Former prime minister of Israel Ehud Barak acknowledged in an interview on Monday that the bunkers underneath al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza that have been continually propped up by the Israeli military as a reason that they needed to bomb and raid the facility were actually built by Israel.
In an interview on CNN, Christiane Amanpour asked Barak whether or not he felt the Israeli government has sufficiently proved that the tunnels under al-Shifa were being used as major command centers by Hamas forces. In response, Barak simply said that “it’s already known for many years that … the bunkers that originally [were] built by Israeli constructors underneath Shifa were used as a command post of the Hamas,” seemingly offering this as proof that Israeli officials’ claims were true.
In disbelief, Amanpour then asked, “when you say it was built by Israeli engineers, did you misspeak?”
“No, no,” Barak replied. “Decades ago, we were running the place so we … helped them to build these bunkers in order to enable more space for the operation of the hospital within the very limited size of this compound.”
“Okay, that’s sort of thrown me a little bit. So these were there for a long, long time, but you’re claiming, or they’re claiming, that they’re used as a major command center. Anyway, the fact of the matter is, as yet, they have not shown conclusive proof of that,” Amanpour responded.
Israeli officials have indeed spent the last weeks circulating claims, repeated by western media outlets and government officials, on the tunnels supposedly being used as Hamas command centers as justification for attacking the hospital.
Weeks ago, while al-Shifa, the largest hospital in the Gaza strip, was still somewhat functional, the Israeli government posted an animated video purportedly showing the vast network of Hamas tunnels underneath the hospital — claims that were repeated by western news outlets alongside reporting of the horrific conditions that Palestinians were facing under Israeli bombardment.
The Israeli government continued repeating similar messages as it bombed the hospital and starved it of fuel and electricity, ultimately culminating in Israeli troops raiding the hospital after it lost power due to a fuel shortage last week.
According to accounts from hospital workers and the Palestinian health ministry, the raid has had devastating consequences, with staff struggling to keep patients, including newborn babies, alive, as Israeli forces stripped and arrested civilians and hospital staff, exhumed graves in the hospital yard and forced doctors and patients to evacuate at gunpoint.
As the raid was carried out, Israeli forces posted videos and photos to supposedly show that the tunnels and hospital had housed militants. But the purported evidence was unconvincing, and even outlets traditionally sympathetic to Israeli officials expressed skepticism. As critics of the Israeli occupation have pointed out, the burden of proof for the claim about the tunnels should be quite high in order to justify a raid of the hospital — and so far, the evidence, ranging from interviews with hospital staff to the videos posted by Israeli forces themselves, has not conclusively shown that Israeli officials’ claims are correct.
It has been known for many years that the tunnels were built under occupation by Israel. However, it is notable that a former Israeli official, in an interview with a major western media outlet, highlighted the fact even as the Israeli government maintains its allegations about the tunnels.
While the fact that the tunnels were built by Israel doesn’t necessarily mean Hamas is telling the truth when it denies using them for military operations, it does raise questions about the Israeli forces’ seemingly indiscriminate attack on the hospital and those inside the complex despite possessing detailed knowledge about the tunnels.
Meanwhile, Israel has made similar claims about tunnels underneath the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza. On Monday, a bomb killed at least 12 Palestinians at the Indonesian Hospital as Israeli tanks surrounded the complex, which currently houses hundreds of patients and medical staff.
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