‘Today We See Our Colleagues Besieged to Death’
Israelis terrorise hospitals in Palestine
In the early hours of Wednesday and again on Thursday, Israeli soldiers occupying Palestine stormed the Shifa hospital in Gaza city.
They blew up the pharmacy and a warehouse storing medicines and equipment, according to reports, and are destroying buildings including one that housed the department of specialised surgery.
“About 30 people were taken outside of the building, stripped of their clothes,” a source told Al Jazeera in the afternoon Wednesday. “They are in the courtyard of the hospital, blindfolded, surrounded by three tanks. There is one tank right at the front of the emergency department targeting any moving object inside these buildings. Inside the specialised surgeries building, the commandos are tearing apart all the partitions, destroying all the walls between rooms, going to the basement, and calling out people one by one and interrogating them.”
Later, the number of detainees in the hospital yard swelled to 200. They were made to strip naked by Israeli soldiers, blindfolded and interrogated in separate rooms. People sheltering in the hospital were also stripped and searched, according to the news agency Wafa. They were not allowed to leave the hospital premises. Later that night, the Israelis stormed the hospital again, this time from the southern entrance, bringing armoured bulldozers to dig up the hospital grounds.
(On Thursday evening, health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra said from the hospital that Israeli soldiers had taken the bodies of the dead lying in the yard. Lack of dialysis had killed a kidney patient, and babies inside the hospital were without food, milk or water. More reports say the Israelis have begun destroying buildings in the hospital compound, with hundreds of soldiers inside. “The Israeli army took away all the dead bodies and searched all the buildings,” said hospital director Mohammad Abu Salmiya, “No one can reach or leave the besieged hospital.”)
Already on the 10th, threats and bombardment and the denial of essentials had forced Palestinians to start leaving al-Shifa. Resident surgeon Sara al-Saqqa described the humiliation by soldiers in this video shared by her sister Noura.
“Everyone held up their hands and ID cards… They were bulldozing the road. The tanks were roaming in front of us… While we’re walking, they asked one person, ‘Come!’ They took him and his kid. ‘Sit down! I like blonds. Let your son come here.’ He advances his son slowly. Until the kid went back to school crying in his father’s arms. And those dogs started laughing… We don’t know what happened to that man or his kid.”
Israeli bombardment of al-Shifa on the 10th was even confirmed by the New York Times, which reported experts saying it was Israeli anti-tank shells launched twice at the maternity ward, and an Israeli illumination round launched into the hospital yard. They said the same illumination round had been launched into the Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza city, three days before the lethal bombardment there killed hundreds of patients and people sheltering in the grounds.
By the 12th, Israeli tanks had encircled at least four hospitals in northern Gaza. In ash-Shifa, the largest, and where casualty figures from across Gaza are reportedly tallied, which the Palestine health ministry has not updated since Saturday, with only partial updates from the government media office and the Palestine Red Crescent Society, a doctor on Sunday told the aid agency Islamic Relief:
“We are overrun with injured people and are four times over capacity. Each minute we are receiving huge numbers of injured people. Even in the operating theatre we have huge numbers of people who have had surgery but we have no other place to put them. We can’t cope, we don’t have space.”
“In this hospital we have more than 55,000 displaced people, occupying every square metre, in every department and in the corridors and the parking space. I’m worried about disease outbreaks – we’re seeing infections and a lot of diarrhoeal disease and skin diseases like scabies and lice.
“We dug mass graves for a lot of unknown displaced people (who have been killed). If nobody recognises them we have to bury them in a mass grave. In this hospital we’ve buried about 200 people like this.
“We haven’t received any fuel. Patients will die if we don’t have fuel for the ICU, neonatal and operating theatres. We have 400 patients on dialysis here – if we don’t provide people with dialysis they will die.
“We are exhausted and working to the maximum, but we are not able to provide people with a good quality of care. We lack the essential drugs and medicine and anaesthetic drugs to treat patients. A lot of the wounded people have maggots in their wounds. The conditions here are disastrous.”
While Israel has ordered all hospitals still functioning in north Gaza to evacuate their patients, the aid agency reported, the doctor at al-Shifa told them they had come under attack when trying to leave. “We succeeded in evacuating some patients but (for others) we didn’t succeed as the Israeli army attacked them. It was not safe to transport any patients from the hospital to other places.”
