Hardly anyone has spoken or written about Elham Farah, a retired music teacher who was shot and bled to death in the street on Sunday.
In the face of thousands killed and wounded, tanks in the center of Gaza City and Israeli troops raiding Al-Shifa Hospital, even the most attentive observers were unable to give visibility to the fate that befell this elderly Palestinian woman.
On social media, her granddaughter Carole recounted that on Sunday her aunt was shot in the leg as she went home from the Catholic Church in Gaza City to pick up some personal belongings. One shot to the leg was enough to kill her. No one was able to get to her. Elham Farah bled to death in the street, a short distance from the Al-Shifa Hospital.
Some of her students remembered her fondly on social media for her dedication to teaching and her love of music. Her name joined those of thousands of other Palestinian civilians who were injured and no one was able to save, especially those trapped under rubble.
Who was the shooter? The Palestinians have no doubt that it must have been an Israeli sniper. Those at the Catholic Church, where the woman was well-known, are unwilling to speculate.
On Tuesday night, as relatives mourned Elham Farah, Israeli troops entered Al-Shifa Hospital and searched its rooms, wards and basement, in a raid that greatly alarmed the WHO and the UN, concerned about the fate of thousands of civilians trapped inside: patients, staff and evacuees who had arrived from the north – hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.
All day on Wednesday, Israeli soldiers searched under and around the hospital for the so-called “beating heart” of Hamas, the Islamic movement’s headquarters in Gaza City. For weeks, Israeli military commanders, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have repeated to the whole world, backed up by U.S. intelligence as well, that beneath Al-Shifa lay a vast, possibly multi-storied facility connected to every point in Gaza by a spider web of tunnels that allows Hamas to organize its plans to attack Israel.
“There is no place in Gaza that we cannot reach. There is no hiding place … There is no refuge for Hamas killers … We will eliminate Hamas and we will return the hostages,” said Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Until Wednesday night, however, such massive “terrorist infrastructure” had not yet emerged, at least not on the scale claimed by the Israeli army and government. Speaking to CNN, a military spokesman, Richard Hecht, said – without providing visual evidence – that “we understand that there’s a substantial Hamas infrastructure in the area, in the vicinity of the hospital. Potentially under the hospital, and it’s something we’re working on. It’ll take us time. This war is a complex war.”
For its part, Hamas denied that any of its weapons were at Al-Shifa. And there has been no trace yet of the 239 Israeli and foreign hostages taken by Hamas in southern Israel on October 7, after it was claimed that they would very likely be in the Al-Shifa basement.
Earlier, Israeli commanders had described the raid on the hospital as a “targeted operation,” restricted to one part of the health facility, the western part, which would not affect patients, doctors or civilians in any way. They said that the only firefight had been outside the hospital, in which five Hamas militants were reportedly killed. And they released photos of medicine, humanitarian aid and incubators brought by the military to the hospital. In short, they presented it as a “humanitarian mission.”
The Palestinians told a quite different story. Witnesses quoted by news agencies and Al Jazeera TV, while initially reporting a relatively calm situation, although full of tension, as Israeli troops moved between buildings carrying out searches, later said they heard gunfire and explosions. Dr. Ahmed El Mohallalati, a surgeon, told Reuters that there were firefights and “one of the big tanks entered within the hospital from the eastern main gate, and … they just parked in the front of the hospital emergency department.” The Israelis, he added, used “all kinds of weapons” around the hospital. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a physician and well-known Palestinian civil society figure, citing witnesses, wrote on X that soldiers destroyed CT scan equipment and “transformed Al-Shifa hospital into a detention center interrogating the medical staff, the injured, and the people who are taking shelter in the hospital.”
Other doctors and nurses reported warning shots fired into the air by soldiers as they moved at a running pace from ward to ward. One witness told the BBC that at one point, the soldiers told all men between the ages of 16 and 40 to go to the hospital’s courtyard where they had installed a scanning device, and asked everyone to go through it. They also allegedly dug up bodies buried in the previous hours in a mass grave next to Al-Shifa in order to look for dead hostages. In the evening, a Gaza journalist reported, the soldiers left the hospital and redeployed to the immediate vicinity of Al-Shifa, which remained without electricity, without fuel and with little food or water for the patients and people crammed into the corridors, and with the stench of rotting corpses filling the air. Also trapped in Al-Shifa are the 40 or so premature infants, outside the incubators that have shut down due to the lack of electricity, after the Israeli army had assured a few days ago that it would be possible for them to be safely evacuated.
On Wednesday, 40 days after the start of the war, Israel finally let thousands of liters of fuel into Gaza to allow the refueling of UNRWA (UN) trucks bringing aid to displaced Palestinians in the south of the Strip – a mere drop in the bucket of needs of every kind. The displaced people now have to face a new danger. On Wednesday, the Israeli army told civilians in the eastern suburbs of Khan Yunis to leave their homes and “go to shelters” (nonexistent in Gaza) because the IDF will launch ground operations against Hamas in the south of the Strip as well.
Nevertheless, in the north, Al-Awda Hospital has begun accepting new patients again despite a shortage of everything they need to do their work. A small ray of hope in an area that, according to Israeli sites on Wednesday, is not expected to be repopulated for months, perhaps years. On Wednesday night, news broke of another massacre of civilians: an air raid on Al-Salhi Tower in the Nusseirat refugee camp killed at least 15 people.
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