The tens of thousands of injured Gazans have nowhere to go as Israel continues assault on hospitals

A new attack on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City adds to the overwhelming burden shouldered by patients and health workers. 15 out of 19 hospitals in Gaza City and 18 out of 20 primary health care centers are non-functionalMarch 21, 2024 by Peoples Health Dispatch

Smoke rises from the Al Shifa compound after an Israeli attack. Photo: Quds News Network

Israeli forces launched a fresh attack on Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Monday, March 18, marking a continuation of their campaign to destroy healthcare facilities in Palestine. Close to 100 people were killed in the operation, and 600 were abducted by the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) over three days. Reports from the scene indicated that, at one point, Israeli forces detained the entire medical staff of the complex.

The Israeli government tried to justify the raid and the subsequent evacuation order for Al-Shifa by alleging the presence of resistance fighters within hospital grounds. However, Palestinian authorities have dismissed such claims. The build-up of violence that preceded the recent raid of Al-Shifa leaves little doubt that the intention of the IOF remains to further debilitate the Palestinian healthcare system, denying access to medical services for people in Gaza.

Health workers from other countries have echoed such concerns. Dr. Mads Gilbert, speaking to Al Jazeera, highlighted that the latest raid on Al-Shifa caused yet another stoppage of operations, leaving victims of burns, fractures, and other injuries with extremely limited treatment options.

Journalists sheltering at Al-Shifa have speculated that the extent of the recent assault, in combination with the forcible evacuation orders, indicates a potential plan to completely destroy the facility. “They demolished the hospital’s entire specialist care center, a brand new building that was set up to help Palestinians who need surgery,” reported Hani Mahmoud to Al Jazeera.

Read more | Palestinian health workers are fighting for humanity

Since October 7, 2023, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented at least 410 attacks on healthcare facilities in the Gaza Strip, resulting in the damage of 30 hospitals and 104 ambulances. All health services in Gaza are now hanging by a very thin thread, with 15 out of 19 hospitals in Gaza City and 18 out of 20 primary health care centers non-functional.

In a recent development, Israeli authorities ordered approximately 25 patients, previously receiving medical care in East Jerusalem, to return to Gaza. These patients, among thousands seeking cancer and other specialized care outside of the Strip, face the prospect of returning to a healthcare system incapable of providing essential services as the Israeli government concluded they “no longer require in-patient medical treatment.” This decision, initially set to kick in on March 21, has been postponed “until at least Monday [March 25]” following an appeal by the organization Physicians for Human Rights to the Israeli Supreme Court.

Due to the ongoing restrictions on aid convoys by Israel, hospitals and health centers in Gaza are running on virtually no supplies. Conditions are particularly bad in northern Gaza, where the few trucks are not able to bring in all supplies – medicines, fuel, food, water – at once. The shortages are having a devastating effect on both patients and health workers.

“When our missions reach hospitals,” the WHO said, “we meet exhausted and hungry health workers who ask us for food and water. We see patients trying to recover from life-saving surgeries and losses of limbs, or sick with cancer or diabetes, mothers who have just given birth, or newborn babies, all suffering from hunger and the diseases that stalk it.”

Read more: Children’s health in Gaza obliterated by Israeli attacks

Restrictions on aid have worsened the nutrition crisis in the northern regions, with a sharp increase in the prevalence of acute malnutrition among children under the age of two. Reports indicate that one in three children in this demographic now suffers from acute malnutrition, compared to one in six reported up until February.

Children continue to suffer under the combined burden of hunger, physical and emotional trauma, and aid blockades. Nick Maynard, a physician recently returned from a Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) mission in Gaza, recounted during a press conference at the United Nations scenes that he thought he would never witness in a medical setting. After a particular round of attacks, Maynard said, the health workers cared for a seven-year-old who was burned so badly that her facial bones were exposed.

“We knew there was no chance of her surviving that. But there was no morphine to give her. So not only was she eventually going to die, but she would die in agony.”

Not only was she going to die in agony, Maynard added, but she would do so on the hospital floor, as there was no other place for her to go. The violence and extent of Israeli attacks that health workers are witnessing in Gaza’s hospitals leave no room for doubt: according to Maynard, what the IOF are conducting in Gaza amounts to genocide. In order to stop it, a ceasefire remains the only option.