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Attacking and destroying hospitals has always been a red line and a heinous crime under international humanitarian law, but Israel has repeatedly crossed this line in front of the cameras.

Since the beginning of Operation Al-Aqsa Flood on the seventh of last October, the occupation has bombed Gaza hospitals, ambulances and medical staff, resulting in the death of hundreds of sick and wounded and the destruction of the last means of life in Gaza.

The list of hospitals targeted included Al-Shifa Medical and Baptist Complex, Al-Quds, Al-Rantisi, Indonesian and Al-Awda, which are the main hospitals in Gaza.

Israel has also cut off electricity, water and fuel to these health facilities, which constitutes a war crime by all standards.

Israel's attacks contribute to a new approach with terrifying proportions to what a State can do in full view of the international community.

Crime legislation

Jewish thinker and political analyst Norman Finkelstein commented on this approach in a lecture at Georgetown University in Qatar: "Israel, Europeans and Americans have legislated something that until this moment has been an absolute red line and a taboo act in international politics. "Other countries have attacked hospitals before, but their actions have never been legitimized."

Human Rights Watch criticized repeated attacks by Israeli military forces on medical facilities and staff, noting that they are destroying the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip and should be investigated as war crimes.

According to the World Health Organization, Israel had killed at least 521 people, including 16 medical workers, in 137 "attacks on health care" in Gaza as of November 12.

These attacks, along with the accompanying cuts of electricity and water and the denial of aid, made medical staff deal with huge numbers of injured in extremely complex conditions, prompting many doctors to perform operations without anesthesia.

The Israeli side justified these attacks by claiming that Hamas fighters were in these hospitals, which was confirmed by doctors and officials.

The IDF's claim that there was a Hamas base under the Shifa complex was false, and the occupation could not provide convincing evidence despite its occupation of the hospital.

"The Israeli government's 24-hour deadline statement that the people of northern Gaza must leave their land, homes and hospitals is outrageous and an attack on medical care and humanity," said MSF Director-General Mini Nikolai. We are talking about more than a million people."

He added that the phrase "unprecedented" does not even cover the medical humanitarian impact of this, because "Gaza is leveled to the ground, and thousands of people are dying. This must stop now, we strongly condemn the Israeli statement."

Exceptions and gaps

Rule 35 of international humanitarian law states that "it is prohibited to direct an attack on an area established to shelter the wounded, sick and civilians and protect them from the effects of the fighting."

International humanitarian law also protects civilians, wounded, sick, medical and religious personnel, and humanitarian relief workers inside the hospital, all of whom are protected under customary international law rules 1, 47, 25, 27 and 31 respectively.

But according to Article 13 of Additional Annex I to the Geneva Convention, part of international humanitarian law, this protection applies only on condition that hospitals are not "used to commit acts harmful to the enemy, outside the scope of their humanitarian function."

The ICRC defines harmful acts as "using the hospital as a shelter for healthy or fugitive combatants, as a weapons or ammunition depot, or as a military observation post."

This is what Israel has tried to invoke in justifying its attacks against Gaza's health sector, but has failed to provide any evidence to support its claims.

Similarly, while Rule 25 of IHL and Article 2 of the 1864 Geneva Convention prohibit attacks on medical personnel, they stipulate that such protection requires the impartiality of medical personnel as they "lose their protection if, outside their humanitarian function, they commit acts harmful to the enemy".

A call to block pretexts

Gaza is a key case worth considering in terms of how these laws can be exploited, as they leave room for politicians and decision-makers to justify attacking hospitals and medical staff.

According to international law researchers Nicola Perugeni of the University of Edinburgh and Neve Gordon of Queen Mary University, hospitals must be granted full immunity from attack, so that no party takes advantage of exceptions to international humanitarian law.

This argument is supported by the fact that when Israel attacks hospitals, it does not deny its medical necessity, but claims that it is also being used to support and strengthen Hamas as a refuge for them.

In the case of Gaza, international silence, especially the US and the European one, legitimizes Israeli claims, allowing it to continue bombing hospitals, according to many human rights activists.


*Researcher in International Politics

Source : Al Jazeera