Executions, detentions, and sexual violence: Israel’s brutal siege on Al-Shifa Hospital

People sheltering at Al-Shifa Hospital give accounts on even more violence and humiliation as Israeli forces carry out some of the worst attacks yet

March 25, 2024 by Ana Vračar
Smoke rises from the Al Shifa compound after an Israeli attack. Photo: Quds News Network

The past seven days of Israeli attacks on the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City have been some of the most brutal since the beginning of Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza. During a week of raids conducted by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF), the Strip’s once-largest hospital has transformed into “a battlefield that resembles a ghoul,” according to reports gathered by Al Jazeera.

After attacking the medical facility last November, the IOF launched another assault on Al-Shifa beginning on March 18 and has terrorized medical staff and patients ever since. Israeli officials have boasted that the operation has led to the arrest of at least 500 resistance fighters. Yet, reports from those forced to flee Al-Shifa tell a completely different story, one marked by physical and emotional violence, kidnappings, and the terrorizing of health workers.

One of the women forced to leave the area, Jamila Al-Hassi, described the situation as a never-ending scene from a particularly violent action movie – but much worse than anything ever seen on screen. “No matter how much I try to explain it to you, no words can describe what we are experiencing: hunger, thirst, displacement, destruction, bombardments.”

Read more: The tens of thousands of injured Gazans have nowhere to go as Israel continues assault on hospitals

A particularly gruesome aspect of the latest raid on Al-Shifa has been the IOF’s practice of separating men of all ages from their families and then subjecting them to all forms of humiliation and violence. Some were forced to strip to their underwear and deliver evacuation orders to the buildings surrounding the medical complex. Several families saw Palestinian men enter their homes to tell them to leave in a hurry, often in as little as half an hour, unless they wanted to see the buildings disintegrate over their heads.

Others were used as human shields, both inside the hospital buildings and on its grounds. Nurses were forced at gunpoint to guide Israeli soldiers through several rooms of the hospital. Civilians, according to Quds News, “were forced into basements and sewage areas by the Israeli forces.” They were also positioned around Israeli tanks as human shields to prevent targeting.

Some people sheltering at Al-Shifa in the past week have also witnessed what appeared to be executions. Several men saw soldiers march groups of people into the hospital morgue, after which “gunshots were heard, with the soldiers then leaving the area to bring in another group.”

Meanwhile, having been separated from their brothers, fathers, husbands, and other male relatives, women and children were forced to walk south without any food, water, or clothing. As they approached other areas of the Gaza Strip, they recounted their experiences of seeing relatives beaten by Israeli forces inside Al-Shifa Hospital and shot in front of their eyes.

Palestinian women have also experienced sexual violence at the hands of Israeli forces. Reports of rape and other forms of sexual assault by Israeli soldiers have now been voiced by different sources, including forcibly displaced women themselves, health workers, and representatives of international organizations, yet received very little attention by Western media.

Paramedics, doctors, and other health workers have heard terrifying accounts of sexual assault. In Al-Khair Hospital, a paramedic reported that one woman was raped for 2 days, until she was unable to speak. Al-Hassi’s testimony from Al-Shifa described how Israeli soldiers stripped a woman sheltering there and proceeded to rape her in front of her husband and other men, threatening to kill them if they looked away. Another report summarizes how the IOF forcibly stripped another woman in front of her husband and brother, and when they tried to give her their own clothes, killed them on the spot.

Read more: Women in Gaza remain among the most impacted by war

After a week of incessant attacks and bombardments, the functioning of Al-Shifa has deteriorated further. At the same time, the IOF has also targeted other hospitals in the Strip, with concerns being voiced that they could meet the same fate as Al-Shifa. The risk of this increases by the day, as indications that Israel intends to make Gaza unlivable in order to occupy the territory more easily also grow.

Nasser and Al-Amal hospitals have both been subject to new attacks, and all hospitals in Gaza are hanging by a thread due to the chronic shortage of essential medical supplies caused by Israel’s ongoing blockade on aid delivery.

Hunger and malnutrition continue to haunt the population of Gaza, especially those remaining in the north. Despite dedicated field services established by the World Health Organization (WHO) to mitigate the effects of malnutrition on children’s health, an increasing number of children is suffering from weeks of hunger. Both United Nations and WHO chiefs have called for a “flood” of aid to urgently enter Gaza to prevent more people from dying of hunger, only to be met with an announcement by Israeli authorities that they will no longer allow UNRWA aid deliveries into the area.

The latest round of attacks on Palestinian health infrastructure and further steps to starve Gaza’s population reiterate once again the imperative of implementing an immediate and unconditional ceasefire in Gaza. However, announcements by Israeli officials leave little doubt that they intend to continue the violence.

People’s Health Dispatch is a fortnightly bulletin published by the People’s Health Movement and Peoples Dispatch. For more articles and to subscribe to People’s Health Dispatch, click here.