By Gwynne Dyer
The blame game has gone into high gear.
It started with the massacre perpetrated in Israel almost two weeks ago by the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past seventeen years. US President Joe Biden called it “sheer evil,” and a chorus of other voices said the same.
Another chorus of familiar voices replied: the 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip are descended from Arab Palestinians who were victims of the ‘Naqba’ (the Disaster), the expulsion of the Palestinians from their lands in what is now Israel in 1948.
Those refugees and their children and grandchildren have lived ever since in what amounts to an open-air prison, said the counter-chorus. So the attack was understandable, even if the slaughter of civilians is hard to defend.
As usual, there is some truth in both the narratives, and which one people believe largely depends on their existing loyalties. The same mechanism is at work in every subsequent turn of events, including the explosion at Al-Ahli Al-Arabi hospital in Gaza City that killed an alleged 500 people on Wednesday morning.
Hamas immediately said it was a deliberate Israeli attack and called the Israelis war criminals. Popular opinion in Arab countries agreed, as you would expect, and started demonstrating against the Israelis.
Whereas Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) both denied responsibility for the blast. It was caused, they said, by a rocket launched at Israel by Islamic Jihad, Hamas’s rival and sidekick, that came down short and exploded in the hospital parking lot. President Biden, on a brief visit to Israel, agreed.
Islamic Jihad denied that accusation, of course. And the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and the ‘Palestinian Authority’ who were also scheduled to meet Biden in a ‘summit’ during his whirlwind visit to the region, abruptly cancelled the event. They didn’t say why, but they are obviously afraid of the rage of the ‘Arab street.’
So can we figure out where the truth lies in all this – and does it even matter? Physical evidence would be best, but only one side has access to the site.
What we’re left with is the old Latin legal strategy deployed by the statesman and lawyer Cicero in a famous case in the late Roman Republic: “Cui bono?” Who Benefits from this (Crime)?
If it really is a deliberate crime, it’s unlikely to have been committed by the Israelis. The consequence was to stir anger in the Arab Street, influence world opinion against the Israelis, and force the cancellation of the meeting between the US president and Arab leaders. All those things benefit Hamas’s cause, not Israel’s.
What are we left with, then? Not a definite culprit but at least a list of probable causes for those 500-odd deaths at the hospital. In declining order of probability, they are:
1) an off-course Palestinian rocket fired by Islamic Jihad. (They are almost all home-made, and at least 3,000 have been launched in this round of fighting.)
2) an off-course Israeli missile.
3) a deliberate Hamas false-flag explosion timed to coincide with President Biden’s ‘summit’ with Arab leaders.
4) a deliberate strike ordered by the Israel government for inexplicable reasons (Cui bono?) or freelance revenge by some grief-stricken Israeli pilot.
And does it actually matter much who did it? Not really. Everybody will believe what they are used to believing, and act as they usually act.