With the recent U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in mind, AP reporter Matt Lee confronted and confounded State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner over the Obama administration’s reaction to Israel’s accidental bombing of a school in the city of Rafah in the south of Gaza in August of 2014.
After the Israeli missile strike hit a school, killing ten people, the State Department put out a scathing statement condemning Israel for its “disgraceful shelling,” and demanded an investigation:
The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected, and must not be used as bases from which to launch attacks.
The Lid’s Jeff Dunetz added some context to what happened that day.
In August 2014 the IDF was faced with a barrage of mortar fire from the Gaza city of Rafah sent from an area surrounding a UNRWA school. A precision-guided missile, launched from the air by the IDF, struck the road outside the school, five to six meters from the school gate. Ten people who were on the school grounds near the gate were killed. The US State Department rushed to condemn Israel (they didn’t condemn Hamas for using the school as a human shield or UNRWA for allowing their school to be used).
The State Department said at the time that “the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.”
This past weekend, in what the military is calling an accident, American planes in Kunduz, Afghanistan hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital, killing 22 people, apparently days after the facility had provided the U.S. military with the hospital’s precise coordinates.
Lee specifically wanted to know if U.S. policy has changed, given this disastrous bombing strike in Afghanistan.
As Dunetz notes, the State Department spokesman was at a loss for words.
He obviously couldn’t say that the condemnation of Israel wasn’t official policy — it was simply the Obama administration taking advantage of an opportunity to criticize Israel. (Never let a crisis go to waste.)
Lee brilliantly exposed the hypocrisy:
“What I’m most curious about,” he said after listening to Toner waffle for about three minutes, “is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which — and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it. But MSF says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah. So the question is – and I realize this is under investigation. But the question is if – the question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed.”
Toner stammered, “It’s just — look, Matt. I think it’s safe to say that this attack, this bombing, was not intentional. I can’t get into what may or may not have happened on the ground, whether the coordinates were known, whether they were acknowledged. It’s just too much speculation at this point.”