Israel threatens Gaza’s largest hospital

An injured child is treated at Gaza City’s al-Shifa hospital after Israeli airstrikes, 27 October.

Saeed Jaras APA images

Hours before communication networks went down in Gaza, the Israeli military held a press conference during which its chief spokesperson Daniel Hagari accused Hamas of using the territory’s largest hospital as its command center.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the same accusation on Twitter, now called X.

Israel has long accused Hamas of using hospitals in Gaza as human shields and the press conference on Friday appeared to be an attempt to preemptively justify an attack on al-Shifa and all the civilian casualties that would entail.

It wouldn’t be the first time that Israel has attacked the health facility.

Al-Shifa was attacked by the Israeli military on 28 July 2014 along with three other hospitals during that 51-day war.

Israel both denied responsibility for the strike, blaming it on a misfired Palestinian rocket, and attempted to justify the attack on al-Shifa by claiming that Hamas had established a “large underground bunker equipped with sophisticated communications equipment.”

Israel aims to sow doubt

Hamas categorically denied Israel’s accusations on Friday and warned that they paved the way for targeting the hospital.

Tarek Loubani, a Canadian emergency room physician who has worked in Gaza, said on Friday that “of course the accusations against al-Shifa are false.”

Loubani added that the purpose of Israel’s accusations “is not to put forward credible evidence, but to create a justification for bombing hospitals in Gaza” and to sow doubt “in the humanity of Palestinians.”

He noted that Israel made similar accusations against Gaza hospitals during its past military offensives in the territory but “there has never been any evidence put forward.”

Al-Shifa hospital is presently over-capacity with patients and some 50,000 displaced Palestinians staying on its grounds, the UN said on Thursday.

An Israeli strike on the facility would cause an unthinkable loss of life, as portended by the massacre at Gaza City’s al-Ahli hospital on 17 October.

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel said on Friday that “there can be no shred of justification for the killing of thousands of displaced persons, patients and medical staff [on] duty.”

The human rights group said that “we call on all parties to respect the duty to protect citizens, health facilities and medical personnel.”

Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir said on Friday that the Israeli military’s statement on Gaza hospitals “raises grave concerns for the safety of patients and medical workers at these hospitals.”

Shakir added that “hospitals have special protections against attack” and that “doctors, nurses and ambulances must be permitted to do their work and be protected in all circumstances.”

Hospitals face “unprecedented devastation”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Thursday that hospitals in Gaza “are facing an unprecedented level of devastation, primarily driven by the overwhelming number of injuries and critical shortages of vital resources, including medical personnel, electricity and water.”

Most medical professionals in the territory are themselves displaced, “forcing the hospitals to operate with less than one-third of their normal staffing levels,” the UN added, citing the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.

“The hospitals continue to suffer from a severe fuel shortage, leading to stringent rationing and limited use of generators for only the most essential functions,” the UN added.

Since Israel’s military campaign began on 7 October, more than one-third of Gaza’s hospitals and two-thirds of its primary health care clinics “have shut down due to damage or lack of fuel, increasing the pressure on the remaining health facilities that are still operational,” according to the UN.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.