News / Middle East

Gaza's Hospitals Under Fire in Israeli Operations

Patients lie in their beds on the ground floor of al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital after being evacuated from the fourth floor, which police said was hit by a tank shell fired by Israeli troops, in Gaza City, July 16, 2014.
Patients lie in their beds on the ground floor of al-Wafa rehabilitation hospital after being evacuated from the fourth floor, which police said was hit by a tank shell fired by Israeli troops, in Gaza City, July 16, 2014.
Gabe Joselow

Basman Alashi, the director of the al-Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Gaza, said  he received a call at 8:45 pm last Thursday with a warning: leave the building, an assault will begin in ten minutes.

The call was from the Israel Defense Forces [IDF]. The military is known to inform residents of buildings being targeted during operations – in this case a campaign known as Protective Edge that is seeking to destroy the military capabilities of the Hamas Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Alashi says he and his staff initially refused to evacuate.

"I told them I cannot leave," he said. "I have people who are paralyzed, unconscious, they produce no threat to the Israelis at all, they're just sitting in their beds."

Heavy shelling

But just 10 minutes later, the barrage started. Heavy shelling came from the east, hitting a side of the building just hundreds of meters from the Israeli border. The power went out, the nurses were too afraid to stay, and Alashi scrambled to get 17 ambulances to move the remaining patients to another medical facility in central Gaza.

The patients still left at al-Wafa on that day were the ones who could not fend for themselves. Most were unconscious, hooked up to feeding tubes and catheters, paralyzed by stroke, cancer, spinal injuries and accidents.

On a visit to the facility earlier in the week, VOA saw them lined up in hospital beds on the first floor. They had been relocated after previous Israeli strikes caused damage to the building.

Among them was a 12-year old boy who lay perfectly still on his back, unconscious for 60 days, since drowning in his own pool. Alashi says he spent 15 minutes underwater.

In a statement issued after Thursday's strike, an IDF spokesman, Captain Eytan Buchman, put the blame on Hamas for launching rockets in the vicinity of the building. 

He said after warning the al-Wafa center, the military was "left with no choice" but to "target the launcher with the most precise munition capable of ensuring its destruction."

Alashi denied any militant activities take place at the center.

"We have been at your border for the last 15 years," he said. "We haven't had any incidents of having anybody to hurt you. We are just a hospital."

UN assessment

The United Nations says 16 health facilities have been damaged since Israel began operations on July 7 to counter Palestinian rocket fire and other militant activities originating from Gaza. Thirteen additional primary care facilities have been closed for because they are too close to targeted sites.

More than 300 Palestinians have been killed during the campaign of air strikes, naval assaults and ground operations, while more than 2,000 people have been injured.

Many of the wounded come to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Doctor Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian volunteer, treats some of the most critically wounded patients there.

"This is a typical war injury," he said, examining a middle-aged man, bandaged and bruised in the intensive care unit, his right leg amputated below the knee. "He is, of course, a civilian."

Palestinian doctors and nurses have started working 24 hour shifts, and medical students are lending a hand, while getting on-the-ground training in emergency suturing and CPR.

"Nobody asked me to come and volunteer, I came here on my own," said Basel Abu Warda, a first year intern volunteering at Shifa. "I tried to do what every man or every person would do, to help."

Overwhelming needs

Warda said most of the wounded he sees at the hospital need emergency treatment. "I don't see simple injuries. Most of them are losing some limbs or have severe bleeding, severe burns, et cetera," he said.

But Shifa is overwhelmed. With supplies of electricity and gasoline tentative during times of peace and erratic during times of war, hospital staff are worried they will not be able to maintain the level of care.

Gilbert said the hospital is also lacking disposable items, medicine and is operating with outdated equipment.

He blamed the Israeli blockade of Gaza for choking off medical supply lines.

"One of the problems in Gaza is that the abnormal becomes normal," he said.  "Over the last seven years with the brutal siege of Gaza, the world has come to accept it as normality."

The Israeli government says it is facilitating the daily transfer of truckloads of medical supplies and other essentials into Gaza, despite the conflict.

Alashi, of the al-Wafa Rehabilitation Center, said he hopes a ceasefire will be reached soon between Israel and Hamas so that he can start thinking about the future and whether to rebuild the hospital.

Many of his patients will not remember the missile strikes and the evacuation. But he worries about those who are alert and are now shaking, unable to sleep, traumatized.

"They still have a vision of bombing and screaming and sense the smoke of it, the heat of it," he said. "It is going to take time for that vision to disappear."

  • A Palestinian man inspects a house which police said was damaged in Israeli shelling that killed two boys and a man from  the Nutaiz family, in Gaza City, July 18, 2014.
  • Patients are treated in Shifa hospital in Gaza City, July 18, 2014.
  • A Palestinian inspects the hole made by an Israeli strike at the damaged Inteiz family house in the Shajaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • People gather around the bodies of three Palestinian teenage siblings from the Abu Musalam family, who medics said were shelled by an Israeli tank inside their house, during their funeral at a mosque in Beit Lahiya, in the northern Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • Smokes rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, July 18, 2014.
  • An Israeli army reservist adjusts his gear in a staging area outside the Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • A Palestinian boy, who fled his house with his family following an Israeli ground offensive, sleeps as he stays at a United Nations-run school in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • Israeli soldiers walk towards a staging area outside the Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards the Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • Smoke rises after an Israeli strike over southern Gaza, July 18, 2014.
  • Israeli soldiers atop a tank outside the Gaza Strip, July 18, 2014.
  • An Israeli rocket is fired into the northern Gaza Strip, July 17, 2014.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: amos aloro from: south sudan
July 20, 2014 8:46 AM
Isreal could not have done such a shilly act; by tergetting gaza. The word human is a person's life that need not to be destroy.

by: Anthonybellchambers from: London
July 20, 2014 6:49 AM
Read and absorb the Likud government agenda for therein lies all the answers to the current atrocities:

"The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river. The Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state. Thus, for example, in matters of foreign affairs, security, immigration and ecology, their activity shall be limited in accordance with imperatives of Israel’s existence, security and national needs."

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs