This story originally appeared in Common Dreams on Nov. 12, 2023. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.
Doctors and nurses in the Gaza Strip issued urgent pleas for a cease-fire as Israeli forces encircled and attacked the territory’s largest hospital, trapping thousands of displaced people and threatening the lives of medical workers and patients.
One Doctors Without Borders nurse texted his colleagues from the basement of al-Shifa Hospital early Saturday, writing that “four or five families”—including his own—were sheltering there amid heavy bombardment and fighting around the facility.
“We are being killed here, please do something,” the nurse wrote. “The shelling is so close, my kids are crying and screaming in fear.”
The attacks on and around al-Shifa as well as the Israeli siege—which has cut off Gaza’s electricity supply and prevented fuel from reaching the northern part of the enclave—have caused power outages at the hospital, endangering babies and other patients who are unable to evacuate. Al-Shifa’s director said that two premature babies have died due to outages at the hospital’s intensive care unit and pediatric ward.
Mohammed Obeid, a Doctors Without Borders surgeon at al-Shifa, said four patients in the hospital were wounded by sniper fire on Saturday and those who have tried to flee have been shot at and bombed.
“There is no electricity, actually there is no water, there is no food. Our team is exhausted,” said Obeid. “We are nearly sure that we are alone now. No one hears us.”
Other hospitals in northern Gaza, including al-Quds, have been forced to shut down completely due to a lack of fuel and other critical supplies. Across the strip, the majority of hospitals have ceased functioning.
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said Saturday that “repeated appeals for urgent international assistance” at al-Quds have been unsuccessful, leaving the hospital to “fend for itself under ongoing Israeli bombardment, posing severe risks to medical staff, patients, and displaced civilians.” Nearly 200 medics have been killed by Israeli bombing in Gaza since October 7.
The al-Rantisi pediatric hospital was reportedly surrounded by tanks on Saturday. NBC News, which has journalists embedded with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), reported that “more than a dozen children with cancer or other serious blood disorders” were evacuated from al-Rantisi to hospitals in Egypt and Jordan “but more than 30 remain” in Gaza.
Israel’s bombing has killed more than 4,500 children since it began last month following a deadly Hamas-led attack.
Targeting hospitals is a war crime under international law. Israel claims Hamas runs operations from inside and under Gaza’s hospitals, an assertion that directors of the facilities have denied.
Last week, an IDF spokesperson said that “if we see Hamas terrorists firing from hospitals, we’ll do what we need to do.
The Israeli military’s intensifying assault on Gaza hospitals has been met with global horror. The World Health Organization said Sunday that it has been unable to communicate with its contacts at al-Shifa and assumes they “joined tens of thousands of displaced people who had sought shelter on the hospital grounds and are fleeing the area.”
“WHO has grave concerns for the safety of the health workers, hundreds of sick and injured patients, including babies on life support, and displaced people who remain inside the hospital. The number of inpatients is reportedly almost double its capacity, even after restricting services to lifesaving emergency care,” the U.N. agency added. “WHO calls again for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza as the only way to save lives and reduce the horrific levels of suffering.”
Doctors Without Borders, known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), echoed that call on Saturday.
“We urge the U.S., U.K., Canada, member states of the League of Arab States, member states of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, and the European Union who have repeatedly called for the respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) to take action to ensure a cease-fire now,” the group said in a statement.
“The horrors unfolding before our eyes in Gaza clearly show that calls for restraint and adherence to IHL have gone unheeded,” MSF added. “Working purposefully to reach a cease-fire is the most effective way to ensure the protection of civilians.”
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again rejected calls for a cease-fire during a televised address on Saturday, saying one would only be possible once Hamas releases all hostages. Before Israel launched its ground invasion of Gaza, Netanyahu reportedly rejected a proposed five-day cease-fire in exchange for the release of some hostages, including women and children.
The leadership of the U.S., Israel’s top arms supplier, has also refused to support a cease-fire despite pressure from the head of the United Nations, leading human rights organizations, Capitol Hill staffers, and members of Congress.
“As a nurse, I cannot imagine the difficulty of taking care of patients while being bombed,” added Bush, one of the leaders of a cease-fire resolution in the U.S. House. “It does not have to be like this. Where is the collective humanity?”