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Tug of War

CNN reporters take us on-the-ground in Israel to document the escalating conflict and what it means for the rest of the world.

A frayed rope is about to split in two

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The Horror Inside Gaza’s Hospitals
Tug of War
Nov 13, 2023

As fighting continues to rage on the streets of Gaza, hospitals have been pushed to the brink. At the Al-Shifa hospital, doctors say premature babies have been wrapped in foil and placed next to hot water after oxygen supplies ran out. Meanwhile, Israel claims that Hamas is using hospitals as cover for terror operations – something doctors and the militant group deny. In this episode, CNN’s Nada Bashir tells us how medical facilities are coping and why safe evacuation is all but impossible.

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Episode Transcript
David Rind
'This war has produced a lot of searing, unforgettable, tragic images. I'm sure your social media feeds are full of them. Over the weekend, we got another one. It's an overhead shot of a hospital bed. On the bed are ten newborn babies laying side by side. Some are wearing only diapers. Others are swaddled in oversize green cloth, which is held tighter with tape. These newborns are in the Al-Shifa hospital, the largest in Gaza. And the director of the medical center told an Arabic TV channel that the babies had been on incubators but had to be removed when oxygen supplies ran out. Doctors have resorted to makeshift measures to try and keep them alive. The ones in this bed were being warmed by an air conditioner and outside the hospital door. Fighting is raging as Israel retaliates for the October 7th Hamas terror attack. What do you do if you're a doctor in that situation, having to resort to such extremes as bullets and bombs fly by just steps away? Many say there is no choice. They have to stay and do their jobs.
Nada Bashir
This idea that it is straightforward or easy for civilians to get out of harm's way in Gaza is simply not true.
David Rind
Today, a look at a health care system on the brink and why. Israel says it has no choice but to treat some hospitals in Gaza as Hamas hideouts. From CNN, this is Tug of War. I'm David Rind.
David Rind
'CNN's Nada Bashir has spent the last few days trying to piece together a picture of what it actually looks like in these overloaded hospitals in Gaza. She spoke to me from Jerusalem on Monday afternoon. Nada. Can you describe what it's like inside the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza right now?
Nada Bashir
'Well, look, we've been hearing the warnings for some time now, and the situation right now is being described by hospital officials at al-Shifa as being catastrophic. The warnings have included the hospital running out of supplies, of medication, running out of fuel to actually get the generators going to keep the hospital powered.
There was a direct injury in the head, internal bleeding. And we can't do surgeries, no surgeries, no oxygen, no electricity. We work manually. We are using a manual, resuscitate her.
Nada Bashir
And now the situation is has to be said, deteriorating by the hour. Doctors there tell us that they have not got enough space in the morgues, that bodies are lined up outside of the street, that they're not able to provide urgent care for patients anymore, that they're only really able to provide first aid. And of course, it's not just a matter of the supplies and the situation inside the hospital deteriorating, but it's also an issue of the hospital now facing bombardment.
'We thought the hospital was a safe place, but it wasn't. If we had stayed another 5 minutes, we would have been killed. They started to bomb us and we ran away from al-Shifa.
Nada Bashir
'Doctors from Doctors Without Borders have been saying now for days that the bombardment, the airstrikes that Gaza are seeing are edging closer and closer to the hospital complex. And the concern is that they won't be able to evacuate patients. They won't be able to evacuate staff. And, of course, there are thousands of civilians who have flocked to Al-Shifa in order to take sanctuary, that they've gone there because they've been displaced. And they're hoping that hospitals like a Shifa will remain a safe space. But clearly that isn't the case.
David Rind
They thought they were coming to a place of shelter, but instead they've found a very active scene outside and they can't really leave.
Nada Bashir
'Absolutely. And that's the case in a number of hospitals now across Gaza, not just Al-Shifa. Many have gone to these hospitals hoping that they won't face bombardment, that the fighting won't come closer to these hospitals. We've heard from the UN condemning the fighting around hospitals, condemning the strikes around hospitals, saying that hospitals need to be protected. But clearly what we've seen today, what we've seen for the last few days, is there are no safe spaces in Gaza, not least around the hospitals which have almost become targets now.
David Rind
We'll be right back.
David Rind
Welcome back to Tug of War. I'm speaking with CNN's Nada Bashir. Israel says that Hamas is embedding in civilian areas like around these hospitals, and that's why their military needs to be aggressive in these areas. But is there any truth to those claims that Hamas is using hospitals as cover?
Nada Bashir
'Well, look, Israel has long claimed that they believe there was a Hamas command and control center beneath the al-Shifa hospital. And now those claims are being echoed by a US official with knowledge of US intelligence, saying that the US believes there is a Hamas command node under the al-Shifa hospital and they've also accused Hamas of using fuel intended for the hospital for its own fighters. And those also, of course accused Hamas, as Israel has for some time now, of embedding itself within civilian infrastructure in areas like hospitals. Now, the idea that there is a Hamas command and control center beneath a Shifa has been rejected and denied by both Hamas and doctors at Al-Shifa. We ourselves have spoken to doctors at al-Shifa, including international humanitarian workers who worked there for some time, who have told us that they have never seen any indication of a Hamas presence at the Shifa Hospital.
Nada Bashir
