*** DEBUG END ***

Press: An explosion, a news report, and an apology

27 October 2023


I SEEM to have no power over what the British, Israeli, or United States governments decide, and no access to the information that they have. So, unlike everyone else in the papers or on social media, I don’t feel that it’s worthwhile offering them my advice.

I do know something about how journalism works. And it’s worth asking how so many people got the hospital bombing wrong. Anyone reading The Guardian, The New York Times, or watching the BBC immediately after it happened would have supposed that the blast at the Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza (News, Comment, 20 October) was the result of a deliberate Israeli bomb. Israeli denials were swift, and, once daylight came the next morning, it became pretty clear that this was not what had happened. A Palestinian rocket, intended to kill Israeli civilians, had failed in flight and killed innocent Palestinians instead. Nor had 500 people died, although the death toll was high: between 100 and 300, US intelligence reckons.

Most of the early takes have now disappeared from the web, but The New York Times, at least, produced a public apology. The paper went on to say that the website version was rewritten within two hours. Of course, that is far too late. The first takes are what everyone remembers, and what’s left is a general sense — not entirely undeserved — that the Israeli air force is bombing innocents.

The underlying problem is that we make sense of news reports in the same way as fiction writers are meant to operate: we create vivid characters and let them work out their destinies.

For almost everyone outside the far Left, the character of Hamas is that of brutal terrorists. To reinforce this, the Israeli government is now showing journalists the most harrowing videos possible of the atrocities of Hamas.

No one who has seen them will ever suppose that Hamas or their supporters are the good guys, even if they are friends of Jeremy Corbyn.

The problem for Israel is that this is not enough. That Hamas are bad guys is not enough to make Israel the good guys. That the Israelis did not, in fact, bomb the hospital does nothing to weaken the belief that they might have done, and that only considerations of military advantage would have stopped them.

It does not matter that the Syrian air force kills civilians with even less discrimination, or that the Saudis have inflicted on Yemen a blockade as well as an aerial bombardment for years now, and no one has complained. Those governments are not living characters in the Western public imagination. Their stories impel no one into action.


ONE place to retreat from all this horror is into a fantasy world where all conflicts become problems that can be solved if only everyone were like us. A letter in The New Statesman from a happily named Mr Bishop concludes on this pious note: “The hope, for many, is that the possibility of peace in the long term rests on the premise of less religion (secular constitutions) and more women involved in the development of two nation-states living side by side.”

When you consider that the most powerful secular woman in the Middle East since the foundation of Israel has been Golda Meir, who denied that Palestinians existed at all, and said “We hate the Arabs not because they kill our children but because they force us to kill their children,” this looks a little unhinged.

Alongside all this horror, most of the world goes on as if nothing were happening, just as in the poem where, offstage, “The torturer’s horse scratches his innocent behind on a tree.”


FROM Korea, the Financial Times gave a plug to a Chat-GPT-based service, “WeBible”, which is being used by about 50,000 people. The paper reported deadpan that the company behind it “changed the name of its app from Ask Jesus to Meadow after it realised some users regarded the chatbot’s answers as the word of God”.

Just for the hell of it, I asked Chat-GPT to summarise Matthew 5-7, and got back this: “In this passage, Jesus teaches that a good tree produces good fruit, while a corrupt tree produces evil fruit. He also emphasizes that those who do the will of his Father in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven, while those who work iniquity will be rejected. Jesus then uses a parable to illustrate the importance of hearing and doing his words, comparing those who do so to a wise man who builds his house on a rock, and those who do not to a foolish man who builds his house on sand. The passage concludes with the people being astonished at Jesus’ teachings, as he spoke with authority unlike the Scribes.”


ELSEWHERE, Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah, sometime Reith Lecturer and one of the pre-eminent contemporary ethicists, addressed the problem what you owe a stranger when your dog has impregnated theirs in a public park. Can you be asked to pay for a canine abortion?

Such are the real preoccupations of New York Times subscribers.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear below your letter unless requested otherwise.

Forthcoming Events

Green Church Awards

Closing date: 30 June 2024

Read more details about the awards


Festival of Preaching

15-17 September 2024

The festival moves to Cambridge along with a sparkling selection of expert speakers

tickets available



Festival of Faith and Literature

28 February - 2 March 2025

The festival programme is soon to be announced sign up to our newsletter to stay informed about all festival news.

Festival website


ViSIt our Events page for upcoming and past events 

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)