Israel Hospital Airstrikes Leave Gaza’s Doctors In Dire Situations

gaza dispatch doctor

As the Israeli military pounded Gaza City in early November, Dr. Hammam Alloh made his way through the city’s Al Shifa Hospital. Days later, Israel’s assault on the hospital would trap staff and patients inside while reserve fuel ran out. But that day, on his rounds, he watched as his patients suffered — even as he lacked the basic resources to help them.

Israel’s total siege on Gaza stopped access to food, fuel, medicine, and potable water, and left hospitals without access to anesthesia and basic medications. So Dr. Alloh was helpless as his patients died while others moved from bed to floor to make way for those in worse condition. “We had a patient who had an invasive fungal infection that we couldn’t treat because we did not have the proper anti-fungal medication,” he later told Rolling Stone, despondently, on a choppy phone line. “I just had to leave them to die.” 

After Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise attack and brutal massacres, Israel’s all-encompassing assault smashed Gaza’s infrastructure, and its military declared Al Shifa a target. Patients, staff, and the estimated 40,000 people who took refuge around the hospital were ordered to evacuate before coming under prolonged Israeli attack. According to the doctor, as Israeli troops closed in on the hospital, with its tanks laying siege to it, thousands of people were still sheltered inside while tens of thousands fled for their lives. As reports broke of Israeli snipers firing into the hospital while babies in incubators and ICU patients died from power cuts, he described a medical facility where no one is safe: “Any object or human that moves around Shifa is targeted.”

For the last seven weeks, Palestinians and Israelis have been engulfed in the bloodiest war to fall between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea this century. In the wake of Hamas launching the deadliest attack Israelis have ever experienced, killing over 1,200 civilians and soldiers and abducting an estimated 240 hostages, the Israeli government launched an unprecedented and indiscriminate war in Gaza. Killing more than 15,000 people, including over 6,000 children, according to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, the Israeli military’s all encompassing war in the coastal strip has left terrified Palestinians with the choice of either being killed, or becoming dispossessed. A seven-day ceasefire provided some respite. But now, the attacks have resumed.

As their society is shattered all around them, Gaza’s doctors are trying to save whoever they can. Keeping people alive and giving them a chance to rebuild when their world is blown to bits, they provide the last hope of survival and sanctuary in an enclave that’s home to more than 2 million people. For those pulled from the rubble or cut down in the street, it is people like Dr. Alloh who give them a chance to live. It is their life-saving work that gives people any hope of rebuilding their future as their community is turned into scorched earth.  

Described by colleagues as a gifted kidney specialist with a vision for creating a world-class nephrology department at Al Shifa, Dr. Alloh did his specialist training in Jordan, then returned to Gaza with the goal of ending Palestinian dependency on Israel for advanced care. Strained over years of blockade and multiple wars, Gazans in need of specialist care have struggled to get Israeli permits to receive treatment in Israeli hospitals. 

Tarek Loubani, a Canadian-Palestinian ER doctor, first met Alloh on a trip to Gaza as a wave of Israeli bombardment launched the 2012 Gaza war. Traveling from London, Ontario to Gaza City for the last 12 years to work with doctors and medical students, Loubani has supported the development of Palestinian health care in Gaza since 2011, when revolution and popular revolt swept across the Arab World, while Israel’s tightening blockade worsened Gaza’s isolation. Thinking back to his first meeting with Alloh, Loubani describes him as a rare gem in medicine and reminisces about a compassionate medical student who was eager, almost to a fault, to take every opportunity to learn and contribute. 

“He was extraordinary, everyone that heard of him tried to recruit him,” Loubani says. Even after he left for further training abroad, the ER doctor says it was clear Alloh — who chose medicine amidst Gaza’s imposed isolation — was going to use his training to help his people. “He knew he was going to go back,” Loubani remembers. “And he didn’t just go back, he started this nephrology program.”

SINCE ISRAEL RETALIATED TO THE Oct. 7 attacks by advancing across Gaza, hospitals have become central targets, while patients and doctors have been trapped inside by the Israeli army or forced to flee on foot. Paramedics and patients have been killed when ambulances have come under fire, while ICU patients have died from lack of oxygen caused by power cuts. A medical convoy of 137 people, including 65 children, in clearly marked cars from the NGO Doctors Without Borders, came under Israeli fire, killing two people. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, there are only three hospitals still partially operating in northern Gaza but even they are teetering on collapse. It says that 55 health centers and 26 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals have been completely put out of service. 

It’s considered a war crime under international law to attack medics and medical facilities, which are considered non combatants and neutral protected places. However, Israel has justified its assault on hospitals in Gaza by accusing Hamas of having a command center under Al Shifa. An underground operating room and tunnels beneath the hospital were first built in 1983 by Israel during its military administration in Gaza. Israel says Hamas has added more underground floors and tunnels beneath Al Shifa, though hospital staff strongly deny that there is any military command or operation center there. Israel has released photos and footage of what it says is a sophisticated tunnel network under the largest medical complex in Gaza. Yet after weeks of occupation, it has not provided incontrovertible evidence. 

As international pressure mounted on the IDF to back up its intelligence claims, it brought journalists from the Associated Press and other outlets to Al Shifa. However, they saw bare rooms with metal cots and rusty white tiles. According to the AP, “there was no conclusive proof in the rooms that they had been used by Hamas militants.” Yet doctors have faced extensive Israeli military interrogation during its occupation of Al Shifa. The army arrested the head of the hospital, Muhammad Abu Salmiya, along with other doctors, claiming that by managing Al Shifa, he presided over a Hamas command center. 

