Controversy continues to rage over Israel’s decision to raid Gaza’s Shifa Hospital. Israel claims that the hospital hid a Hamas command center, as yet unconfirmed. But Israel has shown that the hospital was used to hide hostages and store weapons. The complex also housed an extensive tunnel network. Amid heavy civilian casualties in Gaza, however, some say Israeli forces should not have entered the hospital.
Whether the hospital was a Hamas command center or not, the evidence clearly suggests it was being used by Hamas. The tunnels and weapons stockpiles indicate that the hospital facilitated Hamas maneuver operations. It would have been absurd for Israel to allow Hamas continued use of the hospital. Moreover, Israel is hardly acting outside the norms of urban warfare here. Securing Fallujah from al Qaeda in Iraq in November 2004, the U.S. Marine Corps conducted extensive ground combat operations inside the city’s mosques. The Marines did so for a simple reason: These mosques were being used by the insurgents as strongholds and arms depots. The Marines could have leveled the mosques with artillery fire and airstrikes but instead employed only limited fire support in favor of risky ground operations. The same is true of the Israelis at Shifa Hospital. (It is arguable, however, that the Israel Defense Forces could be employing more ground operations instead of airstrikes in other areas of Gaza.)
In the same way, had Israeli forces not entered Shifa Hospital, they would have opened themselves to ambush operations and invited future combat on terms set by Hamas. That would not have been good for anyone, Gazan civilians foremost among them.
This is not to say that humanitarian concerns are irrelevant. It is wrong, as some are now doing, to suggest that Palestinian civilians who have shown support for Hamas’s atrocities are undeserving of protection. The scale of devastation in Gaza and disruption to basic public services mean that escalated aid relief efforts are urgent. Nevertheless, there are mechanisms to support this interest without resorting to a ceasefire, which would assist only Hamas. This should be the focus of the international community, not an obsessive focus on one hospital.