Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – Update: Reuters reports that Al-Shifa hospital complex has been forced to cease operations after its final remaining generator was hit in a bombardment. As I write, dozens of premature babies in incubators are in danger, and two have reportedly died.
The Israeli newspaper Arab 48 reports that Friday saw an all-out attack by Israel on the hospitals in northern Gaza, leaving many of them inoperable and the sick and wounded untreated. Israeli fighter jets bombarded the main gate of the al-Shifa Medical Complex repeatedly, as Israeli ground troops advanced on it, facing small arms fire from Hamas guerrillas. The Israeli government brands the Gaza Strip’s hospitals operational centers for Hamas, but so far no proof of this allegation has been offered and the hospital doctors and staff deny it.
An investigation by Al Jazeera has demonstrated that an Israeli claim that one hospital had a hatch leading down to a Hamas tunnel next to it is false and that the so-called hatch is just an access opening for a water reservoir.
I remember in Iraq War days that the US had accused Saddam Hussein of reactivating some biological weapons labs in the late 1990s because satellite images showed renewed traffic to those sites, including flat bed trucks. When US soldiers were sent to investigate after the invasion, they discovered that the “traffic” was just looters, who had come to strip the copper wires and other valuable materials out of the abandoned labs.
Depending solely on satellite intelligence is always dangerous in the absence of good human intelligence, which Israel obviously lacked in Gaza. It would be horrible if Israeli pilots bombed all those hospitals because some junior intelligence analyst misread a water opening as the hatch to a tunnel full of weapons.
Over half of the Gaza Strip’s hospitals are no longer able to care for patients. As for the hospitals still open, there are reports of physicians having performed c-sections and other operations without anesthesia or disinfectants. Some 2/3s of health clinics have had to shut down, as well.
Targeting hospitals and ambulances is strictly forbidden in International Humanitarian Law, regardless of who is in them. These are war crimes of the sort for which some Japanese and German officers were executed after WW II.
The Gaza Health Ministry (run by professionals not necessarily connected to the Hamas party-militia) reported that the Israelis had committed 12 massacres on Friday, killing 260 persons, putting the death toll of the Israeli assault over 11,000, among them 4,506 children, 3,027 women, and 678 elderly persons. The wounded come to 27,490 persons, who need . . . hospitals. Some 39 Israeli soldiers have died so far in the campaign, though of course Hamas had killed some 1400 Israelis on October 7 and succeeding days.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that “Israeli bombardments around hospitals in Gaza city and the North Gaza governorate intensified on 10 November, with several being directly hit. By noon, Israeli ground forces reportedly completed the encirclement of four hospitals in An Nasser area of Gaza city. One of them, a pediatric hospital, stopped operations on 9 November after sustaining significant damage. This brings to 20 (out of 36) the number of hospitals throughout Gaza that are no longer functioning.”
Some 500 trucks of food and other aid used to enter the Gaza Strip daily. Now it is two or three dozen at most. The World Food Program expressed concern about people starving and thirsting to death:
🆕"The situation is catastrophic and WFP stocks inside Gaza are running out.
Every day that passes pushes more and more people closer to starvation,” says Regional Director @Corinne_WFP.
— WFP UK (@WFP_UK) October 17, 2023
30,000 Palestinians in northern Gaza were ethnically cleansed and displaced to the south by Israeli authorities on Friday. One of them told OCHA: “We came from Gaza city; the way was terrifying. They [Israeli soldiers] stopped my elderly father telling him to ask one of the children to leave his bag behind. They also arrested a man in front of us” (IDP interviewed by OCHA monitors).
Emily Callahan of Doctors without Borders, who was in Gaza until recently, told Anderson Cooper that the Palestinian medics refuse to leave their hospitals, insisting on continuing to care for their patients.
OCHA sifted through the Gaza Health Ministry’s numbers and came up with this chart, below.
Notable in it is that 10,000 buildings have been destroyed, along with 41,000 housing units, and another 220,000 housing units have been partially destroyed.
1,000 kidney patients, 2,000 cancer patients and 130 premature infants in incubators are all at high risk from the lack of hospital care. Even hospitals that have not yet shut down are running low on fuel to power the generators needed for incubators, dialysis machines, and radiation therapy machines.
Most of the 65 sewage pumps are not operating, creating a severe public health problem. People’s water consumption has fallen by 90%. The water available in the north, and much of the water available in the south is well water drawn from a polluted aquifer that has been invaded by salt water from the Mediterranean. UN officials are concerned about cholera outbreaks and deaths from dehydration caused by drinking salt water.
About 200 medics and other hospital staff have been killed, 16 of them while on duty. Nearly 100 United Nations personnel working for the Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) have been killed, the most in the history of the organization. These, too, are war crimes.