March 4, 2024

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International law questions abound as Israeli forces raid Gaza hospitals

International law questions abound as Israeli forces raid Gaza hospitals

So far, there isn’t enough evidence to determine one way or another, he said. 

“Judging solely from what the IDF has shown so far, this is nowhere near the quantum of evidence we would need to reasonably justify attacking the hospital, both in legal terms and even more so in public relations terms,” Milanovic said.

Meanwhile, experts point out that if it went to an international tribunal, Hamas would no doubt be found guilty of violating international humanitarian law after deliberately killing civilians during their terrorist attack that left 1,200 dead in Israel on Oct. 7.

Using civilian places, including hospitals, as “sites for warfare” would also be a violation of the law, said Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director for Human Rights Watch. The use of human shields, if proven, is considered a grave violation of the Geneva Conventions.

International law questions abound as Israeli forces raid Gaza hospitals
Palestinian militants of the Qassam Brigades move toward the Erez crossing between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip on Oct. 7.Mohammed Abed / AFP via Getty Images file

“Humanitarian law applies equally to all parties,” Shakir said of Hamas’ potential culpability. “International humanitarian law is not a deal between fighters. It’s a deal with humanity.” 

(In 2019, Shakir was expelled from Israel on the grounds that he violated an Israeli law by supporting boycotts against the country. He and Human Rights Watch deny the charge.)

Israeli and American officials say that Hamas secretly housed military infrastructure beneath hospitals, with a major focus being on Al-Shifa in Gaza City. Hospital staff and Hamas officials deny allegations that the hospital housed a headquarters for fighters and housed hostages.

IDF handout of Israeli soldiers delivering aid to Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City
An Israeli soldier stands near boxes labelled “Medical Supplies” at Al-Shifa hospital complex in Gaza City on Wednesday.Israel Defense Forces via Reuters

Since it began its raid on Al-Shifa last Wednesday, the IDF has sought to build its case that Hamas uses Gaza’s main hospital as a military base. Videos and images released between then and Monday have shown AK-47s, ammunition, grenades, uniforms and computer equipment, which the IDF claims belong to Hamas, inside the hospital.

The release of information from Al-Shifa culminated in a video published Sunday, purporting to show a 55-meter-long “terror tunnel” underneath the medical complex leading to a blast-proof door and a firing hole. The IDF also released videos and photos it said showed hostages being taken to Al-Shifa on Oct. 7. Hamas said injured hostages received medical attention in hospitals before they were taken to detention elsewhere.

NBC News is unable to independently verify Israel’s descriptions of what the footage shows, and the claims made by either side.  

In a comment to NBC News about the raid on Al-Shifa, an IDF spokesperson said, “The IDF rejects outright the claim that it acted not in accordance with international humanitarian law or that it attacked the hospital.” 

According to the spokesperson, the IDF “took many steps to ensure the impact of its ongoing operation on civilians in the hospital and on the hospital’s activity would be minimal.”