing and babies tragically losing their lives, a consequence of the US government's support for Israeli war crimes in Gaza.

Alarmingly, 50% of the population of Gaza comprises children under the age of 15.

Calls for the liberation of the Palestinian people echo with the chant: "No justice, no peace." Yet, it appears that poetic justice remains elusive, leaving us with a real sense of poetic injustice, and regrettably, still no peace.

It took two years for Nayirah’s testimony to be debunked. How much longer must we wait before the damaging and false narratives suggesting that hospitals are legitimate targets of war due to being military bases, perpetuated by the Israeli state and Western media, have the truth brought to light?

Saoud Khalaf is a British-born Iraqi filmmaker and writer based in London. His videos, which have garnered millions of views across social media, focus on social justice for marginalised groups with specific attention on the Middle East. His latest documentary premiered at the Southbank Centre for Refugee Week.

Follow him on Twitter: @saoudkhalaf_