There is not sufficient public evidence to support Israel’s claims that a Gaza hospital the country raided had served as a Hamas command center, according to a Washington Post investigation published Thursday.
The Israeli raid on al-Shifa Hospital last month, which was preceded by an evacuation order aimed at thousands of people sheltering at the hospital and hundreds of sick patients, produced one of the grisliest scenes in the country’s ground invasion of the Gaza Strip: a “death zone” that included a mass grave at the entrance of the hospital and dozens of desperate patients inside, according to the World Health Organization, whose aid workers arrived at the facility on Nov. 18 as part of a humanitarian mission.
Forty patients, including four premature babies, died in the hospital due to a lack of electricity in the days surrounding the raid, hospital administrators told the United Nations.
Israel had asserted that the hospital was used to direct rocket attacks and command fighters, and that Hamas tunnels could be accessed from five specific hospital buildings. And a U.S. administration official told the Post last week, “We are absolutely confident in the intelligence ... that Hamas was using it as a command and control node.”
But in an analysis based on satellite imagery, open-source visual information and releases from the Israeli military, the Post found that available evidence didn’t support these claims, and that its reporting raised questions about the legitimacy of the raid under international law. Hamas has denied Israel’s assertions about how the hospital was used.
Israeli forces did uncover one underground tunnel on the northeastern corner of the hospital complex’s grounds, but the Post noted that no evidence had been presented that the tunnel was actually in use during the current war — nor that it was connected to the five buildings in the complex that the Israeli military had said were being used by Hamas.
An Israeli military spokesperson told the paper that the country had released “extensive, irrefutable evidence that points to the abuse of the Shifa hospital complex by Hamas for terrorism purposes, and underground terrorism activity.” But, faced with the Post’s findings, the spokesperson said Israel would not be releasing any further evidence to back up its claims: “We cannot provide additional information,” the unnamed official told the paper.
International humanitarian law typically protects hospitals from attacks during war. Israel’s claim that Hamas fighters — and senior commanders — operate from tunnels underneath otherwise-protected buildings like hospitals and schools has been a key defense in its targeting of those facilities.
The Israeli military has attacked a number of hospitals, the Post noted. As of Tuesday, “nine out of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are partially functional, all located in the south,” according to WHO. Israel has also raided numerous hospitals and shelters in Gaza’s north in recent days, The Associated Press reported.
“I’m furious that children who are recovering from amputations in hospitals are then killed in those hospitals,” said UNICEF spokesperson James Elder.
An Israeli raid of Kamal Adwan Hospital led to the deaths of eight patients, including a 9-year-old, WHO said Monday. A pediatrician at the hospital, Dr. Hussam Abu Safyia, told The Wall Street Journal that 12 patients had died as a result of shortages of food, water and medical supplies amid fighting around the hospital. Abu Safyia and an unnamed nurse at the hospital told the paper that hospital staff members had buried the deceased in the facility’s courtyard, and that Israeli troops subsequently used military vehicles, including a bulldozer, to dig up and search the bodies. As with al-Shifa, the Israeli military claimed that the hospital was being used as a Hamas “command and control centre,” and released video of weapons purportedly found at the facility.
After Israeli forces entered al-Shifa Hospital, military spokespeople released photos of around a dozen rifles, in addition to grenades, ammunition and bulletproof vests that they claimed were recovered from the facility. But the Post wasn’t able to verify the source of the weapons.
One section of underground rooms that was joined to the tunnel system uncovered by the Israeli military — including two rooms and two bathrooms — did not show evidence of recent use in an Israeli army video, the Post reported. Daniel Hagari, an Israeli military spokesperson who narrated the army’s tour of the facilities, claimed in that video: “This room was evacuated, and all the gear was evacuated. I guess it was evacuated when they knew or understand that we were going to enter Shifa Hospital.” The Israeli army didn’t respond to requests for clarification on when militants purportedly used the rooms, the Post reported.
“Every single hospital in Gaza, every single school in Gaza, is used as a terror base,” former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett claimed Wednesday during a BBC interview.