As Evidence Mounts of Hamas Using Shifa Hospital as a Military Base, Human Rights Groups Turn Sullenly Silent  

Amnesty International, say, changes its tune from 2007 and 2015, when it reported Hamas was using Al Shifa hospital for interrogations, torture, and launching attacks.

via Israel Defense Forces
The screenshot from a video released by the Israel Defense Forces shows a hostage being hustled into the Shifa hospital on October 7. via Israel Defense Forces

The United Nations and international aid organizations are quick to condemn Israel for civilian casualties in Gaza, calling for war crimes investigations and citing death counts from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Ministry — but when it comes to mounting evidence that Hamas used Al Shifa hospital as a base of military operations, these groups are either silent or say they still need more proof.

Whether Al Shifa hospital was being used by Hamas to stage attacks, store weapons, or hide hostages is of critical importance because attacking a hospital is a war crime. The exception to this rule is if a medical facility is being used by one party in the conflict to commit an “act harmful to the enemy.”

Israel says Hamas used the hospital for that purpose, building a complex network of tunnels under Al Shifa and using it as a military base of operations. Israel says its bombing campaign, sending in troops to raid Al Shifa, and facilitating the evacuation of critical patients are necessary to destroy the Hamas terrorist organization and dismantle its offensive capabilities.

The Israeli Defense Forces have been releasing footage of the network of tunnels it says it discovered on the grounds of the medical complex, as well as videos of weapons caches it says its soldiers found in the hospital. The IDF has also released interrogation footage of detained Hamas fighters describing how the terrorist group used Al Shifa as a military headquarters and used ambulances to transport commanders because, “the Jews don’t attack ambulances.”

The IDF released surveillance footage inside the hospital that shows two hostages — one an injured Thai national on a gurney and the other a Nepali student — being ushered through an Al Shifa corridor on the morning of October 7. Those two hostages are missing and their conditions unknown.

A Dutch journalist who reported from Gaza and a British doctor who worked at Al Shifa hospital have both corroborated IDF claims. The doctor told a reporter from France 24 news that there was a section of the hospital leading to the basement that he was instructed not to go near or he’d “be in danger of being shot.”

The doctor added that “there were dodgy non-medical characters going in and out all the time,” and that discussion of this was made in “hushed tones about which Hamas was discussed. You know, people were genuinely fearful.”

In 2014, the Washington Post also reported that Al Shifa hospital had become “a de facto headquarters for Hamas leaders, who can be seen in the hallways and offices.”

“This was not a secret. This was an open secret,” a human rights advocate and executive director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, tells the Sun. “Certainly all the international organizations that have a constant presence on the ground knew about it.”  

Organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, and committees within the United Nations, though, are not convinced — or at least won’t say so publicly now. This matters because, while Israel can win this war militarily, the war for international public support is a major challenge, and Hamas knows how to fight this battle. This is evident in protests on college campuses and in the streets across the United States and in European capitals.

It’s also evident in statements from these groups. “Amnesty International has so far not seen any credible evidence to support Israel’s claim that al-Shifa is housing a military command center — and indeed Israel has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence to substantiate this claim,” the executive director of Amnesty International USA, Paul O’Brien, tells the Sun in a statement.

“In their stated intent to use all means to destroy Hamas, Israeli forces have shown a shocking disregard for civilian lives,” Mr. O’Brien says. “These unlawful attacks, including indiscriminate attacks that caused mass civilian casualties, must be investigated as war crimes.”

This contrasts sharply with Amnesty International reports released in 2007 and 2015, in which the organization describes Hamas using Al Shifa hospital for interrogations, torture, and launching attacks. The harsh condemnation of Israel also contrasts to the language Mr. O’Brien uses to condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks on October 7.

“The abduction of civilians and hostage-taking and deliberate attacks on civilians are prohibited by international law and can constitute war crimes,” Mr. O’Brien says.

