Skip to content Skip to footer

Hospitals Should Be Places of Healing — Not Military Targets

With US funding, Israel is invading, bombing and destroying hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank.

Injured Palestinians are brought to Kuwait Hospital for treatment following Israeli attacks on Rafah City in the south of Gaza on February 12, 2024.

Many decades ago in Chicago, I operated the telephone switchboard at a small hospital called Forkosh Memorial. The console of coils and plugs included a mirror so operators could keep an eye on the hospital entrance, which on weekends and evenings was also monitored by an elderly, unarmed security guard named Frank. He sat at a desk near the entrance with a ledger book. Security at the hospital consisted solely of Frank and me. Fortunately, nothing much ever happened. The possibility of an attack, invasion, or raid never even occurred to us. An aerial bombardment was unimaginable, like something out of War of the Worlds.

Now, tragically, hospitals in Gaza and the West Bank have been attacked, invaded, bombed, and destroyed. News of additional Israeli attacks are being reported on a daily basis. Last week, Democracy Now! interviewed Dr. Yasser Khan, a Canadian ophthalmologist and eye surgeon who recently returned from a humanitarian surgical mission at the European Hospital in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

Dr. Khan spoke of bombings taking place every few hours, resulting in a constant influx of mass casualties. The majority of patients he treated were children aged two to seventeen. He saw horrific eye injuries, shattered faces, shrapnel wounds, abdominal injuries, limbs severed above the bone, and traumas caused by laser- guided missiles fired from drones. Amid the chaos, health care workers tended to patients while lacking basic equipment, including anesthesia. Patients lay on the ground in unsterile conditions, vulnerable to infection and disease. Most of them also suffered from severe hunger.

Normally, a child who undergoes an amputation faces as many as twelve additional surgeries. Khan wondered who would do the follow-up care for these children, some of whom have no surviving relatives.

He also noted that sniper fire prevented doctors from going to work. “They’ve killed health care workers, nurses, paramedics; ambulances have been bombed. This has all been systematic,” Khan explained. “Now there are 10,000 to 15,000 bodies decomposing. It’s the rainy season right now in Gaza so all the rainwater mixes with the decomposing bodies and that bacteria mixes with the drinking water supply and you get further disease.”

According to Khan, Israeli forces have kidnapped forty to forty-five doctors, specifically targeting specialists and hospital administrators. Three health care professional organizations have issued a statement expressing deep concern that the Israeli military has abducted and unlawfully detained Dr. Khaled al-Serr.

Eight years ago, in October 2015, the United States military destroyed Afghanistan’s Kunduz hospital, run by Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). For more than an hour, a C-130 transport plane repeatedly fired incendiary devices at the hospital’s emergency room and intensive care unit, killing forty-two people. Thirty-seven additional people were injured. “Our patients burned in their beds,” read the organization’s in-depth report. “Our medical staff were decapitated or lost limbs. Others were shot from the air while they fled the burning building.”

The horrific attack outraged war resisters and human rights groups. I remember joining a group of activists in upstate New York who assembled outside a hospital emergency room with a banner proclaiming “To bomb this site would be a war crime.”

In 2009, on a smaller, yet still horrific scale, I witnessed an Israeli onslaught in Gaza called Operation Cast Lead. In the emergency room of the Al Shifa hospital, Dr. Saeed Abuhassan, an orthopedic surgeon, described experiences similar to Khan’s. Abuhassan grew up in Chicago, very close to the neighborhood where I lived. I asked him what he would want me to tell our neighbors back home. He listed a litany of horrors and then he stopped. “No,” he said. “First, you must tell them that U.S. taxpayer money paid for all of these weapons.”

Taxpayer money feeds the bloated, swollen Pentagon budget. U.S. Senators, last week, cowed by AIPAC, decided to send Israel an additional $14.1 billion to boost military spending. Only three Senators voted against the bill.

From Palestine, Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American human rights attorney, wrote on X: “The scary part is not that Israel is planning the forcible transfer of the Palestinians it hasn’t slaughtered, but that the so-called ‘civilized world’ is allowing it to happen. The ramifications of this coordinated evil will haunt its collaborators for generations to come.”

At Forkosh Hospital in the 1970s, I had a mirror to see what was happening behind my back, but today everyone on Earth can see, directly, the horror of U.S. support for a genocidal event happening on our watch. Gravely distorted versions of what occurred on October 7, cannot — even if believed — justify the scale of the horrors being reported in Gaza and the West Bank each day.

The U.S. government continues enthusiastically to bankroll Israel’s systemic and inhumane destruction of Gaza. U.S. advisors make feeble attempts to suggest Israel should pause or at least try to be more precise in their attacks. In its quest for hegemonic superiority, the United States tears into ever tinier shreds whatever remains of a commitment to human rights, equality, and human dignity.

What kept Forkosh Hospital secure, decades ago, was a social contract that presumed safety for a small hospital serving the local population.

If we can’t find the morality to stop supplying weapons for ongoing Israeli onslaughts against Palestine and its places of healing, we may find that we have created a world in which no one can count on upholding basic human rights. We may be creating intergenerational wounds of hatred and sorrow from which there will never, ever be any safe place to heal.

Join us in defending the truth before it’s too late

The future of independent journalism is uncertain, and the consequences of losing it are too grave to ignore. To ensure Truthout remains safe, strong, and free, we need to raise $43,000 in the next 6 days. Every dollar raised goes directly toward the costs of producing news you can trust.

Please give what you can — because by supporting us with a tax-deductible donation, you’re not just preserving a source of news, you’re helping to safeguard what’s left of our democracy.