The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill deconstructs Israel's narrative around Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, including unsubstantiated allegations Hamas uses tunnels under the hospital as its command center — tunnels that Israel itself built. “We were told that this was like a Hamas Pentagon,” says Scahill, who describes how the Israeli military’s own evidence disproves its allegations that the hospital was dangerous enough to justify its siege and bombardment. The World Health Organization says Al-Shifa, Gaza’s largest hospital, “is no longer functioning.” The Israeli disinformation campaign against it was a “lethal lie,” says Scahill. We also discuss the status of Palestinian prisoners who are now candidates for release in Israel and Hamas’s ongoing hostage exchange.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Israel is continuing to detain the head of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza. Last week, the Israeli military detained Muhammad Abu Salmiya as he was evacuating patients south from Gaza City.
Israel raided Al-Shifa, claiming Hamas ran a command and control center under the hospital, but Israel has yet to provide any hard evidence to back that up. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak recently spoke with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. He admitted Israel built the bunkers decades ago underneath Al-Shifa.
EHUD BARAK: It’s already known for many years that they have in the bunkers, that originally was built by Israeli constructors underneath Shifa, were used as a command post of the Hamas in a kind of a junction of several — several tunnels, part of this system. I don’t know to say to what extent it is a major. It’s probably not the only kind of command post. Several others are under other hospitals or in other sensitive places. But it’s for sure had been used by Hamas even during this conflict.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Well, when you say it was built by Israeli engineers, did you misspeak?
EHUD BARAK: No, no. Someday, you know, decades ago, we were wanting the place, so we held them. It was decades, many decades, ago, probably five, four decades ago, that we helped them to build these bunkers in order to enable more — more space for the operation of the hospital within the very limited size of this compound.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, that was the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
We’re joined now by Jeremy Scahill, senior reporter and correspondent at The Intercept, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield. One of his most recent pieces for The Intercept is headlined “Al-Shifa Hospital, Hamas’s Tunnels, and Israeli Propaganda.” Jeremy is joining us from Germany.
Jeremy, can you talk about what he just said?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. Well, first of all, Amy, the Al-Shifa Hospital, originally, going back to the years of the British Mandate in the 1940s, it was a British military barracks, and then it was converted into a hospital, under both the Israeli and the Egyptian occupations of that area. And then, in the 1980s, the Israelis began to do extensive construction on it. In fact, I was looking at the Israeli Architecture Archives that were set up, and you can go back and look at [inaudible] from that era, and two Tel Aviv architects oversaw the expansion of the Al-Shifa Hospital. And by 1983, they had finished the construction of underground facilities at the hospital.
Now, we should also say, it’s not uncommon for hospitals the world over to have underground facilities for a variety of reasons. But when you’re in an active war zone, it’s very common. In fact, Israel has many underground facilities at its hospitals throughout Israel and has been using them since October 7th, certainly. They’re considered more secure places to hold vulnerable patients.
And so, what we know about Israel’s construction is that they at least built an underground operating room. They built a network of tunnels. And, in fact, during some of the construction, the son of one of the Israeli architects who designed the underground facility said that when Israel was building these in the 1980s, they hired people from Hamas as security to guard the construction project to ensure that it wouldn’t get attacked.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jeremy, could you talk also about the thousands of prisoners that Israel has been holding, many of them without any trial for extended years, and yet the Netanyahu government refers to all of them as “terrorists”?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Yeah. I mean, Juan, I went through — and this connects also to the narrative around Al-Shifa. But just to directly answer your question, Israel released a list of 300 names that it said were fair game for a hostage-prisoner handover because of the truce with Hamas. And I went through all 15 pages of those names. I read each of the individual dates of birth, the dates of arrest, what the nature of the charges were — if there were any charges. Some of them don’t even list any actual charges against them. And what I discovered is that of the 300 names, 233 of these prisoners — most of them are teenage boys, some are — there’s a teenage girl who’s 15 years old — the 233 of 300 have not been convicted of anything. They haven’t been sentenced for anything. And Israel is the only country in the so-called developed world that tries children in military courts.
