Siege of Gaza’s largest hospital “worse than hell”

The area around al-Shifa hospital following the withdrawal of Israeli troops. 

Khaled Daoud APA images

Salem Baraka has seen the kind of horror no parent should ever have to endure: The Israeli military killed his son Karim right in front of him.

Like so many others, Salem and Karim fled from their home in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza, during the current genocidal war. They took shelter at al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital.

They were inside the hospital when it was stormed by Israeli forces on 18 March.

Salem recalled how he spent the following week “waiting to die.”

“Quadcopter drones were firing wildly – striking anything that moved,” he said. “The Israelis smashed the glass in the windows and destroyed the walls in the department where we were hiding.”

“A shell fell on us and killed my son in front of my eyes,” he added. “I could not save him. He bled to death.”

The situation, in Salem’s words, was “worse than hell.”

Among the terrible scenes he witnessed were Israeli tanks driving over the bodies of people who had been killed in the hospital’s courtyard.

Because the hospital could not function, infections soared among people who were wounded. In many cases, injured people were devoured by worms due to the lack of treatment.

After the hospital had been under siege for approximately a week, the Israeli forces used loudspeakers to summon everyone into the courtyard.

The Palestinian men were ordered to strip. Then they were beaten.

Women were subjected to both verbal and physical abuse, according to Salem.

Salem recalled that he “trembled in horror when one of the soldiers called my name.” He was interrogated for around 48 hours.

“I was not allowed to sit down or turn to the left or right,” he said. “My hands were tied behind my back. I was blindfolded and completely naked.”

Salem added that he repeatedly heard gunfire and that his interrogator “threatened to kill my wife, who is ill and lives with her family in northern Gaza, if I did not cooperate.”

“Throughout the interrogation, I was thinking about where the soldier would shoot me. In the head, chest or heart? I did not believe him when he said the interrogation was over. I realized that I had miraculously survived death.”

Salem was given a choice of evacuating to southern Gaza or being killed.

Before leaving, Salem asked that he be allowed to see the body of his son Karim, 13.

Salem wanted to say a final goodbye and bury his child. The Israeli forces rejected his request.

“I never expected that I would lose him at such an early age,” Salem said. “He was a handsome boy who loved football and dreamed of becoming a famous player.”

Salem had to walk for hours until he reached Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city.

Although some counseling has been arranged for him in Rafah, it is clearly inadequate given the trauma he and so many others are going through. Salem now finds himself without his wife and struggling to accept the reality that his son is dead.

Israel had completely destroyed the hospital by the time its forces withdrew in the early hours of Monday.

Karim Baraka is among several hundred people who were slaughtered during Israel’s two week siege on al-Shifa. Israel’s attack on the hospital is one of the worst massacres in Palestinian history.

It is a crime against humanity – committed after the International Court of Justice had instructed Israel to stop killing Palestinians.

Doaa Shaheen is a journalist from Gaza.