“Can constitute war crimes” doesn’t have the force of Israel “must be investigated for war crimes.” Amnesty International’s X feed displays the same imbalance: for every 10 posts on Israel’s “chilling indifference to the catastrophic toll on civilians,” there is maybe one post about the hostages Hamas is still holding.

Human Rights Watch is also not ready to say whether Hamas used Al Shifa hospital as an operations base. This contrasts to 2007, when Human Rights Watch released a report that details Hamas’s use of hospitals in its battle with Fatah.

“Human Rights Watch takes seriously allegations by Israeli authorities that armed groups are operating inside or below hospitals. We are not, however, in a position to corroborate these claims presently,” the Israel and Palestine director of the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch, Omar Shakir, tells the Sun.

“If accurate, the use of medical facilities by Palestinian armed groups for military operations is alarming and violates the laws of war,” Mr. Shakir says. Yet he adds, “Attacks on hospitals being used to commit ‘acts harmful to the enemy’ are still unlawful if indiscriminate or disproportionate.”

The United Nations declined to comment about Hamas’s use of Al Shifa hospital but directed the Sun to a World Health Organization press conference held Friday. When asked at this press conference whether Hamas used Al Shifa as a base, the executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Program, Michael Ryan, said that his team’s focus was solely on doctors and evacuating patients.

“We only saw civilians in that hospital,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s a very big complex, as I’m sure you’re aware, and that’s all we focused on and that’s all we saw.”

When asked about the incubators Israel supplied to help transport 28 premature babies in intensive care to a hospital in Egypt, the World Health Organization declined to elaborate, saying again that this was not their “focus.”

While these aid organizations condemn Hamas’s October 7 attack and the capturing of hostages, critics say these groups have political and institutional-preservation interests in condemning Israel more than Hamas. Their jobs depend on the ability to operate within Gaza, which is controlled by the terrorist organization.

Mr. Neuer says some people at these organizations may fear condemning Hamas inside Gaza, but he says most of the bias is political. There are 56 Muslim-majority countries in the United Nations that help set the tone, he says. That an Iranian ambassador was recently appointed chairman of a two-day meeting of the UN human rights council says it all. The same people who work for the United Nations later get jobs at Human Rights Watch or other NGOs in a sort of self-selecting “revolving door,” Mr. Neuer says.

“These organizations have a long history of demonizing Israel and embracing Palestinians as victims. That ideology is very strong,” a professor at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, Gerald Steinberg, tells the Sun. “Their tweets and all their statements and their television interviews — and there are lots of them — it’s 90 percent Israel must stop attacking, it’s a war crime. They talk about apartheid. And they have a few token comments on occasion about Israeli hostages, but very rarely. It’s less than one out of ten. And these are token. And it’s been that way for 20 years.”

Public statements from humanitarian children’s aid groups such as Save the Children and Unicef are operating on the same 90 percent-10 percent model. On rapes and gender-based violence committed by Hamas on October 7, the international women’s rights organizations have largely stayed silent.

“There is an ideology that dominates these institutions, which they all share,” Mr. Neuer says. “Many officially believe in women’s rights and gay rights and the left wing in every sense of the word while working for the UN and being in full agreement with Iran, Syria, Libya regarding Israel.”

Mr. Steinberg says that even if Israel presents irrefutable evidence that Hamas used Al Shifa as an operations base, he doesn’t think it will sway these organizations. They will likely point to higher Palestinian civilian casualties and the destruction of infrastructure in Gaza and talk about proportionality. “The fact that Hamas was using all these hospitals as bases is public knowledge,” he says.

“The UN seems to be in a conspiracy of silence,” Mr. Neuer says. “The public relations victory that Hamas seeks is almost their goal — to demonize and therefore erode support in the West for Israel.”

The IDF released more footage on Wednesday of tunnels under Al Shifa hospital. “Hamas is using the protected status of hospitals as a shield,” a rear admiral in the IDF, Daniel Hagari, said in a video posted to X. He added that he has one question for the international community, “Will you condemn Hamas or will you continue to stay silent?”

The New York Sun

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