Israel’s massacre at Al-Shifa hospital and targeting of aid providers are emblematic of its campaign of systematic destruction of life in Gaza

London, 2nd April 2024- Israel’s massacre at Al-Shifa hospital, destruction of the hospital complex, and systematic targeting of aid providers are emblematic of Israel’s campaign of total and systematic destruction of life in Gaza. 

Following a two-week raid by Israeli forces, Al-Shifa hospital has been left in ruins, with initial reports indicating that approximately 400 Palestinians have been massacred in the area around the hospital. Amongst those killed are doctors and patients. In the same weekend, Israel also killed seven aid workers including at least one British national. 

In violation of principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and against directives of the United Nations Security Council and the International Court of Justice, Israel is pursuing acts of genocide in full view of the international community. By continuing to fail to act – even with an act so simple as ceasing arms exports – Britain is at risk of aiding and abetting these atrocities. 

Whilst current figures report that 400 Palestinians have been killed so far, the exact scale of the massacre is unclear. This is because Israeli troops reportedly buried bodies inside and around the complex and used bulldozers to mass-bury Palestinians and destroy roads. CNN reported that decomposed and disfigured bodies lie partly beneath the rubble of what was once the structure of Gaza’s biggest hospital, making it harder to ascertain the extent of the massacre. 

As well as making reporting more challenging, the bulldozing of roads has also made it ‘almost impossible’ for ambulances to reach the hospital, according to responders. 

Al-Shifa, which was the largest medical complex in Gaza, has been a central target during Israel’s systematic assault on Gaza’s healthcare infrastructure. In November, the hospital was placed under siege under the unsubstantiated pretence that Hamas tunnels lay underneath the hospital. At the time, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) released a video which they claimed to be evidence of Hamas’ presence at the hospital. The IDF claimed that the video was single-take and unedited, but BBC analysis discredited these claims. Medics working at the hospital have also refuted the idea that Hamas operate in the complex. 

Israel claimed that operations in Al-Shifa were complete following the first siege, which already vastly reduced operating capacity. This second siege of Al-Shifa has now destroyed the complex, reducing it to charred rubble.

Dr Ghassan Abu Sittah, who worked at Al Shifa hospital during the first siege and spoke at an ICJP press conference upon his return, said: “Al Shifa Hospital constituted 30% of the capacity of the health system in the Gaza Strip. The Israelis have blown up or torched all its buildings to ensure that it is irreparable and needs to be rebuilt from scratch. The aim was and remains making Gaza uninhabitable. Genocide.”

This act of genocide, following a pattern of such deliberate acts intended to bring about the destruction of life in Gaza, may be one in which the United Kingdom is complicit. By continuing to supply arms to the Israeli military, in full knowledge of how these weapons might be used, the UK is at risk of ‘aiding and abetting’ such acts according to legal experts. Previous attacks on healthcare infrastructure and workers, including on British doctors, have been conducted using F-16 aircraft, which include British-made components, according to both a UN investigation and the reports of various humanitarian aid NGOs operating in Gaza.

This weekend, meanwhile, saw revelations that the UK government received advice from its own lawyers that Israel has broken international humanitarian law – meaning that the government is obliged to cease arms exports, a decision it has not yet taken. With Israel’s flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law being proven each and every day, the UK must end its potential complicity in these violations.


Notes to Editors

  1. The International Centre of Justice for Palestinians is an independent organisation of lawyers, politicians and academics who support the rights of Palestinians and aim to protect their rights through the law.
  2. For more information, for a redacted copy of the letter, or to arrange an interview with a spokesperson, please contact the ICJP news desk at [email protected].
  3. CNN’s report: https://edition.cnn.com/2024/04/01/middleeast/israel-idf-withdraws-al-shifa-hospital-intl-hnk/index.html
  4. IRC Statement: https://www.rescue.org/press-release/gaza-irc-and-map-additional-statement-airstrike-residential-compound-housing
  5. Alicia Kearns comments: https://www.declassifieduk.org/did-israel-bomb-british-doctors-with-uk-supplied-weaponry/
  6. Alicia Kearns comments: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2024/mar/30/uk-government-lawyers-say-israel-is-breaking-international-law-claims-top-tory-in-leaked-recording