Hospitals have special protection under international humanitarian law for an important reason – their purpose is to save lives, and IHL’s purpose is to reduce unnecessary suffering as much as possible in the context of the horror of war. Unfortunately, Hamas has long sought to exploit the specially protected status of hospitals under international humanitarian law and to use them to shield their activities from counterattack by Israel.
Hamas has a long history of using civilian areas such as homes, hospitals, and schools to carry out its terror operations. Hamas stores weapons in residential areas and even schools and hospitals, firing rockets from densely populated zones, operating command centers in civilian areas like hospitals, and sometimes using civilian clothing to blend in.
Hamas has also used ambulances to evacuate fighters and operatives as well as transport food, IEDs, and weapons. Such practices make it challenging for the Israeli military to take action against legitimate military targets without risking civilian casualties.
Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital as a terror base
Located in Gaza City, Al-Shifa Hospital, which means “healing” in Arabic, was built by the British in 1946 when they governed what was then the Mandate of Palestine. Later, when Israel gained control of the Gaza Strip from Egypt following the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel, with American support, worked on a large-scale renovation to enlarge and modernize Al-Shifa in the 1980s, including the installation of a subterranean concrete floor. The hospital is the largest in the Gaza Strip today, the sprawling complex has over 1,500 beds and 4,000 employees.
Read more at the American Jewish Committee.