Israel raided al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City at dawn on Wednesday after encircling and besieging it for days and launching heavy attacks in the area. Troops had reportedly withdrawn from hospital buildings and redeployed to al-Shifa’s gates on Wednesday evening.
Late Wednesday night, Adnan al-Bursh, the head of the orthopedic department at al-Shifa hospital, told Al Jazeera Arabic that Israeli bulldozers began razing the area around the southern gate of the medical complex.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, hailed his military’s conquest of Gaza’s largest hospital, saying on Wednesday that “there is no place in Gaza that we cannot reach. There are no hideouts. There is no shelter or refuge for the Hamas murderers.”
But Israel’s own propaganda published in the aftermath of the raid shows that Netanyahu and the military’s longstanding accusation that Hamas uses al-Shifa to shield its command center is a deadly lie.
The Israeli military published a more than seven-minute “one-shot” video purportedly showing the discovery of “Hamas weapons” found at the hospital’s MRI center. The military’s footage showed rifle parts wrapped in fabric in a small closet and its spokesperson holding up a backpack, gesturing toward a small laptop computer and picking up a stack of CDs.
The original video was soon deleted and the military eventually published a version of the video that is around 20 seconds shorter than the first iteration, truncating its claim that the laptop showed an image of an Israeli soldier “rescued” by troops.The military’s footage also purported to show a militant’s “grab bag” containing weapons behind an MRI machine and a bulletproof vest bearing the insignias of the military wing of Hamas. The alleged discovery of weapons is potentially entirely fabricated. And in the event that it is true, a few rusty rifle parts in a utility closet is hardly evidence of the hospital serving as a military command center.
Recall that last month, Israel published an “intelligence-based” animation portraying a vast underground complex that supposedly existed beneath the hospital.Israel has been making such allegations about al-Shifa since at least 2009. Mondoweiss published a clip of the supposed “one-shot” video released by the Israeli military showing that it was in fact edited: The Israeli military also released photos of a soldier at al-Shifa standing next to stacked cardboard boxes with large sheets of paper affixed to them reading “medical supplies” and “baby food” in English – a crude attempt to spin the raid as a humanitarian operation: One of the boxes in the Israeli propaganda photos appears to be shown in the “one-shot video” next to the bag of weapons that the military claims it found in al-Shifa – strongly suggesting that the “evidence” of contraband found at the medical facility was planted: Israeli military propagandists also produced a video purportedly showing incubators that it offered to transfer to al-Shifa’s pediatric ward, and a photo a soldier loading incubators into a van: Multiple neonate patients at al-Shifa have died in recent days. The babies died not because of a lack of incubators, but because they lacked oxygen after Israel cut the supply of electricity to Gaza more than a month ago. Hospitals have run out of fuel to run emergency generators due to Israel’s ban on the transfer of fuel to the territory. International law experts and human rights groups say that Israel’s total siege on Gaza, including the ban on electricity of fuel, is a war crime.
Israeli raid terrorizes medical staff and patients
Adnan al-Bursh, the head of the orthopedic department at al-Shifa, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that Israeli forces had surrounded the hospital and were targeting anyone who moved. He said that staff were unable to communicate between departments.
The director of the hospital told the Qatari broadcaster that the hospital’s water supply line had exploded, saying that “we do not have a drop of water” for the hundreds of injured and thousands of displaced people present at the facility.
On Tuesday, Ashraf al-Qedra, spokesperson for the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, said that dozens of people were buried in a mass grave on the premises of al-Shifa hospital and that many more decomposing bodies still need to be buried, but the situation was dangerous due to the presence of the Israeli military.
He said that 40 patients, including three children, had died due to a lack of medical supplies at al-Shifa.
Witnesses at al-Shifa said that during the Israeli military raid, troops had “searched its rooms and basement,” Reuters reported.
Sources at al-Shifa told Al Jazeera that Israeli soldiers ordered young men to surrender. “About 30 people were reportedly taken out into the courtyard, stripped of their clothes, blindfolded and interrogated by Israeli soldiers,” Al Jazeera reported.
“Israeli forces have also blown up a warehouse of medicine and medical devices, sources said.”
Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a surgeon at al-Shifa, described a terrifying situation for hundreds of patients, their family members, medical staff and thousands of displaced people sheltering at the hospital as heavy gunfire and explosions were heard throughout the complex.
“We don’t know what they will do to us,” El Mokhallalati said. “We don’t know whether they will kill people or terrorize them. We know all the propaganda is lies, and they know as well as we do that there is nothing at al-Shifa medical center.”
Palestinian health officials in Gaza and Hamas have vigorously denied allegations that Palestinian fighters use hospitals as command centers, with the latter urging the UN secretary-general to form an international delegation to rebuke Israel’s claims.
US spokespersons parrot Israeli accusations
On Tuesday, in the hours before Israeli forces raided al-Shifa, White House spokesperson John Kirby claimed that the US has “information” that Hamas and Islamic Jihad “use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”
He alleged that militants “operate a command-and-control node from al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there, and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
Kirby told reporters that the US’ information “comes from a variety of intelligence sourcing” but did not offer specific evidence.
Those claims were repeated by the Pentagon’s spokesperson on Tuesday, who even asserted that Hamas and Islamic Jihad “have weapons stored there and are prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against the facility”:There have however been no confirmed reports of armed resistance from inside al-Shifa and Israel did not claim to have encountered, captured or killed any fighters as it raided the facility, saying only that at least five fighters “were killed by troops during a gun battle outside the hospital.”
Kirby also said that the Biden administration does “not support striking a hospital from the air, and we do not want to see a firefight in the hospital where innocent people, helpless people, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care that they deserve.”
On Wednesday, Kirby denied accusations that the Biden administration authorized the raid on al-Shifa.
Martin Griffiths, the UN humanitarian chief, said that he was “appalled by reports of military raids” at al-Shifa, adding that “the protection of newborns, patients, medical staff and all civilians must override all other concerns.”
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of the World Health Organization, said that the reports of a “military incursion into al-Shifa hospital are deeply concerning.” He added that the agency had been unable to contact health personnel at the hospital and “we’re extremely worried for their and their patients’ safety.”
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said that Israel’s repeated attacks on medical facilities, health workers and ambulances “are further destroying the Gaza Strip’s healthcare system and should be investigated as war crimes.”
The group said that “no evidence put forward would justify depriving hospitals and ambulances of their protected status under international humanitarian law.”
An earlier version of this story said that the vest displayed in the Israeli military video from al-Shifa hospital bore the insignias of both Hamas and Islamic Jihad. It has since been corrected to say that it only bears the insignias of Hamas.