The Death of Al-Shifa Hospital, The Last Bastion of Humanity in Northern Gaza

by Tarak S. Hajjaj, published on Mondoweiss, November 13, 2023

This dispatch was relayed by Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent Tareq Hajjaj via voice note.

Two days ago, the injured left Al-Shifa Hospital with wounds still bleeding, some on wheelchairs, some pulled by cart. Those who arrived in the south a few days ago reported that Al-Shifa Hospital’s administration had urged them to flee since it would soon no longer be operational. By now, it has completely closed down.

These directives did not come out of nowhere. They were based on the hospital administration’s expectation of what would transpire during the ground invasion, given Israel’s systematic policy of targeting medical facilities. In the days leading up to the Al-Shifa exodus, Israel’s forces continued to close in, bombing and shelling the neighboring buildings and outer parts of the hospital and launching missiles into the hospital’s courtyard where refugees were sleeping, cutting them up into pieces.

The tanks continued to approach Al-Shifa, the largest hospital in the Gaza Strip, until they were right at its gate.

Ministry of Health spokespeople remain at Al-Shifa, in the hopes that injuries and dead bodies would reach the hospital, where they could be documented and tallied. These hopes have since been dashed, as no one is allowed to move outdoors or reach the hospital for treatment or refuge.

The past few hours have been the most catastrophic for Gaza’s northern hospitals, which include Al-Shifa, Al-Quds Hospital, Rantisi Hospital for Pediatrics, and Nasr Hospital in Gaza City, and the Indonesian Hospital in the north, which was targeted last week with shelling and “firebelts” meant to force medical staff, patients, and refugees to evacuate.

Babies nestled together for warmth at Al Shifa hospital after the electricity was cut off by the IOF

Medical workers have suffered the most during the recent rounds. But many medical teams refused to leave the hospitals, staying behind to take care of patients in ICUs and NICUS who could not move without dying. This includes 48 premature babies whose incubators and respirators have since failed.

Only yesterday, it was announced that two of these infants have died due to the lack of oxygen and heating. Photos began circulating of remaining hospital staff swaddling the remaining infants and laying them close to one another to conserve heat and keep them warm.

‘We can see injured people. We hear them crying for help, but we cannot do anything.’

The Palestinian Authority Minister of Health, Mai Keileh, said that medical staff are no longer able to move between buildings to carry out their work. Attack drones hovering over the medical complex target anything that moves. It has led to the pile-up of corpses in the hospital’s courtyard, and anyone who tries to go out to collect them is also killed. Keileh stated that medical staff has been unable to bury over 100 martyrs, and their bodies have begun to rot in the courtyard, while stray dogs are now beginning to eat at their flesh.

A Gaza government spokesperson yesterday said that Israeli army snipers stationed in nearby buildings have shot a patient in his bed through the window, in addition to a maintenance worker who tried to rewire hospital electrical lines in an attempt to restore power to a part of the hospital. The same government source stated that a group of medical staff attempted to leave the hospital while waving white flags and made their way to the hospital’s main entrance, but that drones also targeted them directly, killing most. Those who survived the initial blast lay on the ground for hours, bleeding to death and screaming for help, until they, too, died.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) reported a similar incidents, quoting the testimony of Dr. Mohammed Obeid at Al-Shifa:

“We’re on the fourth floor. There’s a sniper who attacked four patients inside the hospital. One of the patients has a gunshot wound directly in his neck, and he is a quadriplegic, and the other one [was shot] in the abdomen. ”

MSF also confirmed government reports of the injured left to bleed to death in the courtyard. One MSF staff member described the scene:

“There are dead people on the streets. We see people being shot at. We can see injured people. We hear them crying for help, but we cannot do anything. It is too dangerous to go outside.”

The Mahdi maternity hospital in northern Gaza was also targeted with bombardment and shelling. People who stood near windows were shot by Israeli snipers, while Israeli drones hovering overhead targeted anything that moved in the hospital’s courtyard, even medical teams, who were trapped inside.

Dr. Basel Mahdi, who works at the hospital, wrote online that “No one dies before their time. But there are many who die without dignity.”

May God never forgive you,” his letter said, addressing Arab heads of state. “You betrayed us. You betrayed your Arab identity.”

Half an hour after posting the message, Dr. Mahdi was killed when he tried to leave the hospital.

No one left to document the genocide

The medical system in northern Gaza has subsequently collapsed. No hospital or medical center is operational. The likely hundreds of thousands of civilians who have remained in the north now have no place to seek treatment for their wounded, which pile up daily.

And they have been met with the same treatment as the hospital staff. When someone attempts to move and flee south, they are shot or bombed where they stand.

In addition, the invasion of the Israeli troops and the raiding of homes with residents still inside has opened the door for further violations. Dr. Muhammad Nizam Ziyara wrote a post on social media about his family’s ordeal in the al-Nasr neighborhood:

“Yesterday, Israeli occupation forces entered our home in the Nasr neighborhood in Gaza after blowing up our house’s front door. They gathered the entire family in a single room, and then proceeded to beat and abuse everyone, and turned the house into a military base. The soldiers then separated the women and young children the men and boys, who they continued to beat before taking them to the nearby UNRWA school. We haven’t received word of their fate for the past 24 hours. The women and children were taken out of the house and used as human shields, forcing them to walk in front of the military tanks and head to the southern part [of the Nasr neighborhood]. As of now, we do not have any word of their fate either.”

Dr. Ziyara concluded his post by asking anyone who might have information about his family’s whereabouts to contact him.

Israel’s claims that it is targeting these hospitals because Hamas is allegedly using them for military purposes have been repeatedly denied by hospital administrations, who have said that they are prepared for an international delegation to conduct a search of the hospitals and their grounds for evidence of such alleged underground tunnels and command centers. The only Israeli response has been more shelling and bombardment, murdering anyone who attempts escape.

Perhaps when it becomes clear that Israel’s claims about Al-Shifa are baseless, it will find an excuse to level and destroy this remaining bastion of humanity in Gaza. Along with it, it seeks to kill the remaining staff of the Gaza Ministry of Health, which is responsible for documenting and tallying the fatalities and the wounded.

In doing so, Israel seeks to silence the Ministry as well as the journalists still embedded in the hospital, causing a complete information blackout so that Israel can commit its massacres with no one to see. As more people are killed and left to decompose out in the open, no one will be left to document the scale of the unfolding genocide.

Ceasefire Now!
This video is disturbing, and also beautiful, and true.

Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of the Palestinian Writers Union. He studied English Literature at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. He started his career in journalism in 2015 working as a news writer and translator for the local newspaper, Donia al-Watan. He has reported for Elbadi, Middle East Eye, and Al Monitor. Follow him on Twitter at @Tareqshajjaj.

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