Amnesty International is horrified at reports of a raid on al-Shifa Hospital by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in the occupied Gaza Strip. Israel’s siege, which has cut off fuel and electricity for weeks, has rendered the hospital without power, making it impossible for staff to care for those in desperate need of medical attention. With around 25,000 people wounded, many of them critically, al-Shifa had been critical to providing life-saving care to people affected by the violence.
At the time of the first raid on Wednesday 15 November, 650 patients were reported to be inside, alongside roughly 7,000 people displaced by Israeli bombardment. The patients included a number of premature babies, who were left without incubators.
According to statements by Hamas on Wednesday, 40 people had died inside the hospital while it was under siege, including three babies.
No Evidence for IDF claims of Hamas Command Centre
The IDF says attacks are justified because Hamas fighters use the hospital as a military command centre. But so far, they’ve failed to produce any credible evidence to substantiate this claim.
A post on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter) by the IDF claims they were “carrying out a precise and targeted operation against Hamas in a specified area in the Shifa Hospital.”
The post goes on to say that the IDF team included “medical teams and Arabic speakers”. It says personnel were given “specified training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment, with the intent that no harm is caused to the civilians being used by Hamas as human shields.”
As much of Gaza is under a communications blackout, few reports are reaching the outside world. But those reports paint a very different picture to the one offered by the IDF.
Witnesses Describe Horror Inside al-Shifa
The scene described by people inside al-Shifa is unimaginably harrowing. Before the IDF entered the building, medical staff and patients said they were unable to leave or move around the hospital, as Israeli snipers and drones shot at any moving target.
There have been reports of the IDF shooting people as they tried to leave the hospital. Staff have had to bury bodies in mass graves in the hospital’s courtyard, and there are many more they’ve been unable to bury at all.
Weeks of being cut off from fuel and electricity by Israel’s illegal siege, alongside Israel’s bombardment and now raids on al-Shifa, is having a catastrophic impact. Al-shifa is the largest hospital in the occupied Gaza Strip, and it’s desperately needed as tens of thousands are wounded from attacks, and more are in need of medical care.
Israel Must Stop its Inhumane Attacks on Hospitals
Hospitals have special protection under international humanitarian law that means they should never be attacked. The IDF has justified raids by saying that, under international humanitarian law, hospitals lose that protection if they are used for military objectives.
However, as Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the World Health Organisation explained, Israeli forces would still need to abide by international law even if their claims of a Hamas command centre in al-Shifa were true.
The IDF must always protect civilians, refrain from indiscriminately attacking civilians, and always distinguish between civilians and combatants. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on hospitals are unlawful, regardless of a military presence in the hospital.
On Monday and Tuesday last week, mere days after the raid of al-Shifa that drew resounding condemnation from the global community, Israel struck two more hospitals. The attacks reportedly killed at least 16 people, including four doctors, and injured many more. All hospitals in Gaza’s north are now out of operation, and the few left in the south are barely functioning.
Hospitals in north Gaza have received forced evacuation orders from the Israeli army since 23 October. Amid the humanitarian catastrophe engulfing the occupied Gaza Strip, these forced evacuation orders are virtually impossible to implement. Transferring patients across areas destroyed by airstrikes and without fuel is an unreasonable prospect.
If implemented, these “evacuations” will lead to the complete collapse of Gaza’s healthcare system. They constitute, in the words of the World Health Organization, a “death sentence” for the injured. The Israeli authorities must rescind these orders and ensure the protection of healthcare facilities as required under international humanitarian law.
Australia Must Call for a Ceasefire
These attacks on hospitals underscore the need for a sustained ceasefire. Israel’s cruel attacks on healthcare facilities, refugee camps, churches, housing, and other civilian objects can’t be allowed to continue. Every day this conflict continues, we’re faced with more blatant violations of international law. It’s shameful that Australia hasn’t called for an immediate, sustained ceasefire.