Beit Lahia is a city on the northern tip of Ghazzah, near the boundary fence with Israel. It’s inland, fifteen minutes driving time from the Mediterranean Sea. It’s a place steeped in history, having been part of the Byzantine Province, the Fatimid Caliphate and the Ayyubid Dynasty as well as the Ottoman Empire. In the early twentieth century it was part of the British Empire before being occupied by Egypt and then Israel. Beit Lahia is a living record of conquest and collapse, of civility and cruelty.
Before October 7th 2023, Beit Lahia had a population of approximately 100,000 and a hospital; by December 16th the population had shrunk to around 20,000 and the hospital destroyed. More worryingly, there were allegations of civilians being deliberately buried under the hospital rubble – while they were still alive.
Kamal Adwan Hospital is a set of low-rise white square buildings, Lego-like in appearance, with a courtyard in the middle. It is named after Palestinian politician Kamal Abdel Hafiz Adwan, murdered in 1973 by an Israeli kill unit, which included Ehud Barak. While Adwan’s name would adorn a building dedicated to preserving life, Barak would go onto be elected prime minister of Israel in the late nineties.
Understanding what’s happening in Ghazzah is hard, and that is intentional. The Israeli occupying forces have sealed all border crossings, periodically black out all cellular and data communication, and overtly target local journalists. At the time of writing 92 journalists have been murdered in Ghazzah since October 7th. Between 2014 and November 2023 a total of 17 journalists and media workers were killed in Ukraine; 63 journalists were killed in the twenty-year Vietnam war.
Here is what we can piece together about the attack on Kamal Adwan Hospital.
Monday 4th December
The Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) launch a series of drone attacks directly targeting the hospital killing four.
Tuesday 5th December
A group of civilians, around 100, arrive at the gates of the hospital. They are seeking refuge as nearby Israeli attacks intensify. Many are wounded, most are tired, all are hungry. The courtyard is already a temporary home to 3,000 forcibly displaced civilians. Make-do shelters, constructed from tatty pieces of sheeting and flimsy pieces of cardboard, are barely enough to protect against the elements. There is an alarming sense of vulnerability to this place.
Wednesday 6th December
With a lull in the shelling an undisclosed number of patients are evacuated, and it is agreed no new patients will be admitted. More civilians arrive in the hospital courtyard.
Friday 8th December
The Ghazzah Ministry of Health puts out a statement: the IOF is besieging Kamal Adwan, with ‘snipers taking positions in the surrounding buildings of the hospital and shooting towards patients’ rooms.’ The statement accuses the IOF of ‘ethnic cleansing crimes’ and intentionally attacking the hospital to put it out of service. No-one listens.
Monday 11th December
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports two mothers and their babies were killed when Israeli fire hit the maternity department of the hospital. As the day progresses, shelling in and around the hospital intensifies. Kamal Adwan is surrounded by occupation forces, and no-one is allowed in or out. The complex is cut off and isolated.
According to OCHA there are 65 patients, including 12 children in the intensive care unit and six new-borns in incubators, and 100 medical staff in the hospital building. In the courtyard, there are more than 3,000 civilians.
Tuesday 12th December
IOF tanks and armoured vehicles smash through the entrance of Kamal Adwan. A megaphone shouts instructions – “any males over the age of 15 exit the hospital building with your hands raised above your head”. Approximately eighty male staff, including Hospital Director Dr Ahmed Al-Kahlot and Head of Paediatrics Dr Hossam Abu-Safia, are corralled 100 metres outside the hospital perimeter, stripped to their underwear and photographed. Six hours later they board trucks and are taken to an undisclosed location. Their whereabouts remains unknown despite repeated requests from NGO Medical Aid for Palestinians.
The IOF storm the hospital and violent chaos ensues. Inside, medical equipment is destroyed and soldiers wave weapons threatening the remaining staff and patients. Attack dogs are used to intimidate civilians in the courtyard.
Over the next five days the IOF use the hospital as a command post. Tanks block the entrances and snipers are placed on the rooftop.
IOF bulldozers are brought in. The administration and pharmacy buildings are wrecked, along with the medicine store, water well, electricity generator, and oxygen station. A temporary grave, holding 26 corpses who hadn’t been buried in the public cemetery due to the fighting, is unearthed. Bodies are searched, unceremoniously dumped back into the grave, and the steel blade of the bulldozer is then used to pack down the mound of dirt. The whole process is devoid of decency.
The IOF order those taking shelter to clear the courtyard. Bulldozers move into the unpaved enclosure, and with their oversized tyres crater the soil leaving a series of uneven mounds and wide sunken tracks in the dirt. It’s messy. Makeshift homes are crushed and flattened; debris is scattered across the mud.
