Background Briefing

Refuting ‘Evidence’ of the ‘Hoax’

The physical evidence at the site of the attack, the eyewitness testimonies, and Red Cross and hospital records reviewed by Human Rights Watch refute each of the claims offered to support the hoax theory.

The claim that Israel did not hit ambulance 782 through the center of its roof’s Red Cross emblem, but that someone had instead removed the ambulance’s air vent to make it look that way, is false. Human Rights Watch recovered the air vent, which showed it to have been penetrated by a missile, most likely a smaller missile fired from an Israeli drone. Human Rights Watch also located the exit point of a missile on the floor of the ambulance, and the penetration point of a missile on the pavement where the ambulance was parked. The concurrence of these three markings indicates that a single missile caused the damage to the ambulance and pavement. Removing an air vent could not have created a hole in the floor of the ambulance or a crater beneath the ambulance.

The claim that the damage to the ambulances must have occurred long before July 23 because of the appearance of rust on the ambulance in photographs taken a week after the attack is baseless. Coastal Lebanon is not a “dry climate…in the summer,” as alleged, but is extremely humid – as anyone present in Lebanon during the war can recount. The saline humidity of Lebanon’s coast causes rapid rusting, especially on damaged metals such as shrapnel-torn roofs.

 The claims that there was no “huge explosion” or “intense fire” are partly correct, but irrelevant. Israel has continuously advanced its drone-fired missiles, such as the STRIKE missile and the still-experimental DIME missile, so that they are capable of limited damage to their targets. Many of the drone attacks on civilian vehicles documented by Human Rights Watch, such as the attack on the Shaita family van on July 23, caused limited damage to the targeted vehicle; the drones are even capable of limiting fatalities to the immediate area of the strike. Such drone-fired missiles do not cause the massive damage that more powerful Israeli missiles, such as US-supplied TOW missiles fired from Apache helicopters, have caused, particularly when used in assassination attempts in Gaza. These more powerful missiles do destroy the entire vehicle and cause much more powerful explosions. However, even the smaller drones still cause an explosive blast and a flash of light. In Qana, the drone explosions did throw some of the ambulance workers to the ground, and damaged the ear drums of nearly all of the victims. While the newspaper accounts of the explosions may have overstated the size of the explosion, they accurately reflected the explosions as experienced by the witnesses.

The issue of the inward blown windshield on ambulance 782 is explained by the fact that ambulance 777 was struck first, and was parked adjacent to ambulance 782. The windshield of ambulance 782 was blown inwards from that first explosion.

The “evidence” of an undamaged gurney and lack of blood inside the ambulance “proving” that Ahmad Fawaz could not have lost his leg during a missile attack while he was inside the ambulance was based on photographs of the wrong ambulance. The hoax theorists looked at photographs of ambulance 782 to make this argument, but Fawaz lost his leg in ambulance 777, where he had been transferred before the first missile hit it. The missile impact is clearly visible on the gurney of that ambulance, as is the exit point of the missile below the gurney.

The gurney mattress on which Ahmad Fawaz was lying when the Israeli missile struck, severing his leg. The gurney mattress clearly shows the impact of the missile.
© 2006 Peter Bouckaert/Human Rights Watch

The claim that the ambulance crew faked their injuries because they were seen a week later without bandages misconstrues the nature of the injuries of the ambulance crew. While the gravest injuries the crew suffered were to their ear drums, they also sustained minor shrapnel injuries to the face, as verified by hospital records. Qasim Cha`lan, the ambulance driver pictured, suffered the most severe bleeding from his ears because he was standing right next to ambulance 777 when it was struck. The bandages were used to stem this internal bleeding (and a minor cut on his chin). The ear drum injuries were internal, and the minor cut of Cha`lan’s chin could have healed within a week. There are no indications that Cha`lan or any of the other wounded attempted to exaggerate their injuries to the media.

The claim that Lebanese ambulance drivers are politically biased, and hence prone to engage in an anti-Israeli hoax, is spurious and irrelevant, particularly in the face of the overwhelming physical evidence. The Lebanese Red Cross is a professional organization, working in close cooperation with the ICRC. There have been no credible allegations that the Lebanese Red Cross violated professional ethics by taking any kind of active role in the conflict or fabricating information about Israeli attacks. Most of the Red Cross workers involved in the Qana ambulance attack had been working for the organization for close to a decade, and there is no evidence to support claims that they misrepresented or faked the events of that day. The notion that the reference by a Lebanese Red Cross worker who was not present during the Qana ambulance attack to Hezbollah as “resistance fighters” is evidence of their bias, as alleged by the hoax theorists, reflects ignorance of the local parlance. Hezbollah’s military wing is known in Arabic as the “Islamic Resistance;” people in Lebanon commonly refer to them as “the resistance,” whether or not they support Hezbollah. The professional ethics of the Red Cross movement require their personnel to treat any wounded person, regardless of political affiliation or combatant status.

In conclusion, there was no “hoax.” All of the available evidence shows that the Israeli attack which hit the Qana ambulances took place as reported. Many of the earlier reports on the incident have minor inconsistencies that should be corrected. For example, Human Rights Watch’s report originally said that Israeli warplanes had carried out the attack, while further investigation established that the missiles most likely were fired by Israeli drones. Sloppy and sometimes exaggerated reporting in the news media contributed to some of the confusion. For example, while most reports correctly stated that Ahmad Fawaz lost his right leg, at least one claimed he lost his left leg and Yahoo’s Kevin Site’s “In the Hot Zone” reported that he lost both his legs. None of these minor errors, however, justifies Zombietime’s armchair conjectures of an elaborate Hezbollah hoax. The basic truth remains, however desperately some commentators have tried to deny it: an Israeli attack hit two clearly marked ambulances on the night of July 23. The Zombietime website itself acknowledged that, “if true,” the attack constitutes “an egregious and indefensible violation of the Geneva Convention[s].”

Human Rights Watch trusts that, now that the truth has been demonstrated, these armchair deniers will devote their energy to pressing Israel to determine why this attack occurred, who was responsible, whether disciplinary or punitive measures are in order, and what steps can be taken to ensure that similar attacks are not repeated in the future. It would also be appropriate to press for compensation to the victims as well.