On Sunday the Red Crescent stated Israeli soldiers had prevented them evacuating al-Quds hospital in Gaza city as well.
“The Israeli occupation forces intensified the siege of Al-Quds Hospital by advancing their way to the entrance of the hospital. They have also continued to directly attack Al-Quds Hospital through the firing of live ammunition at the intensive care unit of the hospital and the civilians inside the building, resulting in the injury of a number of displaced persons.
“An attempt to evacuate Al-Quds Hospital failed today, after the occupation decided to return the convoy designated for evacuation and return it to the PRCS branch in Khan Yunis, despite having previously obtained the green light, under the pretext of a security incident occurring in the area, despite the inspections of the convoy being carried out.”
On Monday, al-Shifa cardiologist and health ministry official Munir Albursh said that stray dogs had started eating the bodies of those killed by Israeli bombardment. Hospital workers were under sniper fire, including from a drone that hovered over the grounds at low altitude, and had been unable to retrieve them.
Other hospitals too were at immediate risk. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Monday that “Doctors at al-Rantisi children’s hospital say they are now surrounded by military tanks, while doctors at Al Awda hospital, the only provider of maternity services in northern Gaza, say they are on the verge of shutting down. Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City has had to shut down the surgical ward, oxygen generation plant and MRI ward due to the lack of fuel.”
On Monday, the Red Crescent was able to conduct the forced evacuation of patients from al-Quds, whose backup generator was starved of fuel. About 200 patients and staff made their way over seven hours on foot to the Amal hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza. That hospital is also out of power, and the doctors are using ice packs to keep fresh blood cold for use in transfusions, according to Osama al-Kahlout, the PRCS head of operations in the south.
Al-Kahlout told the National newspaper on evacuating al-Quds, “They walked all the way until they reached an Israeli check point some 11 kilometres from the hospital… They were humiliated. They were told to sit on the floor and raise their hands. The equipment we were carrying was also searched meticulously.”
The PRCS added, “The occupation forces are still besieging Al-Rantisi Children’s Oncology Hospital, targeting patients and displaced people inside the hospital.”
Its ambulance crews were increasingly unable to help. “Active ground operations in the heart of Gaza city and near the hospitals, along with the lack of fuel, have halted the movement of rescue teams and ambulances in those areas. Multiple appeals by stranded households and family members underneath struck buildings, including their own homes, have gone unanswered” due to lack of fuel and security.
NEWS from Shifa Hospital tonight
We succeed to bury 82 dead bodies in mass grave today 14.11.2023 but the remaining dead bodies around 80
Also we manged to do haemodialysis for 45 patients for two hours only with great difficulites to keep them… pic.twitter.com/IzpjRzOAN7
“We succeed to bury 82 dead bodies in mass grave today 14.11.2023 but the remaining dead bodies around 80
Also we manged to do haemodialysis for 45 patients for two hours only with great difficulites to keep them alife
The 36 babies still a life and and we are surviving to keep them a life
We are performing surgeries for our injured patients with total IV anaesthesia on room air
We dont have central oxygen the station out of function ( damaged by bombardments )
Still we have 633 injured patients in the hospitals. Doctors available 116. Total medical and admin staff around 500.”
In the small hours of Wednesday, when the Israelis stormed the hospital complex, thousands of displaced Palestinians were still sheltering there. Due to the prolonged denial of power, since Saturday, 40 patients including seven premature babies had died. Surrounded by attacks, the Red Cross “got us one hour to move the premature babies from the maternity ward to the reception hall,” where it was safer, recalled emergency room medic Jawdat al-Madhoun yesterday.
Early Wednesday the Palestine Ministry of Health stated:
“Israeli forces storm Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.
Israeli soldiers shoot inside corridors of hospital.
Hundreds of patients and thousands of displaced refugees are inside the hospital.
Incursion is taking place in the western side of the hospital.
Tanks and army bulldozers are spotted on hospital grounds.”
The WHO reported it had again lost contact with its team at the hospital. Doctors without Borders said its staff in their office next door were being targeted by sniper fire. The Shifa hospital director Abu Salmiya stated:
“Israeli military tanks are inside the hospital courtyard.
