Israeli military left Palestinian infants to die

Several premature babies are fed milk from bottles.

Premature babies are especially vulnerable to infection, malnourishment and dehydration as Israel’s siege continues, physicians warn. 

Rizek Abdeljawad Xinhua via ZUMA Press

The Israeli military left five Palestinian babies to die in their small beds at al-Nasr Pediatric Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip after soldiers raided it nearly three weeks ago.

The tiny infants died starving, cold and alone. Their bodies decomposed.

They were still connected to ventilation and intravenous tubes.

Video footage, which went viral on Tuesday, showed that the babies had been left alone for 17 days.

The spokesperson for the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza confirmed to AFP on Wednesday that “Israeli soldiers had blocked access to the intensive care unit at Al-Nasr pediatric facility, and doctors were finally ‘able to get into the ward on Tuesday night.’”

The parents of the fragile newborns were apparently told by the Israeli military that the Red Cross would evacuate their babies safely, according to testimonies.

But that did not happen.

Journalist Muhammad Baalusha of the Dubai-based broadcaster Al Mashhad recorded the video of the horrific scene inside al-Nasr Hospital on Tuesday.

On 10 November, as part of a series of airstrikes, raids and attacks on hospitals, Israeli forces stormed the al-Nasr hospital and ordered patients, doctors and displaced civilians to leave.

Doctors were ordered to leave five babies “alone in the intensive care on the machines and ventilators,” Mohammed Abu Mughaisib, deputy medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza, told The Washington Post on 12 November.

A doctor at al-Nasr hospital had affirmed on 13 November that “We left five children to certain death.”

Tanks surrounded the medical complex. One doctor said that there was Israeli artillery shelling inside the hospital:

The bodies of five infants were shown in Baalusha’s video.
Mona Youssef, a physician who cared for the infants before she and her colleagues were ordered by the Israeli army to leave, stated on Wednesday that one of the babies, Salem, “was connected to a respirator for two months.”
Youssef recounted that medical staff had previously attempted to wean him off the oxygen, but did not succeed. “He would die if he pulled out the tube when I moved him,” she posted to X (formerly Twitter). “He always did that, and God always brought him back.”

Youssef added that on the morning of 10 November, the baby pulled out his tube “and was about to die. I wish we had not brought him back.”

“This little boy’s face follows me every time I fall asleep,” she said.

The international not-for-profit group Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor called for an international investigation to determine both the Israeli army’s and the Red Cross’ responsibility for leaving the infants to die.

According to the human rights group, the hospital’s director Dr. Mustafa al-Kahlout said he had “appealed the difficult case of the five children to save their lives to international organizations, including the Red Cross, but he had received no response.”

The director added that he “had informed the Israeli army officer who gave them the final warning [to leave] of the case of the five children on respiratory machines and that they cannot be moved.”

Al-Kahlout said the Israeli officer acknowledged the urgent appeal to protect the babies, but ultimately left them to die.

The children “were abandoned without any means to sustain their lives during the evacuation, including a response to the need to transfer them to another qualified medical facility and to care for them, which did not happen,” Euro-Med Monitor said.

The group called for the Israeli army “to be held accountable for this incident and to question the Red Cross for falling short of responding to appeals to save the lives of children and patients in Gaza.”

The International Committee of the Red Cross released a short statement on Wednesday.

“The circulating footage of premature babies who died embodies an indescribable tragedy and an unacceptable reality in which civilians – including newborns and children – pay a heavy price in the conflict,” the agency stated. It did not mention the Israeli army’s role in forcing the hospital to shut down and leave their patients behind.

The ICRC said that it had received “multiple requests to evacuate the hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip, but the difficult security situation has prevented us from participating in any of these evacuations, and our teams also did not show any commitment to participate in it.”

Beyond disaster

Meanwhile, doctors in Gaza are describing relentless, unspeakable catastrophes inside hospitals as they continue to work with limited supplies of medicine and vital medical equipment – or none at all.

The trauma of Israel’s latest assault on Gaza – especially for children and the doctors who have had to make the most impossible choices for them – will be generational.

Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British Palestinian plastic surgeon who was in Gaza for the first five weeks of the attacks, told UK media that he estimates that there are “between 700 and 900 children with amputations of limbs, and some of whom [with] multiple limbs amputated” due to Israeli bombings.

Last weekend, the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund held a webinar with two Gaza-based physicians who described the cataclysmic situations for premature infants in the neonatal intensive care units (NICU) in Gaza’s pediatric centers.

“This is not a war. We have to find another word to describe what happened,” Dr. Ahmed Shattat, the director of international projects for the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza, told the webinar audience.

“Israel targeted hospitals as ‘military targets,’” Shattat said.

