On July 23, 2006, at approximately 11:15 p.m., in the midst of the Israel-Hezbollah war, Israeli drones struck two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances, numbered 782 and 777, in the village of Qana. The ambulances had spotlights on top of their vehicles identifying their Red Cross flags and flashing blue strobe lights. The ambulance crews had just transferred three wounded Lebanese civilians from one family Ahmad Fawaz, 41, his mother, Jamila, 80, and Muhammad, his son, 13 from ambulance 782 to ambulance 777 when the missiles struck. The first attack hit ambulance 777, and a second attack struck ambulance 782 a few minutes later, injuring all six of the Red Cross crew; their three patients suffered additional injuries. Ahmad Fawaz lost his leg in the ambulance strike, while his mother was partially paralyzed, and remains bedridden because of nerve damage to her leg. His son received multiple shrapnel wounds to the head. Most media accounts featured pictures of ambulance 782 with its Red Cross roof emblem penetrated by a missile.
Shortly thereafter, on August 3, Human Rights Watch issued its first report on the war, Fatal Strikes, including an account of the attack on ambulances in Qana. The report noted that international humanitarian law prohibits attacks on personnel or objects involved in humanitarian assistance.
However, some commentators claimed that the ambulance attack was nothing more than a Hezbollah-orchestrated hoax. Zombietime, a website based in California, asserted that the attack never happened. Oliver North, a former US official of the Reagan administration and now a conservative commentator, claimed that a Hezbollah disinformation campaign had misled Human Rights Watch and the mainstream news about the true nature of the attack on the ambulances. Writing in the Washington Times on September 3, 2006, North argued that:
Norths claims challenged the credibility of one of the most widely reported attacks during the Israel-Hezbollah war. Major media outlets such as the BBC and Independent Television News in Britain, and the US cable station MSNBC, as well as newspapers, weeklies, and wires, including the New York Times, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, and Time Magazine, had carried the story of Israels attack on the Qana ambulances. Norths allegations, and the websites cited by him, also challenged the credibility of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Lebanese Red Cross, charging that they had been involved in an anti-Israel hoax. Their claims gained further credibility when Australias foreign minister publicly claimed that it is beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax.2
Staunch defenders of IDF and Israeli policy like Dr. Avi Bell of Bar-Ilan University quickly joined in, using the hoax claims to question other reports of Israeli abuses during the war: If one looks at the photographs of the ambulances in question, it is quite clear that they were never struck by any missiles and that such damage as they suffered occurred long before the war. How many others of Human Rights Watchs claims are hoaxes may never be known.
The hoax theorists based their conclusions on the analysis of Zombietime, whose authors never visited Lebanon, but reached their conclusion by reviewing photographs and stories about the attack in the media. Specifically, they purported to refute the media accounts of the ambulance attack with the following claims: