Israel’s onslaught against hospitals in Gaza must stop

Israel has been accused of bombing hospitals in Gaza, crippling their operations. Picture: Mahmud Hams/AFP

Israel has been accused of bombing hospitals in Gaza, crippling their operations. Picture: Mahmud Hams/AFP

Published Nov 14, 2023


Dr Aayesha Soni

Bisan Owda, a 25-year-old film maker from Palestine, has taken it upon herself to livestream videos demonstrating the situation on the ground in Gaza. Her social media page, with a growing 2.1 million followers, is testament to the devastation Israel has meted out for the past month. Void of influence from Zionist propaganda and mainstream media outlets with agendas fueled by political motives, her stories are real, raw, shattering and heart breaking.

On October 26, Bisan took us on a virtual tour of Al-Shifa hospital, the largest medical complex, in Gaza. She described how many civilians from the north had evacuated to Al-Shifa seeking refuge, with the estimated numbers reaching the thousands. We watched the corridors strewn with people, some injured and awaiting medical care from the already overwhelmed hospital staff with limited supplies. These people had made Al-Shifa hospital their home in the hopes of safety from Israel’s relentless bombing of the civilian population.

These were scenes we witnessed just two weeks ago and yet, over the past weekend, we have watched in absolute horror as Israel has directly bombed, besieged, and attacked patients and healthcare workers working there.

On November 12, the regional directors of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Unicef and World Health Organisation released a joint statement collectively calling for urgent international action to end the ongoing attacks on hospitals in Gaza. “We are horrified at the latest reports of attacks on and in the vicinity of Al-Shifa Hospital, Al-Rantisi Naser Paediatric Hospital, Al-Quds Hospital, and others in Gaza city and northern Gaza, killing many, including children. Over the past 36 days, WHO has recorded at least 250 attacks on health care in Gaza, resulting in 521 deaths and 686 injuries, including 16 deaths and 38 injuries of health workers on duty. Attacks on medical facilities and civilians are unacceptable and are a violation of International Humanitarian and Human Rights Law and Conventions.”

This action by Israel cannot be condoned and the right to seek medical assistance, especially in times of crisis, should never be denied. Further, the WHO for Occupied Palestinian Territories office has confirmed that more than half of the hospitals in the Gaza Strip are closed. Those still functioning are under massive strain and can only provide very limited emergency services, lifesaving surgery and intensive care services.

Shortages of water, food, and fuel are also threatening the well-being of thousands of displaced people, including women and children, who are sheltering in hospitals and their surrounds. The scale of the ongoing humanitarian crisis has also been confirmed by multiple statements released by the Doctors Without Borders humanitarian group, who have multiple team members currently present in Gaza.

On Friday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organisation, addressed the UN Security Council regarding the healthcare situation unfolding in Gaza. “Half of Gaza’s 36 hospitals and two-thirds of its primary health care centres are not functioning at all. The health system is on its knees”, said Dr Ghebreyesus. Last week, WHO documented five attacks on five hospitals in one day in Gaza. In the past 48 hours alone, four hospitals have been put out of action. Today, the Palestine Red Crescent Society says Al-Quds Hospital, the second largest medical complex in Gaza, has ceased operations because of a fuel shortage, as Israeli forces continue to bomb the besieged territory.

Israel continues to justify its behaviour with false claims and propaganda. It falsely states that Hamas operates from under Al-Shifa hospital, using the medical complex to launch rockets against the occupying military force. Despite the fact that this has never been substantiated with irrefutable evidence, Hamas themselves emphatically deny the claim. In an official statement on Monday, Hamas denied it refused 300 litres of fuel from Israel intended for medical use at the besieged Al-Shifa Hospital.

“The offer belittles the pain and suffering of the patients who are trapped inside without water, food, or electricity. Hamas is not associated with Al-Shifa Hospital management, nor is [Hamas] part of its decision-making structures”, it said. “[The hospital] is completely subject to the authority of the Palestinian health ministry.”

Dr Mads Gilbert, a reputable Norwegian doctor who has worked at Al-Shifa hospital for the past 16 years, reaffirms this. “Israel has a well-documented history of targeting ambulances, hospitals, primary healthcare facilities, and health professionals in various incidents”.

He emphasised that he had never encountered any indication of a “military command centre” at Al-Shifa, pointing out that Israel has failed to produce evidence of such a centre, despite “a sophisticated intelligence system” capable of ground scanning and comprehensive population data.

The world cannot remain silent while hospitals, which should be safe havens, are transformed into scenes of death, devastation, and despair. Decisive international action is needed now to stop this manic behaviour being carried out by Israel and to halt the mass scale humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing live.

Israel is guilty of methodically terrorising Palestinians, and we are all witness to the absolute wreckage. There cannot be watered down statements of condemnation of both sides of the war - this is not a war. This is a systematic onslaught against a population which has been occupied and dehumanised for 75 years.

Gaza 2023 will go down in history as one of the most horrific episodes of calculated cruelty in modern history because the genocidal violence unleashed has been so overwhelmingly supported by liberal Western states and their leaders, and because its evidence was so immediate, so obvious and so live streamed to the world.

  • Dr Soni is a specialist neurologist and medical volunteer with the Gift of the Givers Foundation
  • The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL