1. Home
  2. Middle East and North Africa
  3. Palestine

Israeli forces accused of abusing medical staff after Gaza hospital raid

‘We were beaten, cursed, humiliated, and left out in the cold for long hours as they interrogated us.’

This is the interior of a hospital hall. There are items strewn all around and part of the ceiling is falling apart. Supplied/TNH
Images from inside the hospital supplied to The New Humanitarian after Israeli forces left showed the level of destruction at the facility, which is no longer operational.

Medical workers at the Nasser Hospital in Gaza were stripped naked, beaten, and humiliated by Israeli forces after a raid last month, according to doctors and other staff who said at least 13 patients died at the facility due to the difficulty of providing care while under siege.

The New Humanitarian has been reporting regularly on how Israel’s five-month military campaign in the Gaza Strip has affected staff and patients at the hospital – the largest medical facility in the city of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, and second largest in the enclave.

The BBC is reporting similar allegations that Israeli forces beat and humiliated medical staff in the facility – forcing them to strip, kneel, and be doused with cold water as they detained them for up to a week in the aftermath of a raid on 15 February. The Israeli military did not respond to specific abuse allegations, saying only that no medical staff were harmed.

Under international humanitarian law, hospitals, medical staff, and civilian patients should be protected from harm during conflict, and intentionally targeting them can be a war crime, as can using them as human shields.

The Nasser Hospital – the “backbone of the health system in southern Gaza”, according to World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus – essentially ceased to function following a siege by the Israeli military that began at the end of January.

It is now completely non-operational, with only seven staff members left, compared to 195 before the February raids, the director of the medical complex, Atef al-Hout, told The New Humanitarian. The final 120 patients and their family members have all recently been evacuated by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, with support from the WHO and the UN’s emergency aid body, OCHA.

After its mid-February raids, the Israeli military claimed that the bodies of some of the hostages taken during Hamas’ 7 October attacks were being held in the facility and said it had arrested “hundreds of terrorists and terror suspects” – although no bodies were found and it has provided no evidence to back up its claim about arresting suspected militants. Around 200 people were detained during the raids, according to OCHA.

The facility remains under siege, with the roads leading to it damaged or blocked. There is no power, food, or clean water, and sewage is overflowing into the hospital from septic tanks whose pumps need electricity to operate, according to OCHA.

The New Humanitarian recently spoke to several people who were able to evacuate from the Nasser Hospital, as well as people who were still in the facility, to better understand what conditions have been like.

Thirteen patients have died since the siege began due to lack of oxygen and proper medical treatment, several staff members told The New Humanitarian, adding that Israeli forces had prevented vital supplies from reaching the facility.

“The Israeli army prohibited the WHO from delivering a truckload of food and water that they were detaining 50 kilometres away from the complex. After several attempts, they allowed the delivery of some fuel but did not let the staff fill up and operate the generators,” Dr Ashraf al-Qudra said. “The Israeli army has also destroyed the emergency and rescue centre in addition to two ambulances, tents [for displaced people], and a high number of cars. Soldiers also bulldozed a mass grave containing 200 Palestinian bodies.”

‘I saw one of our staff being shot at’

Speaking before the final evacuations, Dr Amira al-Assouli, who specialises in obstetrics and gynaecology, said the medical staff, patients, and their families were under immense pressure as their last remaining stocks of food and drinking water ran out.

“Today, I saw one of our staff being shot at directly as he tried to exit one of the complex’s buildings.”

“I expect the health of patients to deteriorate to a life-threatening level if there is no immediate intervention to provide their medical and nutritional needs,” she told The New Humanitarian by phone. “The occupation forces threw us a few water bottles in a humiliating way. We use them as scarcely as possible so that we do not run out. There is no other alternative. Additionally, we do not have washing water, especially now that sewage is overflowing in all units, which increases health hazards.”

“Today, I saw one of our staff being shot at directly as he tried to exit one of the complex’s buildings. The Israeli army wreaked havoc in the hospital’s departments after they humiliated and tortured those there, in addition to stripping men naked after separating them from the women and detaining a large number,” al-Assouli said.

A video of al-Assouli braving snipers to reach a man wounded by Israeli gunfire across the street from the entrance to Nasser’s emergency room during the siege has been widely shared on social media networks.

‘We were beaten, cursed, humiliated’

During the military raids that started on 11 February, first responder Fayeq Abu Jamei said he and his colleagues who work at the Nasser Hospital were physically and verbally assaulted and humiliated by Israeli soldiers.

“We lived, and still are living, difficult times either due to the constant threats, presence of snipers around the hospital, or Israeli soldiers directly inside the building.”

“We were stripped down to our underwear and others were stripped naked. We were beaten, cursed, humiliated, and left out in the cold for long hours as they interrogated us,” Abu Jamei told The New Humanitarian.

Describing the situation before the final evacuations, he said patients weren’t able to receive treatment, people were in constant pain, and women were undergoing C-sections without basic medical necessities.

“We lived, and still are living, difficult times either due to the constant threats, presence of snipers around the hospital, or [Israeli soldiers] directly inside the building,” he said.

“Some of the patients eat only once a day, and some of them do not have meals, only canned food. Drinking water is economised to the maximum. The army allowed us to bury the bodies of 13 patients [who died during the siege] a week after their death,” Abu Jamei said, adding that people in the facility feel that “they will die any minute”. 

‘We came under heavy, sporadic gunfire’

Ibrahim Salama, a 21-year-old who had sought shelter at the Nasser Hospital after being displaced from his home, was the man rescued in the viral video of Dr al-Assouli. He said he was left bleeding across from the ER for two hours as heavy gunfire reverberated around him during the 10 February incident and had to tie a piece of cloth around his leg to keep from bleeding out.

Ibrahim Salama, 21, an IDP in Nasser Hospital, Gaza is pictured from the waist up as he stands on crutches on a sidewalk.
Mohamed Soleimane/TNH
Ibrahim Salama in Rafah on 27 February. Weeks before, the 21-year-old was rescued by Dr Amira al-Assouli, who braved sniper fire to reach him and carry him into the Nasser Hospital's emergency room before he bled out.

“I was watching them as they desperately tried to reach me under heavy gunfire until Dr Amira al-Assouli and her colleagues risked their life to get to me and carried me on a stretcher inside the hospital,” he said.

Like the hundreds of other displaced people sheltering in the hospital, Salama fled two days after Israeli forces took control of the hospital on 14 February and walked from central Khan Younis to the outskirts of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, despite his injury.

“As we left the hospital, I saw women and children being detained, and we came under heavy, sporadic gunfire and were cursed [at],” he said. 

‘Any movement meant instant death’

Dr Islam Sawali, a specialist in preventative medicine, was forced to evacuate the Nasser Hospital on 16 February.

“It was a tragic reality. Overcrowding of patients, wounded and displaced. You could barely do your job in the face of the magnitude of casualties and shortage in medical staff,” she told The New Humanitarian after reaching Rafah.

“After the hospital came under siege, it was impossible to move from one building to the other. The situation was very scary because drones and snipers surrounded us, and we couldn’t reach the ER courtyard,” she continued.

Sawali cannot shake off the images of cats eating the bodies left inside the hospital because the staff could not bury them or place them in the morgue.

“Any movement meant instant death by live ammunition,” she said.

During the last five days before she evacuated, drones were flying low over the hospital, broadcasting messages every 10 minutes demanding people evacuate. The messages created panic among the people sheltering in the facility and medical staff. On the night of 11 February, Israeli special forces raided the hospital’s courtyards disguised in women’s clothing and niqabs.

“Lights were turned off in the hospital from the moment they raided until four in the morning,” Sawali said.

“The following day, a higher number of [displaced people] left the hospital through a passage that the army had opened. Medical staff did not start to leave until 14 February because the army said they would not harm us. But then they threatened to demolish the hospital if we did not evacuate,” she recalled.

When Sawali finally evacuated on 16 February with three other staff members, she said they were “surrounded by tanks, soldiers carrying weapons, and cameras”.

“We were inspected, and the man [was] interrogated and detained,” she added. “I lost the way from the hospital to Rafah because the road signage placed by the army was not clear, especially that it was a war zone.”

This article was published in collaboration with Egab. Edited by Dahlia Kholaif, Eric Reidy, and Andrew Gully.

Share this article

Get the day’s top headlines in your inbox every morning

Starting at just $5 a month, you can become a member of The New Humanitarian and receive our premium newsletter, DAWNS Digest.

DAWNS Digest has been the trusted essential morning read for global aid and foreign policy professionals for more than 10 years.

Government, media, global governance organisations, NGOs, academics, and more subscribe to DAWNS to receive the day’s top global headlines of news and analysis in their inboxes every weekday morning.

It’s the perfect way to start your day.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian today and you’ll automatically be subscribed to DAWNS Digest – free of charge.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.