And so, you know, the Israeli narrative is that these are all hardened terrorists, because Palestinians are not allowed to have any context. Palestinians are not treated as full human beings. So, when a child — maybe his brother was killed by the Israeli forces, maybe his mother was killed by the Israeli forces — throws a rock at a soldier, their houses are often then raided at night. They’re snatched. They’re taken to interrogation without the presence of a parent or a lawyer. And then they’re pressured into pleading guilty under threat of spending years in a military judicial process.
Now, I say this relates to Al-Shifa because the colonial narrative always — and you can look at the British with the IRA, you can look at the position against Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress — is that those who are victims of the occupation have no rights to legitimate struggle. And so, the prisoners that Israel are holding, overwhelmingly, are people that are accused of committing political acts of violence. And that context also bleeds into Israel’s narrative about Al-Shifa: Al-Shifa is not really a hospital.
Al-Shifa — look, I don’t know if you guys have the video, but if you do, you should play it. Israel puts out a video to justify the siege of Al-Shifa Hospital, the most important hospital in Gaza, where you had dozens of children that needed incubators. Israel had knocked out the power supply. You had the most vulnerable patients there. They put out a video, the Israeli Defense Forces, that is this high-tech three-dimensional rendering, they said, of an underground, what I just call a Hamas Pentagon, and they imply that this is where — this is the central facility where Hamas is planning its terror operations.
When Israel finally then lays full siege to it, with the backing of the Biden administration and Biden himself — they co-signed all of that. They said that hostages had been held under the hospital. They said that it was used as a command and control center. When Israel finally starts to access the hospital, they take embedded journalists on these propaganda tours. And what they found was essentially nothing of any major significance. They go in, and they say, “Oh, look, we found these rifles behind an MRI machine,” which is ridiculous for anyone who knows the technology of an MRI machine and the magnetism of it. They’re all conveniently placed, neatly arranged. There’s one Hamas vest with a Hamas logo on it. So that gets ridiculed, and skepticism is expressed even by corporate media outlets that historically print Israel’s propaganda as just established fact.
So, then they finally gain access to a tunnel in the area. They go down there, and they say, “Oh, this tunnel is X number of meters long, and there’s a blast-proof door that has a hole so that the Hamas terrorists can fire at us. So we need to take some time before we blow it open. And then on the other side is going to be this command and control center.” So, finally, then, last week, they blow the thing open. They go in there. And what do they find? They find three rooms, basically. One looks like a kind of very old-school, 1980s-style exam room from a hospital. There’s a sink somewhere in there. There’s two toilets. And then you have this utter clown from the IDF who has been made a fool of himself by doing these tours. It’s like Geraldo Rivera looking for Al Capone’s vault. He’s running around, saying, “Aha! There’s electricity in here. This is a Hamas command center. Aha! They had an air conditioner in here.” You know, the pipes are rusty. Many of the electrical wires aren’t even connected.
Now, I don’t know for a fact that Hamas guys weren’t under there. It wouldn’t shock me if at some point Hamas did have people under there. But we were told this was like a Hamas Pentagon and that it was so dangerous that it justified laying siege to a hospital filled with the most vulnerable people. This is akin to sort of the George H.W. Bush administration lies about the Iraqis pulling babies from incubators. It’s an utter lie that was co-signed and promoted by President Joe Biden and his administration, and they should be made to answer for this, because it wasn’t just Al-Shifa. They did it at the Indonesia Hospital. They did it at other hospitals. Of course Hamas has networks of tunnels underneath Gaza, 150 to 300 kilometers, by some estimates. Israel is waging a targeted assassination campaign against them, and they live in a confined area waging a guerrilla war. That’s not news. But Israel tried to rebrand something that anyone who’s followed this already knows, and tried to make it seem like it’s a smoking gun. And, in fact, it was a lethal lie.
AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, we want to thank you for being with us, senior reporter, correspondent at The Intercept. We’ll link to your pieces on Al-Shifa and Palestinian prisoners at democracynow.org.
Coming up, we remember the life and legacy of Pablo Yoruba Guzmán, who co-founded the New York chapter of the Young Lords. Back in 20 seconds.