Since taking over Al Shifa, the IDF has laid siege to northern Gaza’s Indonesian Hospital. Hundreds of patients and staff were trapped inside along with hundreds of others who took refuge in the hospital while the Israeli army fired on people moving around the complex. For Palestinians, Israel’s willingness to bombard hospitals is confirmation that no one in Gaza is safe. “It’s frightening because we can’t do anything about it,” says Dr. Alloh, at a loss.  

With hospitals steadily put out of commission while Israeli bombs rain down on one of the world’s most densely populated places, the exodus of 1 million people that Israel forced from Gaza’s north is the largest displacement of Palestinians since the 1948 war, when 750,000 were dispossessed by Israeli forces and barred from returning to their land. Palestinians call it the “Nakba,” or Catastrophy.

Dr. Alloh has lost patients of all ages because of a military assault that Israel claims is designed to destroy the Islamic nationalist movement ruling inside Gaza. He gleaned a different goal from the bombing and evacuation orders in a place that’s locked in and crippled. “They are looking for another Nakba,” he says. 

Like three quarters of Gazans, he is descended from Palestinian refugees of 1948. At 17 years old and without any other family, his grandfather fled to Gaza after he was forced from his home in Jaffa. As Palestinians fled their battered communities and, like they did 75 years ago, raised white flags to the watching Israeli soldiers as they passed, Dr. Alloh understood one clear message: Run. Run south to other neighborhoods being shelled from all directions. Run towards the closed border with Egypt. Run, if you can, into exile.

It’s a message reinforced by Israel’s Minister of Intelligence, Gila Gamliel, who argued in the Jerusalem Post that this war could be an opportunity to move Palestinians out of Gaza. “Instead of funneling money to rebuild Gaza or the failed UNRWA,” Gamiel claimed about the United Nations Refugee and Works Agency in the Near East, which is dedicated to supporting Palestinian refugees and had more than 100 of its staff killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza, “the international community can assist in the cost of resettlement, helping the people of Gaza build new lives in their new host countries.”

Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken have both said that a mass displacement of Gaza is a U.S. redline. Yet former Israeli U.N. Ambassador and current parliamentarian for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Danny Danon, and former deputy Mossad director and member of Opposition rival Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, Ram Ben-Barak, penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling on the West to absorb Gaza war refugees en mass. The piece draws parallels with the refugees created from ethnic cleansing during the 1990s breakup of Yugoslavia. 

FOR THE PALESTINIANS, WHO HAVE followed the Israeli military’s directives and made the hazardous journey south, a health crisis of exposure, overcrowding, and the inability to pull the dead from the rubble has awaited them. Now, as heavy winter rains beat down, they wonder what squalor could plague them if they run towards Gaza’s border and if it will actually save them.

“I have no idea what I can do if they ask us to leave,” says 36-year-old Mohammad Abdullah from the west side of Khan Younis, just outside the zone Israel has ordered to evacuate. “The situation is horrible and scary.”

Living in a packed U.N. shelter and running out of food in Khan Younis, Abdullah has only found destitution, disease, and regular aerial assault. The rains have flooded his tent and filled the streets with a putrid runoff from bodies under the rubble, and the garbage filling the streets.

“Kids are getting sicker everyday because of infection and there’s no clean water,” Abdallah says on a spotty WhatsApp connection, sitting in the crowded courtyard of his shelter. “A lot of people have been killed just going to try and buy food.”

Carrying his 67-year-old mother, Khadra, down five flights of stairs and into the streets of Gaza City in panicked flight at the beginning of the war, they ran south and met up with his siblings, only to still be under continuous bombardment. Israeli troops now stand between Abdallah’s shelter and his mother’s modest Gaza City apartment, if it’s still standing, while he has been forced to channel all his focus into helping the family still with him to survive.

Most of Abdallah’s family is in northern Gaza’s Jabalia refugee camp and town of Beit Hanoun, which Israel systematically flattened from the air as it advanced on the ground. He’s lost track of the number of family members who have been killed since the war started. Amidst the blocks of densely packed apartment buildings brought down by one of the world’s most advanced armies, many of those that he has lost are now believed to be buried beneath the rubble. Those lucky enough to be alive pull at broken slabs of concrete and rebar with their bare hands in search of survivors. There is no fuel for cranes. 

Abdallah has Chilean residency which could allow him to leave Gaza, but he instead desperately tried to get his mother a medical evacuation to Egypt. Out of medication and exposed to the elements in the crowded shelter, Khadra took a turn for the worse. By the time Abdallah had found a friend with both a car and petrol to get to the hospital, his mother had already died. “They couldn’t even do the tests needed to say what she died from,” he says of the doctors stretched so thin that they didn’t even have time to properly declare the dead. “A lot of people were killed that night.” After that, Abdallah says he had to take his mother to a pre-dug emergency cemetery plot where she was buried next to a teenage girl who had been killed in the air strikes. “We went to bury her with only 10 people because it was very risky to be outside,” he says. “We had to be so quick.” 


Knowing what awaited him if he fled south, Dr. Alloh understood it wouldn’t give him any more safety. So out of dedication to his patients — with nowhere to go and worried wouldn’t be able to return home — he remained steadfast in rejecting the Israeli orders. He wouldn’t run. “We need to continue coming to the hospital and providing the care we can,” he said. “We need to continue as long as we can.”  

After weeks of a hellish work commuting through the bombarded streets of Gaza City, on Nov. 11, the doctor found all roads to Al Shifa blocked. Like many of his colleagues, he was now unable to reach his patients in a hospital under Israeli attack. Still, certain in his resolve to stay, he resisted the repeat of history. “I won’t make the same mistake as my grandfather,” he said. On Nov. 12, Dr. Alloh was killed along with his family in an Israeli air strike on his house. He was 36 years old.

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