The destruction of Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure during Israel’s military offensive

New report from Physicians for Human Rights - Israel

Wounded Palestinians line the corridors of Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, northern Gaza, 10 November 2023

Physicians for Human Rights Israel write:

Gazan society has been in a state of continued crisis since 1948. The impact of 56 years of military occupation has been compounded by a sixteen-year blockade, severely affecting every facet of Gazan life, including local infrastructure, education, healthcare, judiciary, and welfare systems. This extended oppression has eroded the capacity to maintain fundamental institutions crucial for the effective functioning of society.

Throughout the years, Gaza’s healthcare system has demonstrated its importance as a critical environment for individual and collective survival. In the face of unimaginable challenges, it has steadfastly delivered medical care and rehabilitation services while nurturing a spirit of mutual support. The continual operation of this system is essential for maintaining the physical and emotional well-being of Gaza’s population, both at the individual and community levels.

In PHRI’s most recent position paper, titled “The Devastation of Gaza’s Healthcare Infrastructure Amid Israel’s Military Offensive,” we examine the extent and severity of Israel’s military assault on Gaza and its lethal repercussions. We assert that a thorough investigation is warranted to scrutinize these attacks for potential breaches of international humanitarian law, possibly amounting to war crimes.

Following the Hamas-led attack on towns in southern Israel on the morning of October 7, Israel launched an unparalleled military offensive in Gaza. As of now, the casualties include over 28,000 deaths and more than 68,000 injuries. 75% of the population has been forcibly displaced, and thousands more remain missing, some buried beneath the debris of bombarded structures. Amid such catastrophe, the urgency for an operational healthcare system capable of attending to the injured and unwell and managing public health concerns is more crucial than ever.

Israel’s assault on Gaza’s healthcare system has caused unparalleled devastation to medical infrastructure. Countless local hospitals and medical facilities have been left incapacitated due to military forces surrounding hospitals and restricting movement; the severe scarcity of fuel, electricity, water, and medicine due to the complete prevention of humanitarian aid entry in the early stages of the war and subsequent severe limitation; and direct attacks on medical facilities, including instances of military forces storming some of them.

Israel has justified its attacks on Gazan health facilities with two main explanations. First, it asserted that hospitals were given warnings and ordered to evacuate to protect staff and patients. Yet, there were no safe evacuation methods or alternative facilities to accommodate them. Secondly, Israel argued that the hospitals lost their right to special protection because they were being used as Hamas command centers.

Considering that the Israeli assault severely incapacitated Gaza’s healthcare system, rendering it unable to tend to the tens of thousands of injured and ill patients, we determined that Israel’s assertions regarding the forfeiture of special protection rights do not justify the extensive and deliberate harm that has been inflicted. Therefore, we call for an investigation into Israel’s actions as a violation of international humanitarian law, constituting a potential war crime.

As the occupying power, Israel is obligated to ensure the complete functionality of Gaza’s healthcare facilities and protect medical personnel, sick and injured patients, and all displaced persons. Furthermore, the Israeli military must swiftly, comprehensively, and decisively lift the blockade, allowing unrestricted entry of vital supplies, including medicines, medical equipment, fuel, food, and clean water, into both northern and southern Gaza.

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