Reporter recalls encountering Hamas gunmen at Shifa in 2009

UK doctor who worked at Shifa confirms Gaza hospital used for ‘non-medical purposes’

‘There was a part I wasn’t to go near, and if I did, I’d be in danger of being shot,’ says physician, describing an atmosphere of ‘collective paranoia’ and ‘genuine fear’ of Hamas

Gianluca Pacchiani is the Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

People stand outside the emergency ward of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. (Khader Al Zanoun/AFP)
People stand outside the emergency ward of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on November 10, 2023, amid the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. (Khader Al Zanoun/AFP)

A British doctor who used to work at Shifa Hospital, Gaza’s largest medical center, under which the IDF says Hamas operates a major command and control base, has confirmed that there were areas of the hospital where he could not go, or else he would be shot.

In a recent interview with the English-language channel of French broadcaster France24, the doctor, who declined to give his name for fear of endangering his colleagues in Gaza, said he had worked at Shifa and other hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank for three months, three years ago.

“When I was first asked to work there [at Shifa], I was told there was a part of the hospital I was not to go near, and if I did, I’d be in danger of being shot,” he was quoted as saying.

“Was it explained to you why that was?” asked journalist Irris Makler in the recorded conversation.

“No, but implicit was that it was being used for non-medical purposes,” replied the doctor.

“And did you see anything non-medical or did you obey the instruction and stay away?” the interviewer continued.

Hamas weapons found inside Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital, following a raid by Israeli special forces, November 15, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The doctor said: “I stayed away, but I saw a few dodgy-looking non-medical characters going in and out all the time. It was a ward leading to a basement. As I said, I didn’t go there; so I behaved myself.”

“They would say there could be many other reasons that you would be told not to go to a particular area of a hospital. It’s not unusual,” the journalist argued.

“Well, I was welcome everywhere else, and as I say, the doctors and nurses there were very welcoming and very kind, and the hushed tones under which this was said were consistent with all the other hushed tones with which Hamas was discussed. You know, people were genuinely fearful,” the doctor replied.

“I cannot emphasize too much the air of collective paranoia that existed there,” he continued.

The physician also reported to the journalist that if hospital staff were 10% frightened of possible Israeli airstrikes, they were 90% frightened of being persecuted by Hamas.

Separately, a journalist from Italy who spoke to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity recounted that in 2009, right after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas, he visited Gaza’s hospitals looking to interview wounded members of Fatah — the rival Palestinian faction that Hamas violently ousted from the coastal enclave in 2007.

“Eventually, I realized that they were all at home — Fatah members were too afraid to stay in the hospital, even if they were wounded,” the journalist said.

“Shifa is a very large compound. I got lost inside it, and at some point I ended up on an underground floor, and I found myself in front of two armed Hamas men in military attire, who told me to get out.”

“I got the impression they were guarding a security door that gave access to their underground infrastructure. Several Palestinian sources I spoke with later on confirmed that Hamas’s command and control center was located under Shifa Hospital and that [Hamas leader] Ismail Haniyeh had been hiding there throughout the duration of Operation Cast Lead.”

A satellite image issued by the IDF shows what the military says are Hamas command centers located underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza, October 27, 2023 (IDF)

Shortly after the October 7 onslaught in which 1,200 Israelis were brutally slaughtered by Hamas terrorists and around 240 were kidnapped into Gaza, the IDF revealed that Hamas has been using Gaza’s hospitals for military operations, a claim confirmed by the US administration.

Shifa Hospital is believed to be one of the nerve centers of Hamas’s underground terror infrastructure. The IDF has been operating around and in the medical center for more than a week, uncovering what it has said is evidence of Hamas’s use of the site for terrorist activities.

The hospital was almost completely evacuated on Saturday, with most patients, staff and displaced people who were sheltering in the building departing, leaving behind only a basic crew to care for those too sick to move, and Israeli forces in control of the facility.

Denying an AFP report, the military said it did not order an evacuation, and that medical personnel were being allowed to remain in the hospital to support patients who cannot be moved.

The IDF also said soldiers transferred over 6,000 liters of water and over 2,300 kilograms of food to the medical facility.

An IDF soldier with medical supplies at Shifa Hospital in Gaza City in a handout photo distributed on November 15, 2023 (Israel Defense Forces)

“This activity was done in parallel with the IDF activities to locate and thwart terrorism in the hospital,” the IDF said. Israeli forces uncovered an entrance to a Hamas tunnel and a cache of weapons, in addition to other findings over the past few days.

“We see the presence of Hamas in all hospitals, it is a clear presence. They make cynical use of the hospitals, like here in the heart of Shifa,” Maj. Gen. Yaron Finkelman, head of the IDF Southern Command, said on Friday.

Emmanuel Fabian and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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