Israel-Gaza War: Is Dar al-Shifa Hospital’s Significance Just Medical?
Gaza City’s Dar al-Shifa hospital is a sprawling complex of medical facilities in the north of the Palestinian enclave. It comprises a group of six-storey buildings, located about 500 m from the coast and a notable north-south road. What is happening there currently?
Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas conflict, the hospital has become a shelter for those displaced by the violence and Israeli bombardment. Hundreds of patients, including dozens of babies, remain trapped inside the facility as rival parties brutally clash.
“Outlandish Excuse” & How Might The al-Shifa Chaos End
According to Israel, Hamas has built its headquarters in bunkers and tunnels under the al-Shifa hospital, effectively using the buildings, patients and staff as a human shield. Officials also claim the senior Hamas leaders have been based in a “command complex” under the facility.
However, is there evidence for the Israeli claims? Last month, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) released footage from investigations of two terrorists who infiltrated Israel on October 7 and offered evidence of Hamas operatives using hospitals in Gaza to shield themselves.
Hamas and officials of the Hamas-run health authorities in the Gaza Strip have rejected the claims, stressing they are propaganda used to justify attacks on health facilities. According to Dr Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a British doctor working at al-Shifa, the claim is an “outlandish excuse”.
How might the chaos surrounding al-Shifa end? There are various scenarios. Israeli forces might try to fight their way into the facility, risking huge political and diplomatic consequences. Hamas might choose to withdraw from Gaza City, though this is unlikely.
As part of a third possibility, a ceasefire – potentially after a deal has been reached on the partial release of the hundreds of hostages seized by Hamas – would allow the IDF, humanitarian organisations and other actors to facilitate a full evacuation or get vital supplies in.
Dar al-Shifa Hospital Has Started To Symbolise A Lot
It appears Gaza’s largest hospital’s significance isn’t just medical any longer. Al-Shifa has become a strategic objective for Israel, which sees the facility as the nerve centre of Hamas’ administrative and military capabilities.
For Hamas and its backers, the hospital has become a symbol of the organisation’s ability to fight against a foe that’s more powerful militarily. For millions around the world, al-Shifa has come to epitomise the suffering of scores of innocent civilians.