On the 16th of November, White House spokesman John Kirby said, “We have our own intelligence that convinces us that Hamas was using Al Shifa [hospital] as a command and control node, and most likely as well as a storage facility. We are still convinced of the soundness of that intelligence.”In this, he was giving what we might call independent support to the frequently proclaimed Israeli assessment. For instance, Reuters’ report on the Israeli capture of the hospital included this assessment.
Al Shifa hospital had become the chief target of a Gaza City incursion by Israeli forces, who said the “beating heart” of the Hamas fighters’ operations was headquartered in tunnels beneath it. Hamas denied the accusation and on Wednesday dismissed the Israeli statements as “lies and cheap propaganda”.
In preparation for the attack, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) released a video with a 3D representation of the tunnels and command centre supposed to be under Al Shifa.
Ehud Olmert, a former Israeli Prime Minister, had a different opinion.
The Israeli version of the Al Shifa story is comprehensively told in an article from The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. Read it and come to your own conclusion about the correspondence between story and reality.
Irrespective of the details, Israel could be certain of finding a complex beneath Al Shifa, for reasons which are explained in a 2014 Hamas-hostile article from The Tablet: Top Secret Hamas Command Bunker in Gaza Revealed.
The idea that one of Hamas’ main command bunkers is located beneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is one of the worst-kept secrets of the Gaza war. So why aren’t reporters in Gaza ferreting it out? … Well, one reason might be that the “security sources” quoted whenever the location of the Hamas command bunker is mentioned—which…happens every time there’s a war in Gaza—are obviously Israelis, not members of Hamas.
The Israelis are so sure about the location of the Hamas bunker…because they built it. Back in 1983, when Israel still ruled Gaza, they built a secure underground operating room and tunnel network beneath Shifa hospital—which is one among several reasons why Israeli security sources are so sure that there is a main Hamas command bunker in or around the large cement basement beneath the area of Building 2 of the Hospital, which reporters are obviously prohibited from entering. (My emphasis.)
Note that the “certainty” is an induction, and while such an induction was probably quite reasonable in 2014, it was hardly a certainty.
Another former Israeli PM, Ehud Barak “ignit[ed] a storm of misinformation” by doing something unusual in this conflict — telling the truth.
Even though the Meir Amit report is coy about it, an Appendix discusses the history of Al Shifa Hospital.
Initially, the hospital had 320 beds and served approximately 210,000 residents of Gaza City. The goal was approximately 900 beds in an extensive campus of 50 dunams, which would serve the residents of the entire Strip, while demolishing old buildings in favor of new high-risers equipped with advanced technology. The renovation phase of the 1990s also included concrete basement floors from which the Hamas leadership operated while hiding in the hospital.
Given that everybody knows about the subterranean hospital, how likely is it that, whatever the situation was in 2014, Hamas would have maintained a critical command post under Al Shifa in advance of their planned attack in 2023? It is perhaps less obvious that Israeli and US intelligence services also understand this, given their abject failure before October 7th.
While the focus has been on the “beating heart” of Hamas in Al Shifa, all of the hospitals of Gaza were being targeted. The Indonesian Hospital has been effectively destroyed. According to this report in the Guardian on the first of December, of 10 hospitals in the northern Gaza Strip, only two remained functional.
Meanwhile, Israel has levelled the Islamic University of Gaza;
the Palace of Justice;
and the Parliament building. Then there are the mosques, including the Great Omari Mosque. The Cathedral of St John the Baptist was built in AD406, purportedly on the site of the Philistine Temple of Dagon, the one destroyed by Samson. Around AD700, after Gaza had fallen to the Muslims, the Cathedral was converted in into a mosque. Now Israel has destroyed all but the tower. And Great Omari is only the most ancient of many mosques which have been destroyed.
Many in the West are bedazzled by the cultural and intellectual prominence of the Jews; many also feel that Western societies as a whole are still paying off a debt incurred in the camps of Poland and Germany in the 1940s; many are terrified, post 9-11 and post ISIS, of Islamic fundamentalism; some Christians give Israel their unwavering support for religious reasons. None of these groups are able to see Israel’s actions in Gaza dispassionately, if they “see” them at all. Some will assure themselves that these are all legitimate military targets. As an aid to assessing the validity of this, consider this story from various sources. Nearly 50% of the munitions dropped by Israel on one of the most heavily populated regions on Earth are unguided “dumb” bombs.
Israel is engaged in calculated destruction of the religious, medical and civil infrastructure of Gaza, along with the collateral destruction of thousands of human lives — noncombatant human lives. It is reminiscent of General Curtis LeMay’s expressed desire to “bomb [North Vietnam] back to the stone age,” except that the IDF flies unopposed, and Gaza is small enough to make the proposal feasible. In other places, this policy is known as “ethnic cleansing.” ¹
Much of what is called “the Global South,” including of course Muslim countries, sees Israel’s attacks in this way. While Western countries generally express support for Israel, they contain significant minorities who reject their governments’ position. I am not speaking here of the Islamic sub-cultures, some of whom are chanting “gas the Jews” in a mirror image of Israel’s destructive fervour, but of those who hope for, and despair of, a peaceful resolution of this ancient enmity in its modern setting.
¹ Statements from a “defense official,” an MK, and three ministers, including the Defense Minister and Netanyahu himself over a period from the 9th of October to the 11th of November himself made quite clear what the mood and the intention intention of the Israeli Government was.
‘“I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed,” Gallant says [Oct 9] following an assessment at the IDF Southern Command in Beersheba. “We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly,” he adds.’
“We’re rolling out Nakba 2023.” Likud Minister Avi Dichter. Nov 12.
“You must remember what Amalek has done to you.” Netanyahu, Oct 28.