IN THE MEDIA

Hamas is using hospitals to commit “acts harmful to the enemy”

Nov 26, 2023 | Oved Lobel

Tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital (image: screenshot)
Tunnel under Al-Shifa Hospital (image: screenshot)

Canberra Times – 25 November 2023 

In 1982, US journalist Jack Anderson reported from Lebanon that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was placing its guns and anti-tank missiles right next to hospitals. Anderson relayed that his Lebanese driver had overheard a doctor at a Beirut hospital complaining to PLO leader Yasser Arafat his gun placements around the hospital were drawing Israeli fire.

Fast-forward several decades and Israel is once again faced with the issue of Palestinian terrorists using hospitals for military purposes. This is a moral and public relations problem, however, not an international law one, contrary to pervasive misinformation being regurgitated by not only activists, but politicians and officials, as well.

Article 19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “Discontinuance of protection of hospitals”, is clear: as soon as hospitals are used to commit “acts harmful to the enemy,” they become legitimate military targets. The hospital can be struck if “due warning” with “a reasonable time limit” is given to evacuate and that warning goes unheeded. The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has not actually conducted any large strikes on Gaza’s hospitals during its current war with Hamas, but has sent troops into some of them, and conducted firefights with terrorists operating from others.

That hospitals are being used by Hamas in Gaza for military purposes is a long-standing and well-documented fact, further corroborated by Hamas communication intercepts, testimony by multiple Palestinian detainees, as well as photo and video evidence released by the IDF from Al-Shifa Hospital – long alleged to be a Hamas command centre – as well as other hospitals.

Communications intercepts of Hamas fighters in hospitals as well as other data streams have led US officials to publicly assert, independently of the IDF, that multiple hospitals, including Shifa, were used by Hamas.

The IDF released footage of a substantial tunnel about ten metres under the Shifa complex with a blast door at the end that has now been opened by the IDF to further explore Hamas’ subterranean infrastructure. It also provided CCTV security footage that showed hostages being dragged into the hospital by armed Hamas militants dressed as civilians, driven there in captured IDF vehicles. Video of weapons caches in the MRI centre and in a booby-trapped truck parked at the hospital near the tunnel has also been released.

Testimony from detainees, doctors who previously worked there, former patients and international officials involved in Gaza has long pointed to Al-Shifa being a Hamas base. One detainee recently told Israeli interrogators on video that about 100 Hamas operatives took up positions inside dressed as medical staff, while a former patient interviewed anonymously as part of the “Voices from Gaza” project asserted there were Hamas fighters “all around us… Every Palestinian knows Shifa is full of them.”

The Washington Post reported in 2014 that Shifa had become a “de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders,” and a British doctor previously employed there told France24, “I was told there was a part of the hospital I was not to go near, and if I did, I’d be in danger of being shot.” A TV reporter for Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat also reported in 2014 that Hamas had fired rockets from the Shifa parking lot.

The IDF has also demonstrated that the Rantisi Hospital was used by Hamas and that they may even have held hostages there, with video released of weapons caches as well as a tunnel seemingly leading from a Hamas commander’s house into the basement, an area sealed off from the rest of the hospital. One Palestinian detainee testified that approximately 100 Hamas operatives had taken over Rantisi.

Media reports, detainee testimony, communications intercepts and footage from other hospitals reveal that this happens everywhere, including the Red Crescent building, where Hamas was seen daily hiding rockets and guns in mattresses.

Meanwhile, the IDF has been meticulously helping evacuate various hospitals, as reported by the BBC and New York Times, among others, so that it can conduct operations against Hamas in them. It has also been facilitating and even directly delivering vital aid to patients and those sheltering in or around hospitals. Israel is also coordinating with Jordan and the UAE to establish field hospitals for Palestinians in the south of Gaza.

When Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong says Israel must stop “attacking” hospitals, she is wrong as a factual, legal and moral matter. Israel is attacking Hamas, and Hamas, like the PLO before it, is using hospitals to commit acts harmful to the enemy. This forces Israel to act against these Hamas terrorists, even as it does everything required of it by international law, and more, to protect and aid civilians in the vicinity.

Oved Lobel is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. 

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