Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS on 7 April, 2021

Gaza’s Shifa Hospital: Medical Center or Hamas Headquarters?

Public By Baruch Yedid/TPS • 19 October, 2023

Jerusalem, 19 October, 2023 (TPS) -- While the Al-Ahli Hospital in northern Gaza has been the epicenter of international attention, another hospital in the Strip will likely be in the headlines after a widely-expected Israeli ground invasion begins.

Shifa Hospital, located in the North Rimal neighborhood and boasting 570 beds, is Gaza’s largest medical center, serving the medical needs of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

But as Gazans are already aware, Hamas makes extensive use of the hospital too. Knowing that Israel would not dare attack a hospital during a war, Hamas leaders hide there, launch rockets from its compound, hide hostages in the bowels of the building, torture collaborators, and dig tunnels connecting Shifa to nearby sites.

As far back as 2009, the Israeli Security Agency (Shin Bet) reported during the Gaza war of that year that Hamas operatives were hiding in the hospital, and that the basement had become Hamas’s headquarters.

Launchers, Tunnels and Torture

It was during the Gaza war of 2014 that Hamas activities in Shifa became too pervasive to miss.

Foreign media reported that Hamas located its main offices inside Shifa Hospital and some journalists recounted seeing senior Hamas officials in its corridors. Abdel Bari Atwan, a prominent Arab editor said he even saw rocket launches from the hospital compound with his own eyes.

After the war, one Hamas operative captured by the Shin Bet confirmed that leaders of the terror group hid in the hospital during all the days of fighting.

And an Amnesty International report on the war released in 2015 accused Hamas of using a disused outpatient clinic to interrogate and torture suspected collaborators. Three Palestinians died in custody, Amnesty reported.

Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was reportedly kept in a booby trapped tunnel shaft below the hospital for periods of his five-year captivity, and it is likely that at least some of the 203 hostages taken by Hamas are there too.

Sealed Off Areas

Shifa was originally built by British authorities in 1946. In the 1980s, Israel renovated and expanded the hospital as part of an initiative to improve Gaza living conditions.

A source in Gaza told the Tazpit Press Service that during periods of heightened security tensions, portions of Shifa Hospital are routinely sealed off to the public. This restricts access for Gaza residents to various buildings adjacent to the hospital. Additionally, senior Hamas officials are known to receive medical treatment there, especially during military operations.

In recent days, the Israeli Defense Forces have bombed and demolished several buildings close to Shifa Hospital. A Palestinian source in Gaza told the TPS that those buildings are well-known Hamas sites widely believed to be connected to Shifa by underground tunnels.

One of the buildings — just 60 meters from Shifa — was used to produce and repair weapons, including rockets, Israeli security officials said several years ago.

The hospital’s patients and staff are being used as human shields. Placing weapons caches, command and control centers, tunnel shafts, rocket launchers and other military infrastructure in close proximity to private homes, schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian areas violates international humanitarian law.

Israeli leaders insist they will eliminate Hamas from Gaza.

How the military deals with the Shifa Hospital remains to be seen.