The Letter that Outraged Us: The Physicians’ Letter Calling for the Destruction of Shifa Hospital in Gaza

Dozens of Israeli physicians signed a letter urging the military to destroy the “hornet nests and the hospitals shielding them” in the Gaza Strip.

Dozens of Israeli physicians signed a letter urging the military to destroy the “hornet nests and the hospitals shielding them” in the Gaza Strip. The letter indicates that its authors consider the civilians in these hospitals to be legitimate targets – as if they can choose to leave; as if there’s a safe way out and another hospital able to take them in.

Following their appeal, we drafted the response letter below, undersigned by physicians and health professionals working in hospitals and in the community:

We, physicians and health professionals working in hospitals and the community, are currently coping with the daily overload resulting from the war in Gaza, including the many physical and mental injuries, missing staff, and team members who themselves have been deeply traumatized and whose friends and family were murdered and abducted. What keeps us going even in these awful times is our primary mission of saving lives and maintaining civilians and medical facilities outside the conflict zone. Therefore, we consider it necessary to address the physicians’ letter calling for the destruction of Al Shifa Hospital.

No person with a conscience can remain indifferent to the massacre of civilians, including men, women, and children, carried out on October 7, 2023, by Hamas militants – the scale of which has yet to be fully revealed. However, our deep outrage must not be transformed into a carte blanche for killing civilians in the Gaza Strip, where residents are also counting the wounded and dead – certainly not when physicians are the ones demanding this. Fortunately, the letter’s signatories represent only a small minority of the health community, while the vast majority remains busy saving lives – no matter whose lives it may be.

The physicians who signed the letter use annihilation rhetoric not only toward Hamas militants but also toward the men, women, and children inhabiting the buildings in which Hamas is allegedly hiding, even if these are hospitals. Indeed, Hamas bears a heavy responsibility for taking shelter under civilian structures and, in some cases, for conducting fighting from those positions. The physicians who signed the letter do not even address the minimum requirement under international law to not only offer warnings but to take all precautions to reduce civilian casualties when responding to threats posed in hospital settings. They are clearly and blatantly calling for nothing less than the destruction of the hospital.

What wrong has been done by a newborn in an incubator or a person whose legs were amputated in the bombing of their apartment that they deserve to be killed? The letter argues that patients can be moved south to another location. Yet, in the Gaza Strip – whether in the north or the south – there are no hospitals that can receive them, no ambulances equipped to transport complex patients, no incubators for premature newborns, and no physicians to accompany them. Without all these, the call to evacuate patients is not a humanitarian appeal. The veil of deception must be lifted: it is a death sentence for the patients.

The authors of the letter do not only blame Hamas; they blame all Gazan residents “who saw fit to turn hospitals into terror nests” and, therefore, they claim, ” brought their annihilation upon themselves.” This is not the logic of physicians; it is not even the logic of human beings. It is the logic of annihilation.

The citizens of Israel can and must be protected through various means. Annihilating civilians in Gaza is not one of them.

These dreadful recent weeks have cost many lives, and humane values are being shattered amid this violent reality. The medical community will withstand this dark breach in history without allowing its core values to be destroyed.

An English translation is available here.