Is Hamas using al-Shifa Hospital as a human shield? The Israeli army, which has continued to proclaim this in recent weeks, has finally decided. The IDF announced last night that it had invested the establishment to carry out “targeted operations”. “Hamas uses hospitals for terrorist purposes. This unhealthy exploitation of the people of Gaza must stop,” the Israeli army also said on Wednesday.
Al-Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza City, is at the heart of the new war unleashed when Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. Israeli soldiers invested the north of the enclave, and penetrated the heart of the city from both the north and the south, along the coast. Although damaged - the oxygen system, the water tanks, the maternity ward and even the cardiovascular unit have been affected or rendered unusable - the hospital structure is overstretched by the thousands of deaths and injuries. injured from bombings.
“No one can get out now, at the risk of being shot,” declared two days ago a surgeon, Doctor Sara al-Saqa, who had to leave the hospital on Saturday to protect herself from the fighting which was inexorably approaching. . The caregiver, who testified in our columns, also clarified that despite the power cuts, the services continued their work since a continuous flow of injured continued to arrive. Sara al-Saqa described a dire situation compared to other Gaza wars she has experienced, in 2014, 2018 and 2021.
Also read: From New York to Gaza, the UN's puzzle in the face of the Israel-Hamas conflict
Because the al-Shifa hospital, terribly affected since October 7, also suffered during previous warlike episodes. The facility was originally built from a British Army barracks established in Gaza in the 1920s. The government of Mandatory Palestine later transformed the building into a "Healing House", as its name means. name in Arabic.
The establishment successively experienced the Israeli-Arab wars of 1948, 1956, then the 6-day war during which the Israeli army took over the premises. After the expansions under Egyptian occupation, it is Israel's turn to carry out major development work to make it a large modern hospital with a greatly increased bed capacity.
In 2007, after the departure of Israel which had occupied the territory since 1967, when Hamas came to power in the Gaza Strip, the hospital was at the heart of a fratricidal fight with Fatah, the historic Palestinian nationalist party of Yasser Arafat. . As Human Right Watch reports in particular, fighting broke out around the hospital and even inside the structure and caused several deaths. Winner, Hamas fires doctors who are not loyal to it.
During the first war in 2008 between Hamas and Israel, the hospital was severely affected. It was during this conflict that the Israeli army openly accused Hamas of using the hospital as a human shield. Several media outlets, such as the New York Times, noted that Hamas fighters roamed the corridors of the hospital where journalists from Gaza who covered news of the war had also come to protect themselves.
During subsequent warlike episodes, the hospital became the nerve center of Gaza, a rare safe place in the enclave where the rain of Israeli bombs fatally fell. Foreign delegations also appear there to provide political support. As for the leaders of Hamas, now in semi-clandestinity, they make furtive appearances only to disappear immediately. “A persistent rumor has it that the Hamas government has settled entirely in the cellars of the hospital,” wrote the correspondent of Le Figaro in 2012, without any evidence ostensibly supporting what increasingly resembles to an obvious fact.
In 2014, the same accusations returned, immediately denied by Hamas. Amnesty International publishes a note in which the NGO claims that the Palestinian organization tortured and killed Palestinians accused of having collaborated with Israel in the hospital premises. A Washington Post journalist confirms. “The hospital has become the de facto headquarters of Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the corridors and offices.”
Already overloaded in 2014, the al-Shifa hospital, which today has a capacity of 700 beds, would now be completely saturated. The Hamas government's Palestinian Health Authority says corpses are now piling up in the courtyard. The health system in Gaza is “on its knees,” the World Health Organization has warned.
The WHO also specified that 3,000 civilians took refuge there to protect themselves from bombings. The hospital nevertheless suffered strikes, according to the director of the establishment, Mohammed Abou Salmiya. The Israeli army, which has not commented on these assertions, indicated Thursday evening that one of its divisions was carrying out major operations in an area “very very close” to the hospital. She said Friday that she would “kill” Hamas fighters “who fire from hospitals” in Gaza.
An ambulance leaving this hospital was the target of an Israeli airstrike which left 15 people dead in early November. The Israeli army accused Hamas of “using” this vehicle.