Monday 20 November 2023

Who ordered the evacuation of al Shifa?

 Michael Lerner, the smooth-talking spokesman for the Israel Defence Force, denies that it was one of the IDF's commanders who told the director to evacuate the hospital complex. Instead, he said, the request for assistance to move the patients was initiated by the hospital and he told the BBC that he has a voice recording to prove it. Now, it is up to others to evaluate that recording, since I have no Hebrew and only know a few (irrelevant) words in Arabic. However, it stretches credulity that any doctor would volunteer to take seriously-ill patients and premature babies from the shelter of a building, damaged and short of materiel though it is, on to a road exposed to the elements, decaying corpses and possible sporadic gunfire, not knowing how far it was from the next medical facilities. As I understand the initial news reports, the director was contacted by telephone and told to evacuate within one hour, at which he pointed out that they had no safe means of moving the patients. Were the Israelis going to provide ambulances, he asked? Perhaps it was that query which was doctored to make it sound as if it was the initial request. Given Israel's expertise is cutting-edge software, it is also possible that the director's voice was faked.

The good news is that, although four of the premature babies perished in the period since essential power and supplies were cut off, the remaining twenty-eight are safe and bound for specialist facilities in Egypt. Their lives have been saved, though there is a danger of some long-term damage to their development as a result of their early trauma.

On the subject of babies, there is an infographic going the rounds comparing the rates of extermination under the Nazis and the results of the Israeli bombing of Gaza. It is a striking, simple criticism of Netanyahu but does not stand up to scrutiny. Firstly, although the average daily death toll is less than that quoted for the October 7th reprisals, the Nazi shoah was carried out over years. The Gaza war has lasted just over a month and the death toll was highest in the early days. The rate is now declining and there are whispers of a cease-fire, which the US is in a strong position to dictate. Thus the final total of children killed will be minuscule compared to the Nazis' "final solution".  Secondly, the Gaza figures come from the Hamas Ministry of Health, and as far as I know have not been independently verified. This is not to deny that the IDF has been guilty of unnecessary, excessive and virtually random killing of civilians, but introducing Hitler to the argument inevitable topples over into anti-Semitism.

Netanyahu is swift to raise the bogey of anti-Semitism whenever he is criticised. The fact is that he is less concerned about defending the Jewish people than he is avoiding embarrassment. He has criminal charges hanging over him and while he may yet be convicted, thus being forced to resign, the Gaza emergency has turned him into a war leader whom few will want to remove. (NB I am not stating that he is a criminal; there is a presumption of innocence under Israeli law.)  Hence a cease-fire is not in his interests. Different considerations apply to President Biden. It is received wisdom that the "Jewish vote" goes to the Democrats. It is assumed that all the US Jewish community would support Israel right or wrong. However, the rise in pro-Palestine demonstrations across the Union in recent days has shown that traditional Democrat voters, especially the young, and including progressive Jews, are not happy with the presidency's initial stance. Biden is coming up for re-election next year. There is no way that the doubters  will switch to Trump - the Donald is even more pro-Netanyahu than senior Democrats are - but if enough of them lose faith in the Democrats to the extent of staying at home on polling day, the White House will fall to the Republicans. On the other hand, if Biden is seen to have engineered a peace deal in the region, he will receive a boost to his popularity. And he has economic levers at his disposal which he can threaten to pull. 

Expect a cease-fire within a fortnight. It will be followed by the recriminations.

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