Photo by Eitan Elhadez-Barak/TPS on 14 November, 2023

What Happens the Day After Israel Takes Gaza’s Hospitals?

Public By Pesach Benson • 14 November, 2023

Jerusalem, 14 November, 2023 (TPS) -- The Israeli military released a video of its chief spokesperson visiting tunnels underneath Gaza’s Abdel Aziz Rantisi Children’s Hospital to show exactly where hostages were held and where weapons were found.

“Our war is against Hamas, not against the people in Gaza. Especially not the sick, the women, or the children,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari. “Our war is against Hamas who uses them as human shields.”

The video increased the pressure on Hamas, which not only operates out of the Rantisi, but also in other hospitals, most notably the Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest. As reported by the Tazpit Press Service, Hamas makes extensive use of the Shifa Hospital.

It was also widely perceived as preparing international opinion for an Israel Defense Force operation to capture the hospital.

Operational and Symbolic Significance

Professor Eitan Shamir, explained to the Tazpit Press Service that the Shifa Hospital carries tremendous operational and symbolic significance for Hamas. Shamir lectures on political science at Bar-Ilan University and is the director of its Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.

“From what we know, it’s the main command center of Hamas, and you can assume that a lot of people who retreated from the advance of the IDF sought hiding under Shifa Hospital. It’s command center. It’s a good possibility that some of their leaders are there, and maybe some of the hostages as well,” Shamir explained.

Capturing the hospital, “Will have symbolic ramifications in the sense that Hamas was relying on the hospitals to provide a shield, because they’re hospitals. Hamas thought the IDF would never dare bomb a hospital or send troops in. Losing it will shake Hamas confidence, so it’s very significant. They’ll understand that there is nowhere they can actually hide,” Shamir said.

The other thing is it would be a very important public opinion victory for the IDF. The IDF would be able to show Hamas’s headquarters there, which many people today still doubt. This would support international legitimacy for Israel.”

However, while losing Shifa would weaken Hamas, it would not be a knock-out blow to the terror group.

“It will continue the fight. Hamas has planned for this type of scenario that once this stronghold is taken out, there others that can still function independently. So there will still be resistance,” Shamir stressed. “Hamas has other tunnels that we still don’t know about, I’m sure, other hideouts, other hospitals. The Ranstisi, Shifa and Indonesian Hospitals are the main ones.”

In addition, there is southern Gaza, which is currently a safe area where Palestinians from northern Gaza were instructed to flee.

“From what I understand, some of the terrorists already fled to the south and some of the hostages were taken to the south,” Shamir said. “We know Hamas is moving the hostages from one spot to another.”

The Rantisi Hospital has its own unique symbolism, Shamir noted, pointing out that its namesake, Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi, was one of the original founders of Hamas.

“It suggests that Hamas is part of the Palestinian ethos and is controlling Gaza. It calls the different squares, public places, and hospitals after its leaders,” Shamir said.

Worse Than ISIS

Shamir told TPS that as far as he is aware, even Islamic State never embedded its terrorists in medical centers.

“If we look at cases where ISIS was operating or other guerilla movements, I don’t think anyone was using hospitals in a similar way as a permanent headquarters. In the fighting that ensued, some of them may have gone into hospitals because they know that when you fight the West — not other Arabs regimes or Russia — you know they’re going to do everything they can to avoid shooting at hospitals,” he explained.

“I can’t recall that any organization was basing itself in a hospital like this,” Shamir noted.

Asked how Israel would likely capture the hospital, Shamir said he does not expect the IDF to bomb the hospital from the air, but will instead send troops in.

Damage to the hospital “depends on how stiff the resistance from Hamas is going to be.” The key question, Shamir explained, is whether patients and staff are evacuated first. “If Israel is able to do so, there’s no reason not to go in with full force,” he said.

Shamir stressed, “Israel will do its utmost to avoid collateral damage. They will make every effort.”

Minimizing collateral damage is in Israel’s interest, Shamir argued, because the international outcry would have the potential of stopping the operation short of its objectives of toppling Hamas. “Without talking about morality, the IDF will do everything it can its power to minimize casualties,” he insisted.

A Political Decision

Shamir noted that the final decision to enter the hospitals will be made on the political level by the Israeli Cabinet.

“It’s not the decision of the commanders on the ground or the Chief of Staff. It’s a decision that will be approved by the Cabinet. Once the decision is approved by the cabinet, you know that it has as a political dimension. Not domestic politics, but on the international level. Therefore, the ministers have to take responsibility, and have everything in place in terms of maybe informing the Americans or being comfortable with the risk, and so on.”

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

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.

In addition to being used to hide Hamas leaders and hostages, the terror group is known to have launched rockets, tortured suspected collaborators and hoarded a half-million liters of fuel in the hospital compound.