The soldiers are using loudspeakers ordering young men to surrender themselves.
Israeli forces have blown up a warehouse of medicine and medical devices in the hospital.”
Later in the day, as videos began to emerge, emergency room worker Omar Zaqout said that Israeli soldiers “had brutally assaulted some of the men taking refuge at the hospital… Israeli forces took the detained men naked and blindfolded… They did not bring any aid or supplies, they only brought terror and death… More than 180 dead bodies are deteriorating and are still lying in the hospital yard… The situation is very terrifying, gunshots are heard everywhere in the hospital perimeters.”
During the first raid, this conversation was reported between an Israeli commander besieging the hospital and its head cardiologist Munir Albursh.
“I want us both to cooperate”
Head of orthopedics Adnan al-Barsh said that while trying to evacuate patients from the hospital under attack, none of the doctors had been able to communicate with their colleagues in other departments or buildings.
Later, hospital director Abu Salmiya stated: “The occupation army is in the dialysis building without bothering to bring fuel to help patients… We cannot reach the pharmacy to treat patients as the occupation shoots everyone who moves… The patients’ wounds began to rot significantly after all services in the hospital stopped.”
That evening, he said Israeli forces had exited the interior of the complex, “but tanks and forces are fully positioned around its perimeter. Israeli soldiers interrogated several members of the medical staff at Al-Shifa Complex and arrested two engineers working there. The patients, the injured, and the medical staff at Al-Shifa Complex are receiving only one meal throughout the day. We are in constant communication with international organizations, but to no avail.”
He added that the water line supplying the hospital had been bombed and “we do not have a drop of water.”
While the Israelis claimed to have brought incubators for the babies, hospital doctors denied this, adding that without fuel or power the incubators wouldn’t work anyway.
Israel reportedly bombed the hospital’s solar panel system on November 6, along with solar panels installed on the rooftops of nearby buildings, and denied the strikes later.
After the first raid, Mohammad Zaqout, director-general of hospitals in Gaza reportedly stated:
“The Israeli army interrogated the patients, companions, and medical staff for 10 hours.
Currently, there are no tanks in the courtyards of the hospital.
We demand that fuel be brought into all hospitals urgently.
We called for coordination to safely remove children and patients from Al-Shifa Hospital.
Israel did not allow incubators to be brought to the surgical hospital.
Children and kidney patients at Al-Shifa Hospital are in danger. Premature babies need care, solutions and medications, and are at extreme risk.
Staff and patients at Al-Shifa Complex cannot move from one area to another.
We demand that patients be evacuated to Egypt for treatment.
No aid has entered us from the Rafah crossing for two weeks.
We urgently need a field hospital.”
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, a civil society organisation based in Geneva, stated that Israel had turned the Shifa hospital into a “military barracks and a detention center, where patients, displaced persons, and healthcare professionals are subjected to different forms of abuse.”
It “expressed fears of killings and executions as its team documented sporadic gunfire in the hospital since the early minutes of the raid, stressing that the al-Shifa Complex did not witness any gunfire other than from the Israeli forces.”
It “highlighted that the Israeli army was the only party controlling the scene inside the al-Shifa Medical Complex, amid a total media blackout. No third party or international organisation was permitted to be present inside, which raises doubts about any Israeli narrative that would be released later.”
It “pointed out that the Israeli allegations about the use of the al-Shifa Medical Complex for military purposes do not require extended hours of searching and raiding. Therefore, there are concerns that the army might be creating the scene that might be released later.”
It added “The Israeli army has deliberately exaggerated over the past few days the goal of storming the al-Shifa Complex, portraying it as a military achievement, and inciting its soldiers against the medical facility.”
It called on “the Israeli army to withdraw from the al-Shifa Complex immediately”.
Meanwhile, at the Awda hospital in nearby Jabaliya, hospital director Ahmed Muhanna told media Wednesday the situation there was “extremely critical,” and said, “All the time they are bombing around the hospital and close to the hospital. Today, we have found shrapnel inside the hospital, and the ambulance and cars were damaged. We are working with injured and pregnant women from the northern areas and Gaza City because all the hospitals in Gaza City and the northern area also are out of service.”
