Hamas Hides in Hospitals as Israel Advances through Gaza
Israeli forces have made steady progress since entering the Gaza Strip two weeks ago, but their task is complicated by efforts to minimize civilian casualties while fighting an enemy whose main strategy is to hide behind civilians.
Israeli columns have rolled into Gaza City from the north, methodically clearing each block — which may or may not contain both civilians and militants. Meanwhile, another column pushed to the seacoast south of the city, encircling Hamas’s headquarters while leaving open a humanitarian corridor through which civilians can escape. The two prongs of a pincer movement have nearly converged on the Al-Shifa hospital, under which lies a tunnel network housing Hamas’s command-and-control headquarters.
Israel is under immense pressure from the international press, the U.N. secretary-general, and even the U.S. not to attack Gazan hospitals, despite evidence that Hamas is using them as a base of operations. In a Sunday interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan acknowledged that Hamas “is using hospitals … for command and control, for weapons storage, to house its fighters. And this is a violation of the laws of war.” However, he then proceeded to stress that “the United States does not want to see firefights in hospitals. … And we’ve had active consultations with the Israeli Defense Forces on this.” National Review’s Jim Geraghty responded, “Does Sullivan think the IDF wants to have a firefight in a hospital?”
Hospitals are protected under international law, but they can lose their protection if they become a base for military operations. According to Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “Civilian hospitals … may in no circumstances be the object of attack.” However, Article 19 added, “The protection to which civilian hospitals are entitled shall not cease unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy.”
Unfortunately, “Anytime you declare, ‘Israel will not strike in this spot,’ Hamas will move its forces and its equipment to that spot,” said Geraghty. “The decision before Israel is to either attack the Hamas targets underneath hospitals while attempting to avoid civilian casualties, or to leave the Hamas operations intact.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said Monday that they killed 21 Hamas terrorists who opened fire on the IDF while “embedded within a group of civilians at the entrance of the [Al Quds] hospital in Gaza City. The IDF released footage showing what appears to be a militant carrying an RPG launcher walking in the hospital’s front entrance.
The problem for Israel is, all Hamas has to do is contradict their well-supported claims, without providing any evidence, and plenty of Westerners will happily believe their version of events instead of Israel’s. Some will even try to defend Hamas’s indefensible behavior. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorial board called out the far-left Human Rights Watch for “act[ing] as Hamas’s defense attorney, contesting Israel’s claims and dismissing evidence” in an article titled, “Unlawful Israeli Hospital Strikes Worsen Health Crisis.”
The U.N. secretary-general also appeared to take Hamas’s side in the conflict. “The secretary-general is deeply disturbed by the horrible situation and a dramatic loss of life in several hospitals in Gaza,” a U.N. spokesman said Tuesday. “In the name of humanity, the secretary-general calls for an immediate cease-fire.” Calls for a ceasefire, which began immediately after Hamas’s October 7 attack, imply that the nation of Israel has no right to defend itself, or, by extension, exist.
In fact, an international campaign to vilify Israel for attacking Gazan hospitals began before they ever approached one. Four weeks ago, international media incorrectly claimed an Israeli air strike caused catastrophic damage to the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, only to be corrected when hours later Israel provided evidence showing the hospital sustained only minor damage when a rocket fired from Gaza by the Islamic Jihad fell short of its target. “People shooting RPGs from hospitals! This is Hamas! Firing RPGs from hospitals! The world has to understand who Israel is fighting against!” insisted IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari.
IDF forces deep into Gaza entered another hospital, the Al-Rantisi children’s hospital, on Monday. A CNN team embedded with the IDF saw guns and explosives in a room beneath the hospital which Hagari termed an “armory.” The team also saw a room that may have been a makeshift prison for some of the hostages, containing a chair with a rope next to it, a piece of women’s clothing, which forensics teams planned to test for DNA, and a makeshift toilet.
Now, IDF forces have moved on to the sprawling complex of Al Shifa hospital, which U.S. intelligence confirms sits above Hamas headquarters.
“I can confirm for you that we have information that Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad use some hospitals in the Gaza Strip, including Al-Shifa, and tunnels underneath them to conceal and to support their military operations and to hold hostages,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in a Tuesday press briefing. “Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members operate a command-and-control node from Al-Shifa in Gaza City. They have stored weapons there, and they’re prepared to respond to an Israeli military operation against that facility.”
In accordance with international law, the IDF ordered Hamas fighters in the hospital to surrender and allowed sufficient time to pass — with, predictably, no result. To relieve the suffering of patients and staff who remain in the hospital, the IDF delivered humanitarian supplies to the front entrance, include incubators, baby food, and medical supplies. Israel also supplied 300 Liters (around 80 gallons) of fuel for the hospital to run emergency generators, but Hamas prevented the hospital from receiving it.
If Hamas chooses to make a last stand underneath Al Shifa, it could lead to much harder fighting than Israel encountered at other hospitals. Such fighting could potentially even cause civilian casualties — which is apparently what Hamas wants. After all, Hamas is the party that has committed war crimes by locating their militant headquarters under an institution devoted to healing.
“Hamas can end the hospital crisis any time it wants,” remarked the WSJ editors. “It could let Israel get patients to safety or stand down at the hospital. It refuses to do so, counting on the West to bail it out by forcing Israel to stand down instead. Many are eager to apply that pressure. As law, this is groundless. As morality, it is backward. As a strategy to win the war, it plays into Hamas’s hands.”
Even Palestinians understand the game Hamas is playing with their lives. “Regarding the resistance forces that hide among people, why do they hide among people?” a man in a Gazan hospital told a camera crew for the Qatari propaganda outfit Al Jazeera before they cut him off. “Let them go hide in hell!”
“Hamas continues to use hospitals as locations for its command posts,” said U.S. State Department Spokesman Matt Miller in a moment of refreshingly straight shooting during a Monday press briefing. “We would love to see Hamas vacate the hospitals that it’s using [as] command posts immediately. We would love to see all the people that are calling for Israel to take steps to protect hospitals call for Hamas to vacate the hospitals, and stop using civilians as human shields.” News broke on Monday that 100 State Department and USAID employees signed a memo attacking the Biden administration’s Israel policy and accusing the nation of committing war crimes in Gaza.
As Miller’s comments demonstrate, it’s clear which side is trying to protect civilians in Gaza, and there is no excuse for mistaking that.
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.