Saturday 16th December
The IOF announces it has “completed its activity in the area of the Kamal Adwan Hospital” and claims the facility “had been used by Hamas as a command-and-control centre.” They confirm they have detained 80 men, who they suggest are associated with Hamas.
The only evidence offered linking the men to Hamas is a short video shot by the IOF outside the hospital. The images include fully clothed men, hands raised walking single file, and four topless men coming out of the hospital entrance depositing automatic weapons and ammunition clips in a small pile on the ground. IOF personnel appear relaxed, weapons slung over shoulders, barrels pointing downwards.
Watching this video is uncomfortable. Firstly, the custody procedure shown is in no way standard operating practice for urban warfare. Secondly, the men don’t resemble combat-ready fighters bunkered in a command-and-control centre. Thirdly, there is not a single account of any gunfire coming from the hospital building despite the IOF’s alleged cache of seized weapons.
Euro-Med Monitor subsequently confirms, from eyewitness testimony, those pictured in the video are in fact a trained doctor, a nurse, and two displaced civilians, and the cache of weapons were provided by officers guarding the hospital gates.
With the withdrawal of the IOF the hospital becomes accessible; nine patients are confirmed to have died while the hospital was under the IOF’s control.
Al Jazeera journalist Anas Al-Sharif is local to the area. He has covered the Ghazzah genocide since it began on October 8th and unlike many colleagues who moved south, Al-Sharif remains in northern Ghazzah. His reports include accounts of Israel’s repeated assaults on medical facilities. His work is credible – the highly cautious BBC reference it, and the IOF threaten him with retaliation unless he stops reporting.
On December 11th Al-Sharif’s family home in Jabalia was targeted, killing his 65-year-old father, Jamal.
Al-Sharif is the first journalist to visit Kamal Adwan after the withdrawal of the IOF. His report is first-hand, and harrowing.
VIEWER DISCRETION STRONGLY RECOMMENDED:
“We really don’t want you to see what’s happening here, but we must. A big despicable act occurred at Kamal Adwan Hospital.”
He pans out across the muddy soil that once served as the courtyard. The earth is heavily disturbed and littered with broken concrete and pieces of clothing.
“What’s even more horrific is what happened to the people who were taking refuge in this hospital. This is the body of an injured refugee who was in the hospital; the Israeli bulldozer ran him off [over] … tens of bodies run over by Israeli bulldozers. We can’t bear the smell.”
Al-Sharif goes onto describe cats feeding off exposed rotting flesh that is protruding through the soil.
He speaks to several witnesses who suggest Israeli bulldozers moved into to clear the courtyard. People hurried to collect belongings but ended up being deliberately buried alive as bulldozers swept through at speed.
Further testimonies collected during the day from doctors and healthcare professionals by Euro Med Monitor, state “before they [IOF] left the medical facility this morning, Israeli bulldozers buried Palestinian civilians alive in the hospital courtyard.” Euro Med Monitor calls for an immediate independent international investigation.
Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila confirms “information and testimonies from citizens, medical crews, and media indicate that the occupation [IOF] buried living civilians in the Kamal Adwan Hospital courtyard.” He goes on to demand an investigation.
By evening Laith Arafeh, Head of the Palestine Mission to the Federal Republic of Germany, tweets of “evidence showing that injured civilians were crushed by bulldozers and buried alive.” Arafeh also demands “an immediate international investigation into this horrific, heinous crime.”
Sadly, the events at Kamal Adwan are not isolated. Israel has a horrendous history when it comes to abiding by the rules of war, or international humanitarian law, and it behaves more like a rogue militia than a nation state. It has elected multiple suspected war criminals into high office and felt comfortable electing a kill squad operative Prime Minister. There is a murderous pattern of behaviour evident within the state apparatus and the IOF, and the allegations about what happened at Kamal Adwan Hospital need to be investigated.
One witness statement was taken from Abu Mohammed, whose son had been sheltering at the hospital, and was alive the last time Mohammed had seen him.
“My son is here. I don’t know how I will find him,” Mohammed said, pointing to the bulldozer and tank tracks imprinted on the mud and soil. If we fail Mohammed, we fail humanity.
Footnote: We are aware of a video purporting to show a bulldozer driving at a crowd (supposedly at Kamal Adwan Hospital). France 24 reporter Catalina Marchant de Abreu concluded on 19th December that this video (posted by a private account) was a fake. This video was not posted by, relied on, or referenced by Anas Al-Sharif, Al Jazeera or Euro Med Monitor.
©2023 Sul Nowroz – staff writer