Israel and Hamas rights and crimes at al-Shifa hospital
Tit is FAITH at al-Shifa hospital in northern Gaza is a tragedy in itself and a microcosm of the terrible trade-offs created by the terror of Hamas and the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Some critics of Israel believe that any military activity near or at the hospital is a war crime because civilians could be killed. In fact, since the hospital appears to be used by Hamas as a military facility, Hamas may have turned it into a legitimate military target. However, as a matter of international law, morality and self-interest, Israel must do more to protect civilians. That is important at al-Shifa and beyond. Even as Israel has gained effective control in northern Gaza, the already dire humanitarian crisis is about to explode in the south where more than 2m people are at risk like a winter loom.
Start with the hospital, a set of buildings near the center of Gaza City. It is surrounded by the Israel Defense Forces (idf) who say he carried out a “detailed and targeted” attack on the property. Around 1,500 people are taking shelter on the hospital grounds, including babies and seriously ill patients. As fuel and supplies are scarce, things are dire. Many innocent lives were lost. Combat can kill more civilians if they cannot receive treatment or are hit by live fire.
Israel says tunnels under the hospital are from the Hamas military headquarters. Hamas denies this, but has a record of deception. There is also a pattern of violent activity: Amnesty International said that in 2014 Hamas tortured people inside the territory of Take away takes: takes6.201444. On November 14 America said that its intelligence indicates that Hamas is using the hospital and the tunnels under it as a “command and control node”.
Using a hospital as a military base, as Hamas may have, is a war crime. But is attacking the fighters being used as a shield a war crime too? The laws of war state that it can lose its special protection once a hospital is used as a military facility. However, any attacking force must take precautions, for example by giving sufficient notice to evacuate and ensuring that evacuation is possible. In 2016-17 the anti-Islamic State coalition attacked a hospital in Mosul which Yes used as a fortress. But the coalition provided substantial warning time, by the end of which the hospital was largely inactive, and provided trauma centers within 10-15 minutes of the front lines.
All this indicates that al-Shifa is a legitimate military target for the idf, as long as the information is correct. On November 16 Israel said they had found a cache of weapons in the hospital; soon it will be clear if there is a Hamas tunnel center as well. Israel says they have tried to evacuate the hospital and give it shelter and fuel. But until evacuation is possible, people need a safe place to go. So Israel must go further by providing faster hospital support, providing trauma and other medical facilities nearby and ensuring that those who are evacuated have an alternative refuge.
This lesson about enforcing the letter of the law, and going beyond that, applies to the wider Israeli campaign. Security for Israel and a better future for Gazans will not happen under Hamas rule. The idf had now achieved some of his military objectives. It is in effective control of northern Gaza. But more than 11,000 Gazans have died, according to the Hamas-run authorities. In the south there are more than 2m people in a terrible situation. In order for the Israeli campaign to be legitimate and even partially successful, two more tests must be met: civilians must have a safety net and the peace process must restart.
A crucial step is opening the border at Kerem Shalom to allow aid and fuel deliveries. Israel should also create emergency medical facilities, bring patients to Israeli hospitals, and be prepared to set up temporary refugee camps in the Israeli territory of the Negev desert. Israel has the right to go to war with Hamas. But he must do more to refute the accusation that he is going to war against the Palestinian people. ■