Resilience Amidst Ruins: The Story of Gaza’s Al Shifa Hospital

What used to stand tall as one of the largest hospital complexes in Gaza today has been reduced to ruins after two weeks of intense assault. During those two weeks, the hospital saw intense fighting and Israeli airstrikes in nearby buildings and the surrounding area.

These recent attacks were spurred by the IDF’s belief that Hamas operatives were using the hospital as a base. Reports claim that 400 Palestinians were killed in Al Shifa and the surrounding area, while most of Al Shifa Hospital was left to chards.

Before it got attacked, it used to be a bustling hospital serving the Gaza community. Let’s take a step back and get to know Al Shifa Hospital before its current demise:

Its Beginnings

Originally known as Dar Al Shifa, Al Shifa Hospital (which means healing in Arabic) was built in 1946 when Palestine was under British rule. It was a British Army barracks before it was transformed into a center to provide treatment for quarantine and febrile diseases.

Later, the quarantine and febrile diseases department was moved to another area in the city, and Al-Shifa ended up developing as the central hospital of Gaza. The 45,000-square-meter hospital sat in a densely populated part of Gaza City. In that dense space sat a sprawling complex of buildings and courtyards near Gaza City’s fishing port.

Its Renovation

The building was truly resilient, as it survived the Egyptian invasion in 1948 and two decades of Egyptian military rule. Then came the 80s when it got revamped and renovated. Two Israeli architects, Gershon Tzapor and Benjamin Edelson, were behind the renovation.

The new revamped hospital boasted a modernist architectural style and was built with sharpened diagonal staircases, similar to projects by Israeli architect Dan Eitan at the time.

Its Violent History

As it treated generations of patients, the hospital was always on the scene of violence. Whether during the Six-Day War, when it treated Egyptian soldiers, or since 1967 in general, when Israel captured and occupied the Gaza Strip.

Even on December 9, 1987, the first day of the First Intifada against Israeli occupation, the hospital was again pulled into the conflict. Jumping ahead a few years, during the Gaza War (2008–2009), Al-Shifa hospital overflowed with Palestinians injured by Israeli airstrikes. 

It was an endless haven and refuge for anyone thrown on the cusp of the endless violence faced by Gaza. Unfortunately, following the two-week raid, the hospital is now out of service, charred and destroyed. By writing about its history, we wanted to shine a light on its resilience amidst the disparity.

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