Last week’s military operation in Gaza’s al-Shifa hospital was mired in controversy. According to the Israeli Defense Forces, the hospital was a significant target in Israel’s war against Hamas because they believed a command center was located under the hospital complex. International spectators, including some of Israel’s closest allies, were concerned about the raid and told Israel to act with extreme caution to avoid casualties among hospital staff and patients.
International organizations — including the World Health Organization, the United Nation Population Fund, UN officials, media outlets and Middle Eastern countries including Jordan and Turkey — condemned Israel’s operations in the hospital. The WHO described the scene as a “death zone,” but without specifying whether the casualties were terrorists or civilians.
Critics argued that Israel’s actions violated international humanitarian law that excludes hospitals as legitimate and legal military targets. Israel’s evidence that Hamas has been using the hospital to hide weapons or terrorists was therefore essential.
The WHO has been issuing condemnations of Israeli forces for attacking the hospital
Although so far there is no concrete proof that there was a large command center present in the hospital, Israel has released new evidence to show that the site has indeed been used by terrorists. There is evidence of weapons and munitions stored in the hospital and around the complex. The IDF also showed footage of interlinked Hamas tunnels under the hospital which are currently being explored and the IDF believe may lead to a command-and-control center. Video footage released by the IDF showed armed terrorists forcing hostages through hospital corridors. IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said that Hamas executed a young Israeli female soldier, who was abducted on October 7, in the hospital.
Israel believed that this evidence would vindicate it and help justify future raids on other hospitals used by Hamas, but this has not been the case. Several international media outlets have implied — without proof — that Israel may have manipulated or tampered with evidence. Others have said that the evidence is not sufficient to justify the military raid. The IDF denies allegations of evidence tempering.
One BBC journalist, after the first discovery of munitions in the hospital, suggested that assault rifles are “common in the Middle East” and therefore not necessarily an indication that the hospital has been used by Hamas. Owen Jones, a columnist for the Guardian, claimed that the hospital could have been providing care for the abducted hostages, injured by Hamas during the massacre on October 7, despite the lack of evidence for this.
The most common argument is that the IDF’s claims cannot be independently verified, although American intelligence has also found that Hamas used hospitals, including al-Shifa, “to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages.”
Staff at al-Shifa hospital have repeatedly claimed that the hospital has not been used by Hamas. It is hard to believe they were unaware of prolific terrorist activity within and directly underneath the hospital, with weapons hidden behind medical equipment and elsewhere around the complex. It is entirely possible though that they will have been coerced by Hamas.
The same cannot be said of the WHO and other UN agencies and international aid organizations, who have either denied or ignored Hamas’s use of civilian facilities, including schools and hospitals, for their militant activities. The WHO has been issuing condemnations of Israeli forces for attacking the hospital, which they say should be “places of shelter and not war.” They referred to the IDF’s raid as “unconscionable” and “reprehensible,” but have not mentioned or condemned Hamas’s use of the facility, which has placed staff and patients at risk. They have also ignored the IDF’s efforts to help evacuate the hospital and provide emergency equipment, such as incubators.
The evidence from al-Shifa will probably not change the narrative of these organizations, who will continue to ignore the way Hamas puts Palestinian civilians at risk. The UN does not recognize Hamas as a terror organization and its General Assembly recently approved a resolution expressing concern over the violence that did not mention attacks by Hamas.
Whether a large command center is found at al-Shifa or not, the evidence appears to show that Hamas has used the complex to conduct terrorist activity. Israel’s allies have been uneasy about the targeting of hospitals. For them to continue to support Israel’s raids on hospitals and other facilities where weapons are stored and terrorists hide, such as schools, there will have to be substantial evidence of Hamas’s use of these sites. This will be crucial for Israel’s continued war in Gaza, which is set to continue and expand to the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.