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Israel Bombs Gaza’s Only Rehab Hospital: Staff Forced to Evacuate Paralyzed Patients After Shelling

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Image Credit: Charlie Andreasson /

Al-Wafa Hospital, the only rehabilitation hospital in Gaza and the West Bank, was shelled by Israel on Thursday. At the time of the attack, the hospital was filled with patients who were paralyzed, unconscious and unable to move. We speak with the hospital’s executive director, Basman Alashi, who says the hospital received a warning call ahead of the assault. “I don’t understand why they hit us,” Alashi says. “We’ve been in this place since 1996, we are known to the Israeli government.” Alashi says no one was injured but the building was heavily damaged.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sharif, if I could interrupt you for a second, we have—you mentioned the al-Wafa Hospital. We have Dr. Basman Alashi, the executive director of the hospital in Gaza, on the phone. He was forced to evacuate his patients on Thursday.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: Thank you. Thank you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Could you tell us, Doctor, what happened at the hospital in the last few days?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: Last night, just before 9:00, they sent us a warning over the phone that “We will bomb the hospital, so you need to evacuate.” And we’ve been receiving these calls for the last 11 days, so we did not take that call, that issue and matter seriously, because of repeated calls from the Israeli forces that “We will bomb you, we will bomb you,” but they haven’t done anything. And we insisted that we cannot leave the hospital. Our patients are, all of them, paralyzed, unable—they’re unconscious. They’re unable to move, so we need to stay in this hospital. And this is the only rehabilitation hospital in Gaza and in the West Bank.

But just few minutes after the call, shells start falling down on the hospital—the fourth floor, third floor, second floor. Smoke, fire, dust all over. We lost electricity. Many of our nurses, they lost control of themselves. They were unable to stand up on their feet. They left the hospital. Patients were left alone, unknown what will happen to them. I was able to call many ambulances around the area, plus the fire department, and we were able to move all of them. Some of them needed an oxygen, so we have to wait until 11:00 until we receive that oxygen. So, the few patients that we have, luckily, nobody got hurt. Only burning building, smoke inside, dust, ceiling falling, wall broke, electricity cutoff, water is leaking everywhere. So, the hospital became [uninhabitable]. At that time, we said evacuation is much more healthier for the patients and for the nurses—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Alashi—

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: —not to live in an environment—

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Alashi, how do you get warned? Who actually calls you to say that they’re going to bomb your hospital?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: He identified himself as if he is from the Israeli army, with a Hebrew accent.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s who tells you that you’ve got to clear out the hospital. Now, a few days ago, two women were killed in a rehabilitation home. Is that different from the al-Wafa Hospital?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: It is different.

AMY GOODMAN: When the Israelis shelled it.

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: Yes, it is different. It’s about 10 kilometers away from us. That home was for handicapped children and young ladies, and these are the ones that are born with deficiency. And Israelis have targeted this clinical hospital.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The call then would indicate that this was a deliberate attack; it wasn’t an errant missile, because they knew beforehand that they were going to hit. Why would they hit your hospital?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: I don’t understand why they hit us. We’ve been in this place since 1996. We are known to the Israeli government. We are known to the Israeli Health Center and Health Ministry. They have transferred several patients to our hospital for rehabilitations. And we have many success stories of people come for rehabilitation. They come crawling or in a wheelchair; they go out of the hospital walking, and they go back to Israel saying that al-Wafa has done miracle to them. So we are known to them, who we are, what we are. And we are not too far from their border. Our building is not too small. It’s big. It’s about 2,000 square meters. If I stand on the window, I can see the Israelis, and they can see me. So we are not hiding anything in the building. They can see me, and I can see them. And we’ve been here for the last 12 or 15 years, neighbors, next to each other. We have not done any harm to anybody, but we try to save life, to give life, to better life to either an Arab Palestinian or an Israeli Jew. Whoever comes to this hospital, we treat him for his humanity, not for his nationality or his religion.

AMY GOODMAN: Where did you put all of the patients? How many did you have, Dr. Alashi?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: We moved 17. There’s a clinic that—they called us, and they said they will clear a floor, complete floor, for us. The clinic’s name is Sahaba clinic. And we were able to move to that place, and we are there right now. The only thing that we’re missing is the medications for our patients. All of it was burned or destroyed. So we are trying on Friday—Friday, you know, in that part of the world, Friday is a holiday. We’re trying to have many of the suppliers open their stores and get some of the medications. But still I’m trying to allocate all over Gaza, and it is extremely difficult to move in a car in Gaza because Israeli drones are targeting any vehicle that moves around here.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Alashi, have you been able to assess the extent of the damage? Can the hospital be repaired quickly once the hostilities and the attacks from Israel stop?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: We are determined to go back to our building once the hostility stops. We will be using the ground floor and the first floor. The second, the third, the fourth is [uninhabitable], and we need to do a lot of repair. And I estimated—just roughly an estimate—the cost of repairs about $3 million.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Basman Alashi, how do you respond to the Israeli military saying they’re launching this ground invasion to stop the shelling of Israel by the rockets?

DR. BASMAN ALASHI: I have no answer to them. I need them to stop shelling, because this area, Gaza, is similar to a concentration camp. They are squeezing people from the ground, from the air, from the sea, and they are expecting people to just sit there as a duck and shooting. People here are responding naturally, that they have the right to defend themselves, as Israelis have the right, but we also have the right to defend ourselves. But I’m asking the Israelis, since they are the superpower in that area, is to act responsibly, wisely. They are the big brother, and they have to sacrifice a little bit for that little land in Gaza.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Sharif Abdel Kouddous, you’re still with us. There were reports that up to 80—electricity was cut in up to 80 percent of Gaza. What’s the situation now in terms of basic utilities there?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, power lines were cut, and Gaza was dark much of the night. Many of the hotels and media centers do have generators and power. There’s a severe problem with water, with water lines being cut, as well. And this has been a problem for Gaza not only during the war, but Gaza under siege. And that’s what people keep saying, is that, you know, “We have to come out of this with something.” And I think also that Hamas, as a movement, has nothing to lose at this point, because if they don’t achieve anything out of this war, it all stops, and they’re still under siege. Nothing changes. The borders are closed. You know, people are desperate here, and so they need to see some lifting of the occupation; otherwise, if we just have a ceasefire and the occupation continues, then it will just be a very tenuous truce that will inevitably come apart, as it has done for the last six years.

AMY GOODMAN: Sharif, when the Israeli military drops pamphlets, calls people and says, “Leave,” where do people go?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, it’s funny you say that. I mean, they’ve dropped leaflets and warned people to leave areas in the north—just in the last two days, in the north, in the South and in the east. You know, the only thing left is the west, and that’s where the sea is. So, you know, they’re driving people, a lot of people, from border areas into the city center. But, you know, here in Gaza, there’s no shelters, there’s no sirens, there’s no Iron Dome system. There is just this bombardment from the sky, and you don’t know a lot of the times where to go once you get this warning. You have a few minutes to get out, you and your family, and your house is completely destroyed with all your belongings. And, of course, many people have been killed in these strikes, as well, you know, 264, the vast majority of them civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion. We’ll also be joined by Glenn Greenwald to talk about where is Ayman Mohyeldin, the NBC reporter who has been reporting extensively from Gaza. Why did NBC pull him? We want thank Dr. Basman Alashi for joining us, executive director of the al-Wafa Hospital in Gaza, forced to evacuate his patients yesterday, on Thursday. Sharif will stay with us, Democracy Now! correspondent, speaking to us from Gaza City. This is Democracy Now! Back in a minute.

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