So certainly, can you just tell us about your experience at Shifa?
Dr. Mads Gilbert
My first encounter with Shifa Hospital was in 1968 when the Israelis were in charge of Shifa.
Nada Bashir
'We also spoke to one doctor, Dr. Max Gilbert. He has worked at al-Shifa for decades. He's not currently there right now, but has many colleagues. He's an international humanitarian worker as well, and he told us that in the decades that he spent at al-Shifa, both in peacetime and during wartime, he never saw any indication of a Hamas presence at the hospital.
Dr. Mads Gilbert
I've been walking in all parts of shift from. In the basement, in the different clinics, in the different buildings, and through the years that I have worked in shifts on. I have been able to walk wherever I want and don't take whatever I want. The pictures and videos. I have never been controlled and I have never seen a single military commander in the hospital, nor have I seen any type of any military command or, you know, whatever they might call it.
Nada Bashir
'And that something that has been echoed by other doctors at the al-Shifa hospital. And as we know, of course, the IDF says it is only targeting Hamas targets. They are focused on this network of Hamas tunnels across and beneath Gaza. But as we have seen, these hospitals are absolutely filled with civilians, with patients requiring urgent care. Many who can't leave, who can't be evacuated, including, as we've seen, babies in incubators, people on life support, as well as the civilians who are using these hospitals as a shelter. Now, of course, there is also the question about fuel shortages. We know the IDF has said that it has now provided fuel to al-Shifa. They released a video which shows, according to the IDF, the IDF, soldiers on the ground, leaving 300 liters of fuel at the gates of the doors of the al-Shifa hospital. Now, the IDF says that this was blocked by Hamas, but we have heard from the director of the Shifa Hospital who said that actually the medical staff were too afraid to go outside to receive this fuel delivery because of the ongoing fighting. And I think it's important to underscore as well that while the IDF has said it has distributed 300 liters of fuel, the hospital director himself has said that that would only really be enough to power the hospital for about 30 minutes. What they're requesting and what they need is 600 liters of fuel for every hour in order to keep this hospital going.
David Rind
Yeah, I guess. You know, we heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on CNN over the weekend and he was saying that, yes, we've opened these evacuation corridors, we've told people to leave. But for the doctors who want to stay behind because they really feel like they have no other choice, and for patients who, like, physically cannot be moved, like what is the option then?
Nada Bashir
'Well, the message from doctors on the ground, particularly on Al-Shifa, has been that they need guarantees from international bodies, from the likes of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in order to be sure that their patients and civilians at the hospital are able to actually evacuate safely. We've seen these evacuation corridors established, as we know for many people, including the sick and the injured, it is impossible to use these evacuation routes to leave. They are simply stuck.
Dana Bash
So how do you intend to go after Hamas without putting sick and injured civilians in that hospital at more risk than they already are?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Well, we've called to evacuate all the patients from that hospital and in fact, 100 or so have already been evacuated. I've called for field hospitals with the French president.
Nada Bashir
And we know, of course, that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that there was a reason. He told CNN there was no reason why people inside of Shifa shouldn't be able to evacuate. They have established, according to the ideas, an evacuation corridor on the eastern side of the hospital.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Even though Hamas has tried to prevent the civilians from leaving. Hundreds of thousands have left, sometimes having to go through Hamas gun points and gunfire just.
Dana Bash
To be cleared, sir.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Them in harm's way.
Dana Bash
'Just to be clear, sir. So Israel will aid, help these civilians who are quite sick and inside these hospitals come out not just in al-Shifa, but there are other hospitals where this has happened?
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Yes. Yes, we're telling them to leave. I mean.
Dana Bash
Telling them or helping them.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Helping them by creating safe corridors.
Nada Bashir
But as we have seen and as we've heard from doctors on the ground repeatedly now, they simply cannot evacuate. And whether it is the case of the situation being physically unsafe for patients or rather for civilians who are too afraid to face the outside world when it comes to the situation around the hospitals, because there is no guarantee of safety. The UN's humanitarian chief has described the situation in southern Gaza as not one of a safe space. He said there was nowhere safe for civilians in Gaza. And in fact, just today we've seen yet more airstrikes in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza. Hospitals there are also overwhelmed, just as hospitals in northern Gaza are. So this idea that it is straightforward or easy for civilians to get out of harm's way in Gaza is simply not true. There is nowhere for them to turn among. We speak to doctors on the ground. They tell us that they feel they have a duty to stand by their patients. And so regardless of what happens, they plan to stay behind with their patients no matter what.
David Rind
Nada thank you.
Nada Bashir
Thank you.
David Rind
Tug of War is a production of CNN Audio. This episode was produced by me, David Rind. Haley Thomas is our senior producer. Dan Dzula is our technical director. And Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of CNN Audio. Special thanks to Caroline Paterson and Celine Alkhaldi. We'll be back on Wednesday. In the meantime, head over to CNN dot com or the CNN app for the very latest. Talk to you later.