Dr. Mohammad Salama, director of neonatology at the Al-Helal Al-Emirati Maternity Hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza, said that admissions to the NICU has increased “dramatically as a result of a large number of preterm births” due to fear and stress in pregnant women, or as a result of direct injury from Israeli bombing.

“The situation is beyond what can be described as a disaster,” he said.

You can listen to the entire interview with Salama here.

“We delivered fetuses from dead mothers,” Salama said.

He told the story of a baby who was recovered from a mother via a cesarean section in the emergency room at a nearby hospital. The mother was killed in a bombing of her home, Salama said, but physicians wanted the baby to survive.

Between the time her mother died and she was delivered, the infant was severely deprived of oxygen. She developed cerebral palsy and was put onto a mechanical ventilator.

“After a few days, we weaned the baby from the mechanical ventilator,” Salama explained. “But we could not discharge the baby from the NICU because she needs special care.” Her father is the only survivor in her family, and he is sheltering in an UNRWA school, he said.

“He cannot even support himself, [let alone] take care of this child.”

Salama described, in painful detail, the effects that a lack of basic medical supplies and necessary antibiotics are having on his delicate patients.

Incubators are designed to hold one patient each, he said. “But here in Gaza nowadays, we place two, three, four and five – which leads to the spread of sepsis among the children. There are no medical supplies or antibiotics or electricity.”

Babies born in relatively stable condition, he said, are discharged.

“But we know they will come back, either with sepsis, or with hypothermia,” he explained, because of the lack of adequate shelter conditions and the sheer amount of destroyed or damaged homes.

“Or they return to us with injuries by direct bombing, or killed by direct bombing.”

Salama said he was part of the medical team that received 31 newborns who were transferred from al-Shifa hospital on 19 November.

“Their condition and the situation here was extremely catastrophic,” Salama recounted.

“Can you imagine 31 babies suffering from severe dehydration, some of them suffering from severe hypoglycemia, hypothermia, severe anemia, malnutrition and electrolyte imbalance?”

Some babies arrived at his hospital severely malnourished. Just “skin and bones,” he said.

Among the babies, who were eventually transferred to Egypt, were those “who had all their family members killed” or who arrived nameless, according to Salama, because they were found in the rubble of bombed neighborhoods.

Salama said that his colleagues at the hospital are emotionally, spiritually and physically depleted.

“Doctors and nurses are working day and night,” he said, dealing with their own starvation, thirst and fatigue.

“We leave our family to go to work. We don’t know whether we will reach the hospital, or if we will return alive or not to our families. We don’t know if we will [return] and find them alive or not.”

Kidnapping, detention, killing of physicians

Israeli forces also kidnapped and arrested physicians just before the six-day truce began.

Last week, Israeli forces arrested Dr. Muhammad Abu Salmiya, the director of al-Shifa hospital, while he and his medical colleagues “were taking part in a United Nations mission to evacuate patients,” reported Al Jazeera. Abu Salmiya was taken along with five other health workers, two of whom have since been released.

Israel alleges that the doctors aided Palestinian resistance forces, notoriously claiming that Hamas’ “command center” was underneath the hospital complex as a pretext for the 18 November raid and siege of the medical center by Israeli forces.

“We are currently moving forward with … questioning [Abu Salmiya] over the fact that he was the head of a hospital that was really sitting on top of an entire terror network,” an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Zero evidence has been revealed to prove Israel’s claim.

On Monday, it was reported that Israel extended Abu Salmiya’s detention for another 45 days.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said that Awni Khattab, the head of the Khan Younis Medical Center, was detained along with Abu Salmiya and is still being held by Israeli forces.
PCRS says that some of their paramedics and other healthcare workers have also been assaulted, beaten and detained by Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

The group released a statement on Monday expressing their serious concern about the fate of their colleagues.

“The Israeli occupation forces refuse to provide any information about the whereabouts or the fate of the detainees despite the repeated calls by the WHO and the UN,” PCRS stated.

Denying protected civilians “access to humanitarian assistance and targeting medical personnel are blatant breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention,” they warned.

Meanwhile, other physicians are in mourning for their colleagues killed in Israel’s attacks.

Tarek Loubani, a Canada-based emergency room physician who has worked over the years at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, recounted a number of his colleagues who have been killed by Israeli bombing.

“Part of any genocide is not just killing people, but killing leaders and destroying the future. We must continue our calls for the death and killing to stop. We must also commit to participating in the rebuilding of Gaza once this war ends,” Loubani stated.

With Arabic translations by Tamara Nassar. Editor’s note: A previous version of this article was published before the International Committee of the Red Cross’ statement was released. It has been updated to include the agency’s statement.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).