ESTRICH: The Al Shifa Hospital and Hamas

Israel was roundly attacked around the world for targeting the Al Shifa Hospital in Gaza last November. In the United Nations, and in the international media, Israel was condemned for its efforts to take control of the hospital. How could Israel do such a thing? Pictures filled the airwaves and the newspapers of civilians who had taken refuge in the hospital only to find it under attack. Hamas exaggerated the death toll in an effort to turn the world against Israel. And it worked.

At the time, Israel responded that it was focused on the hospital because it was a command and control center for the armed wing of Hamas and because the Israeli Defense Forces were attempting to rescue their hostages who were being hidden in tunnels underneath the hospitals. “War crimes,” Israeli critics cried, ignoring the claims of Israeli intelligence as to how the hospital was being used by Hamas. “Lies,” they insisted, in response to Israeli efforts to prove them wrong. The fact that two dead hostages were found did not quiet the criticism of Israel for its supposed “genocide.”

The Israelis showed reporters shafts leading to the underground network of tunnels, but that didn’t stop the chorus of criticism from the media and international humanitarian organizations that Israel was guilty of trying to destroy an essential part of Gaza’s medical network and that the Israeli attack on the facility was disproportionate to the threat it posed. Such esteemed media outlets as The Washington Post conducted their own investigations and cast doubt on the Israeli claims, notwithstanding support for the Israeli operation by the Biden Administration.

On Nov. 14, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “We have information that confirms that Hamas is using that particular hospital for a command and control node.” But that didn’t stop a delegation from the World Health Organization from attacking Israel for turning the hospital into a “death zone.”

The new year has brought new intelligence, obtained independently from American efforts, that confirms what Israeli sources have been claiming all along. The new intelligence, released last Tuesday, confirms that hostages were in fact being held at the hospital until they were moved in the days leading up to the IDF siege. The new intelligence confirms that the hospital was being used as a command center by not one but two terrorist organizations — both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad — to launch attacks against Israel.

The new information, declassified this week, includes the findings that Hamas, in the days leading up to the attacks, destroyed evidence and electronics at the hospital as they left their hiding places in the hospital complex. Like the other horrors in Gaza, the “death zone” was the work of Hamas, which bears the sole responsibility for turning the hospital into a target. It was, and is, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad that endangered their own civilians, put in harm’s way innocent patients and refugees and the sick and the injured. It was, and is, the cowardly terrorists, who have embedded themselves with the most vulnerable members of their own population to protect themselves.

What will it take for the world to recognize this?

How much proof will it take for the world to recognize that Israel has a right to defend itself from the brutal murderers and rapists who have no respect for human lives of either Israelis or even their own people? Hamas has to know, when it builds its killing fields in a hospital that its citizens depend on, that it is putting a target on the backs of the Gazans looking for treatment and refuge. What will it take for the Gazans and the media and, yes, even the World Health Organization to realize that it is Hamas that is responsible?

Israel is, of course, the only democracy in this fight. It is Israel, as we also saw last week, whose government is accountable to a Supreme Court that enforces the rule of law. It is Israel that must answer to a free press, both at home and around the world. It is Israel that must defend its right to exist against a world community that is too quick to criticize, too eager to jump to conclusions, too vulnerable to the propaganda of terrorist forces. It is Hamas that must be stopped from killing its neighbors and turning hospitals into institutions of terror, not the Israelis. Will the new intelligence be given the attention that the Israeli siege got? It should, but if past experience is a guide, Hamas will only find and create new targets, which Israel will be blamed for attacking. There is, sadly, no “safe” way for Israel to defend itself, but it is Hamas, not Israel, that is responsible for that.