Hospital shutdowns in Gaza cause more chaos

Over the past month, Israel has said that Hamas militants are using hospitals in Gaza as shields, which is why they’ve become flashpoints for fighting.

Hospital shutdowns in Gaza cause more chaos
Newborns are placed in bed after being taken off incubators in Gaza's Al Shifa hospital after power outage, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Gaza City, Gaza November 12, 2023 in this still image obtained by REUTERS.

The backstory: When it comes to war and conflict, hospitals are usually off-limits for fighting. In fact, civilians often seek shelter at hospitals during times of war because they are supposed to be safe havens. That’s what’s happening in Gaza now, but we keep seeing more and more news about hospitals being destroyed or their operations being hurt by shortages of fuel and supplies. 

Over the past month, Israel has said that Hamas militants are using hospitals in Gaza as shields, which is why they’ve become flashpoints for fighting. As things have progressed, Israel alleged that Hamas has its command headquarters underneath Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, releasing a map of the hospital marked with what it says are militant set-ups. But both Hamas and Shifa Hospital Director Mohammed Abu Selmia deny these allegations. Meanwhile, Palestinian medical workers say Israel is attacking all major infrastructure to punish Palestinians at large and force Hamas to surrender. 

More recently: Shifa is the largest and most advanced hospital in the Gaza Strip. Last week, it completely ran out of fuel for its generators. Doctors Without Borders released a voice memo from one of the hospital’s doctors saying that incubators shut down, putting lives at risk and killing some of the neonatal patients. 

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the hospital had been offered fuel but had turned it down, with Hamas blocking any aid. But Muhammad Abu Selmia, the director of Al Shifa, called these reports “lies and slander.” When an ambulance convoy was evacuating injured patients from the hospital, Israel bombed the vehicles, saying that they were carrying Hamas fighters. Selmia says the strike killed at least 12 bystanders. 

Saturday, Shifa’s head of surgery, Abu Sada, said the hospital is caught in the middle of the fighting and that it’s basically a deathtrap for patients, staff and civilians who have flocked there for safety. Israel denies directly striking the hospital or putting it under siege.

The development: On Sunday, Netanyahu told CNN that Israel plans to have all Shifa patients evacuated from the hospital and that about 100 patients have already been moved and special corridors were made to get civilians away from the fighting. He also said that Hamas is holding up these evacuation efforts. 

But doctors have said that they’ve not been told how to get patients out safely, and some have already died. On Sunday, both Shifa and Al-Quds (Gaza’s second-largest hospital) said they were suspending operations. Hamas is now reportedly also suspending hostage negotiations. The same day, a few UN agencies issued an emergency call for international action to end these hospital attacks.

Key comments:

"We had two neonatal patients die actually because the incubator is not working because there is no electricity," said Dr. Mohammed Obeid from Al-Shifa Hospital. "So the situation is very, very bad. We need help."

"We're obviously treading carefully when it comes to hospitals but we're also not going to give immunity to the terrorists," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on CNN's State of the Union.

“If we see Hamas terrorists firing from hospitals, we’ll do what we need to do,” said Israeli army spokesperson Lt. Col. Richard Hecht.

“It’s to say, ‘Not only will we kill and wound you, we will ensure you have nowhere to go to be treated,’” said Dr. Ghassan Abu Sitta, a British Palestinian surgeon working for Doctors Without Borders in Gaza City.