Bloodbath: Israel’s War on Gaza’s hospitals and their patients

Dec 21, 2023
Khan Yunis, Palestinian Territories. 21st Nov, 2023. A member of the International Committee of the Red Cross sits next to an injured child at the European Hospital in Khan Yunis, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The delegation is conducting surgeries for the injured children who were transferred from hospitals in northern Gaza Strip to the south. Image: Alamy/ Mohammed Talatene/dpa/Alamy Live News

Back in mid-October, a controversy broke out about a blast on the grounds of the al-Ahli Arab (Baptist) Hospital in Gaza City. Some quarters blamed it on Israel, but the latter’s defenders took the stance that Israel wouldn’t hit a hospital. It appears that it probably didn’t on that occasion, and that the blast can be attributed to a Hamas rocket instead.

The Israeli army has, however, gone on to damage or decommission most of the hospitals in Gaza, with no further comment on American cable news.

There is no military justification for the Israeli military campaign against the hospitals, which is apparently the army’s only real success on the battlefield to date. The Israeli government party line that the hospitals are terror command centres has become wholly implausible and is clearly just a cover story. It is amazing what you can get apparently hard-boiled cynical American journalists to believe without a scintilla of evidence.

Some observers allege that the fascist Israeli government of Binyamin Netanyahu has a plan to make Gaza uninhabitable, and depriving it of potable water, food, and functioning services such as hospital care is central to this plot. Since the Palestinians are under Israeli occupation, treating the civilian population this way, imposing on it a mass exodus and depriving it of the objects it needs to survive, is clearly a major war crime of the sort for which Japanese and German generals were hanged after WW II.

Over four days late last week the Israeli army repeatedly raided Kamal Adwan Hospital in the town of Beit Lahia (pop. 90,000) in northern Gaza and then over the weekend forced everybody out of it. Eight patients did not survive the expulsion, including a nine-year-old girl. The UN reports that media is saying that on Saturday, “an Israeli military bulldozer flattened the tents of a number of internally displaced persons outside the hospital, killing and wounding an unconfirmed number of people”. That is, the army is alleged to have bulldozed people alive into a mass grave, which, if the assertion is true, is one of the more horrific atrocities it has committed in this campaign — which has been full of horrific atrocities. The Israeli army denies the reports, saying the hospital is a terrorism command centre, a standard propaganda line for which it has supplied zero evidence. Israel does admit that it took 90 hospital personnel captive, charging them with being Hamas. The Israeli army broadcast what was clearly a coerced confession of a hospital administrator that 16 of the Kamal Adwan staffers had been members of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, including physicians. This is flatly ridiculous, and even if it had been true, it would not have justified destroying the whole hospital or bulldozing the tent city outside it.

Officials at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank said that their Gaza contacts told them that after the Israeli troops bulldozed the tents and their denizens, “They also took the wounded out of the hospital to the open air in light of the extreme cold weather, and attacked the medical personnel, and arrested a number of them. The university indicated that there are 12 children still inside the hospital’s incubators without water or food, after the occupation prevented their evacuation and its vehicles destroyed large parts of the hospital.” The West Bank is PLO territory, not Hamas, and that Bir Zeit University people are being told the same story as the UN’s interviewees is at least some corroboration.

This atrocity was committed during an internet blackout that lasted several days and ended on Monday.

The Israelis have attacked and closed all but four hospitals in northern Gaza, and three of them can barely be said to be functioning as hospitals (usually you would like some anaesthesia while you are operated on). The World Health Organisation (WHO) called the situation at al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City a “bloodbath.”

I watch a lot of US cable news. I didn’t see any anchors pick up WHO’s assertion. Indeed, CNN’s State of the Union magazine show, which airs on Sundays and is among the preeminent politics hours on the country’s airwaves, managed to avoid even bringing up the ongoing carnage in Gaza, as the number of deaths (the vast majority of them children, women and noncombatant men) spirals up toward 20,000, or about one percent of the entire population. This deep-sixing of an uncomfortable issue on American news (or at the podium of the spokesmen for government offices) through simple non-coverage is a key propaganda tool for shaping public opinion.

At least al-Shifa hospital is still standing and limping along. Kamal Adwan Hospital apparently no longer is. The Palestinian Ministry of Health says that the Israeli troops completely destroyed it and put it completely out of business.

Tedros Ghebreyesus, the Director of WHO, posted to X on Sunday,

WHO is appalled by the effective destruction of Kamal Adwan hospital in northern #Gaza over the last several days, rendering it non-functional and resulting in the death of at least 8 patients.
Many health workers were reportedly detained, and WHO and partners are urgently seeking information on their status.

We learned that many patients had to self-evacuate at great risk to their health and safety, with ambulances unable to reach the facility. Of the deceased patients, several died due to lack of adequate health care, including a 9-year-old child.

We are extremely concerned for the well-being of the internally displaced people who are reportedly sheltering in the hospital building.

Gaza’s health system was already on its knees, and the loss of another even minimally functioning hospital is a severe blow.

Attacks on hospitals, health personnel and patients must end. Ceasefire NOW.

Republished from Informed Comment on December 19, 2023.

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