The Palestine Red Crescent shared an interview from al-Awda with paramedics Osama Billi and Ramez Ajrami, survivors of the bombing of ambulances on hospital grounds on the night of the 10th (mistakenly described as the Shifa hospital in a TC report earlier) and a video on the health of paramedics below.
Yesterday, the Indonesian Hospital director Atef al-Kahlout announced the hospital in Beit Lahiya in the north had been rendered out of service, with 500 patients still inside. “We cannot offer any more services… we can’t offer patients any beds,” he said. At the Ahli Arab Hospital in the old city of Gaza, Red Crescent emergency teams issued an SOS Thursday evening, saying they were trapped inside the hospital surrounded by intense explosions and gunfire, possible precursors to a raid.
That leaves no hospitals functioning in northern Gaza. Without urgent medical attention, said Gaza surgeon Ghassan Abu Sitta, many or most Palestinians wounded by the attacks would die.
On Monday night, medical staff of the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis held a press conference, saying: “We are the medical care providers in the hospitals of Gaza Strip, doctors, nurses and all health workers, in this difficult time that our hospitals are experiencing as they go out of service, one hospital after another, due to lack of fuel or the unjust military siege that doesn’t respect or give way to any rules, law or values, the most basic of which is the protection of medical staff.”
“Today, we see our colleagues besieged to death, they and their patients, in ash-Shifa, Indonesian and al-Quds hospitals, and before them in the children’s hospital, that happened in front of the world camera.”
They demanded international protection for their colleagues, fuel to preserve patients’ lives, the establishing of field hospitals in the Gaza strip, and the interim entry of medical staff to treat the sick and wounded.
Israel’s attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure in Palestine have been continuous. A November 9 airstrike reportedly destroyed a blood bank in Gaza. Several attacks on water towers are also being reported. After attacks on bakeries in recent weeks, on Wednesday officials said that Israeli shelling had “targeted flour silos in al-Qarara,” the only site of flour production in Gaza. “Work also stopped at al-Salam Mill in Deir el-Balah, central Gaza, after Israeli artillery bombed the only operating wheat mill.” UNOCHA confirmed that as-Salam mill “was the last functioning mill in Gaza, and its destruction means that locally produced flour will not be available in Gaza in the foreseeable future.” On Thursday, the World Food Programme said that Gaza “civilians are facing the immediate possibility of starvation” and demanded more crossings be opened for aid.
On fuel, UNRWA director Thomas White said the Israelis had permitted the UN agency to receive 27,000 litres of fuel for its trucks distributing aid on Wednesday, or 9% of the agency’s daily requirement. Without fuel to desalinate or pump water, there was no potable water left to drink in Rafah.
The UN said it had not distributed bottled water for over a week in its northern shelters. The Israeli water pipeline and desalination plant were “not functioning,” according to UNOCHA, and Palestinians were being compelled to drink seawater or contaminated well-water. Given the rapid lethal effects of dehydration on children, the WHO noted that the “consumption of water from unsafe sources raises serious concerns about dehydration and waterborne disease.” Diarrhoeal disease incidence, often lethal for children, is reportedly 30 times higher than at this time last year. Given the additional denial of medicine, Human Rights Watch warned yesterday of an imminent “exponential increase” in the death toll from waterborne disease.
Fuel is also essential for communications throughout Gaza, and the two main telecom providers, Paltel and Jawwal, warned a communications blackout was imminent Thursday. By evening, Gazans were cut off from each other and the world.
“Gaza has now turned into a concentration camp where genocide is taking place,” said South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, announcing that his government would refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for committing war crimes, “particularly as it is now targeting hospitals where babies, women and the injured are dying… and where care of life has been completely ignored.”
Protestors hounded Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau out of a Vancouver restaurant Tuesday, demanding a ceasefire and calling him a murderer. The following day, the United States did not veto a Security Council resolution calling for a “humanitarian pause.”
The war crimes suit by South Africa joins those filed by Palestinian civil society organisations, by Reporters without Borders, and by the families of Palestinian victims in Gaza. Suit was also filed Monday in federal court on behalf of US citizens with families in Gaza, accusing US president Joseph Biden, secretary of state Antony Blinken, and defense secretary Lloyd Austin, of “aiding, abetting, enabling and facilitating Israel’s commission of genocidal acts against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”