Overstretched hospitals are no longer spared in Gaza war

Israel’s attacks on Gaza hospitals show a sinister pattern, doctors say

A Palestinian woman mourns while holding a child, near the bodies of Palestinians at a hospital following Israeli strikes.
A Palestinian woman mourns while holding a child, near the bodies of Palestinians at a hospital following Israeli strikes.

Overstretched hospitals are no longer spared in Gaza war

Gaza - On the morning of Monday, November 13, al-Shifa Hospital reported the tragic death of a newborn baby who was being cared for in one of the specialized incubators for premature infants. The hospital is facing a critical shortage of oxygen, and this is the third child's death announced by the hospital within just 24 hours.

These heart-breaking losses are attributed to the blockade imposed by Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles, which have surrounded the hospital. This blockade is preventing the hospital from receiving essential medical supplies and the fuel needed to power its generators.

The hospital crisis in the Gaza Strip began on October 7 when around 12 hospitals were suddenly overwhelmed with over 28,000 wounded individuals in just over a month and a half due to the Israeli war on Gaza in response to the Hamas attacks inside Israel.

This number far exceeded the capacity of all hospitals. The crisis is a result of Israel's actions, including deliberate attacks on residential buildings and homes without warning, putting the lives of their residents in danger.

Read more: Israeli settlers exploit Israel's war on Gaza to attack in West Bank

The situation for hospitals worsened when Israel decided to cut off the electricity supply to the Gaza Strip on the third day of the war. This was compounded by the disruption of water services and the prevention of essential supplies, including fuel and medical necessities, from entering Gaza. As a result, hospitals have had to rely on their dwindling reserves of diesel to power generators and keep ambulances running.

With Israel continuing to enforce these restrictions, the ability of hospitals to function is at serious risk. The Ministry of Health and hospital directors have issued numerous appeals and requests for the entry of fuel and medical supplies, but only a few trucks carrying basic medical provisions have been allowed to reach hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip.

After a week of bombings and destruction, the Israeli army told people in the northern part of Gaza to move to the southern part behind Wadi Gaza, a region that stretches from the east to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. They declared the northern Gaza Strip, including Gaza City, a military zone.

Men walk as patients rest at Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023

The situation became more complicated two weeks later when an Israeli army spokesperson posted a video online. In the video, he claimed that leaders of Hamas and the al-Qassam Brigades, the group's military wing, were hiding in safe rooms beneath the Shifa Medical Complex, the largest in the strip. He claimed that these rooms were connected to a labyrinth of tunnels underground.

The Israeli campaign against hospitals continued, with Israel sharing more videos that cannot be independently verified. One showed Sheikh Hamad Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics northwest of Gaza City, where he said he found a tunnel entrance next to one of its buildings. Another video featured the Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, where he alleged that Hamas leaders had safe rooms beneath the medical structures, linked to tunnels. Hamas has repeatedly denied that it uses hospitals as military bases.

Israel has been sharing videos online of what it claims to be Hamas hideouts underground, but these videos cannot be independently verified.

The threats went beyond just propaganda. The Israeli army tried to evacuate hundreds, possibly thousands, of displaced people who had sought shelter in hospitals, thinking they were safe places after their homes were targeted. Especially in the northern part of Gaza, soldiers contacted hospital directors, urging them to evacuate the displaced, patients, and medical staff, warning them against coming attacks. Despite this pressure, the Ministry of Health chose not to comply with evacuation requests, even in the face of possible bombings, and made this decision publicly in front of cameras and international news agencies.

The Israeli army has increased pressure on hospitals by targeting nearby homes and residential buildings, possibly to create fear and force people inside the hospitals to leave. This strategy raises important questions: Where can the thousands of affected people find safety? And how can doctors care for their patients in such challenging circumstances?

Read more: Hamas might have miscalculated in Gaza

The Geneva Conventions require hospitals to be protected during times of war. That said, the targeting of various hospitals in Gaza by the Israeli army go unabated, such as the Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, where numerous displaced children and women tragically lost their lives. Other hospitals like al-Quds Hospital, al-Hayat Specialized Center, al-Shifa Hospital, and the Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetics in Gaza have also been targeted. Additionally, several hospitals in the southern Gaza Strip have been attacked, causing the death and injury of hundreds of displaced individuals, medical staff, and ambulance personnel.

Israeli military vehicles manoeuvre during the ongoing ground invasion of Gaza.

During this phase, it became evident that the Israeli army, lacking military targets and focusing on civilian areas, was constructing its own narrative. Before a ground invasion, it aimed to spread the idea that hospitals in Gaza, especially in the northern Gaza Strip, were being used as military bases by the Palestinian factions. They claimed that there were safe rooms stocked with fuel and supplies, supposedly sufficient for months. This narrative is seen by Palestinian medics as a pretence to justify the prevention of relief aid trucks, medical supplies, and fuel from reaching these hospitals, while allowing aid and fuel delivery solely through United Nations institutions. However, even this fuel was stored at the Rafah land crossing and hasn't yet reached the blockaded hospitals.

Hamid Rashwan, a specialist in general surgery at Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Younis, described the medical and surgical work during the ongoing war as one of the most challenging experiences in his more than 30-year medical career. "The scenes on the ground are so difficult, with an overwhelming influx of injuries that surpass the capacity of doctors, nurses, and the medical complex. As doctors, we never imagined we would one day face such an experience," he told Majalla.

Dr. Rashwan highlighted the shortage of medical supplies and specialized surgical equipment. He explained: "Despite having six operating rooms in the Nasser complex, we found ourselves performing surgeries in the corridors due to the simultaneous arrival of numerous critical cases. We had to conduct operations with limited tools and, at times, without anaesthetics."

He conveyed the challenges of performing surgeries and handling numerous cases simultaneously in the second-largest medical complex in the Strip, situated in its southern region. However, the situation at the largest medical complex, al-Shifa, in Gaza was even more intricate and complex. The complex faced a rush of critical cases due to concentrated Israeli shelling in its vicinity and the use of fire belts on several residential neighbourhoods in the northern half of the strip.

Last Saturday, Dr. Mounir al-Bursh, the Director General of Hospitals at the Ministry of Health, reported that the Israeli army, using tanks and military vehicles, had encircled al-Nasr Children's Hospital, the Eye Hospital, the Psychiatric Hospital, and al-Rantisi Hospital for the treatment of children's cancer. These hospitals are situated northwest of Gaza City. The army compelled displaced citizens seeking refuge in the hospital yards to evacuate immediately under the threat of gunfire. The Israeli forces have further besieged the Turkish hospital, which was rendering services to cancer patients, on the first day of their ground invasion south of Gaza City.

The Israeli army has increased pressure on hospitals by targeting nearby homes and residential buildings, possibly to create fear and force people inside the hospitals to leave.

The recording of this call was made public by the Israeli army. However, Dr Abu Salmiya insisted on receiving fuel from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and told reporters that the diesel offered by Israel is even insufficient to sustain the hospital for more than half an hour. He explained that Shifa Hospital's generators require over 10,000 litres per day to operate effectively.

This raises the question: is the Israeli army deliberately putting the lives of the injured and sick inside hospitals at risk, leading to a slow, deliberate and painful death? What is the fate of the medical staff and displaced individuals within these blocakded hospitals, given the lack of water and food?

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