Scenes of panic and despair erupted on Saturday morning as Israeli forces ordered the evacuation of over 7,000 patients, doctors and displaced civilians from Gaza’s Al-Shifa Hospital, the besieged enclave’s largest medical facility.
The hurried evacuation sparked chaos and fear at the hospital, which had already been crippled by days of Israeli military blockade cutting off critical supplies and infrastructure. Patients on beds and wheelchairs flooded into the streets, while families carried wounded relatives and fragile newborns without proper transport or medical care.
Despite the evacuation order, Israeli military officials later denied giving any such directive, claiming they were simply responding to a request from the hospital director. However, hospital administrators vehemently denied this assertion, stating they were forced out “at gunpoint” with only one hour’s notice to evacuate.
“I categorically deny these false allegations [from the Israeli army]”, said Mohammed Zaqout, director general of Gaza’s hospitals. “I am telling you we were forced to leave by gunpoint.”
Zaqout said the urgent evacuation order came during a phone call at 8 AM, directing the hospital’s management to empty the compound within one hour. The only evacuation route specified by Israeli forces was lined with dead bodies, adding to the trauma of the hurried exit.
Over 300 patients in critical condition were among those evacuated without proper transport or alternatives for care. At least 35 premature infants were hastily relocated without incubators, which had already been lacking for days due to electricity shortages from the blockade.
On Friday night alone, four premature babies died at Al-Shifa due to the lack of power and oxygen. An additional five infants were in grave condition during the evacuation.
Scenes of Despair During Forced Evacuation
Videos and eyewitness accounts depicted harrowing scenes of suffering during the forced evacuation. Patients on wheelchairs and hospital beds were lined up on the streets unattended, while families carried wounded loved ones.
One doctor described the evacuation route as an “open-air detention camp”, lined with dead bodies and debris. Israeli soldiers allegedly forced evacuees to wave white flags and walk in single file, subjecting them to humiliation and trauma.
Hospital administrators pleaded for international assistance to save the most vulnerable patients. They urgently requested transport for premature infants to hospitals in Egypt or the West Bank. However, the lack of fuel and electricity across
Gaza meant options for medical transport were extremely limited.
By afternoon, Al-Shifa’s director confirmed the facility was virtually deserted, with only a skeleton crew remaining to care for patients too critical to move. He described the scenes as “really dire,” saying hundreds of patients remained trapped in unsafe conditions.
Siege and Shortages Long Preceded Evacuation
Well before Saturday’s evacuation, Al-Shifa had been severely impacted by blockades, shortages, and direct military action by Israeli forces.
The hospital had been cut off from vital supplies, food, water, and power for at least a week. On Thursday and Friday, Israeli troops reportedly stormed the facility directly, claiming Hamas operated a command post underneath. No evidence was found to substantiate this claim.
As the largest medical complex in Gaza, Al-Shifa was sheltering over 7,000 people, including many families displaced by escalating Israeli airstrikes which have leveled civilian homes.
But the ongoing blockade crippled the hospital’s ability to care for them. For three weeks, the facility functioned without electricity or running water. Medical machinery and incubators lacked power, endangering newborns and patients dependent on electrical equipment.
The absence of power and supplies forced over 39 premature babies to be removed from incubators well before the evacuation. With intensive care resources depleted, four infants died on Friday night alone.
Doctors described the neonatal unit as a “medieval cave” utterly unequipped for critical care. The lack of sanitation and cleaning also raised fears of disease outbreaks within the besieged hospital walls.
Blame Game Over Evacuation Order
In the wake of the evacuation, Israeli officials and Palestinian authorities exchanged blame over ordering the hurried exit.
Despite hospital administrators’ assertions that the evacuation was ordered directly by Israeli commanders, military spokespeople claimed they were merely facilitating a request from Al-Shifa’s director.
However, hospital officials vehemently denied ever requesting or voluntarily agreeing to empty the facility of critically ill patients without adequate transport and relocation plans in place.
Regardless of who gave the final order, the scenario highlighted the dire straits of Gaza’s health system struggling to care for the wounded and vulnerable under debilitating blockade conditions.
Palestinian leaders characterized the evacuation as “forced displacement,” calling it an intentional crime against civilians. But Israeli officials maintained the relocation was enacted solely out of concern for those sheltering at the hospital.
This disconnect has added to the confusion and distrust surrounding what all agree was a chaotic and traumatic scene endangering thousands of innocent lives.
Aftermath of Emptying Gaza’s Largest Hospital
In the wake of the evacuation, Al-Shifa’s deserted wards underscored the human cost of the escalating violence. The forced displacement of Gaza’s largest hospital has further jeopardized access to intensive medical care across the densely populated territory.
Already, Gaza’s Health Ministry warned its medical infrastructure cannot handle the overwhelming influx of wounded from recent Israeli airstrikes. More than 700 Palestinians, including hundreds of children, have been killed or injured in the ongoing conflict.
With Al-Shifa’s capacity crippled, there are no remaining hospitals in Gaza adequately equipped to handle serious war injuries, pediatric ICU cases, or vulnerable premature infants.
Now emptied of patients and vital equipment, Gaza’s primary health facility will struggle to reopen and scale up care after the evacuation’s disruptive impact. The abrupt exit also scattered medical teams and separated families from bedridden loved ones.
The evacuated patients face considerable risks, from disruptions to crucial treatments to increased exposure to violence outside hospital walls. The displacement has also intensified the desperation among Gaza’s 2 million residents already enduring intense overcrowding, electricity cuts, and lack of mobility.
In announcing the evacuation, Israeli authorities did not specify any plans to ensure safe relocations and continuity of care for evacuated patients. With limited transportation, fuel, and options for shelter, the future remains uncertain for those forced from Gaza’s largest remaining health facility amidst unrelenting conflict.
Humanitarian groups, regional leaders, and UN officials have all called for independent investigations of potential violations of international law regarding targeting of hospitals and civilian infrastructure. All parties face mounting pressure to prioritize civilian safety and access to medical care amidst the ongoing violence.
As this latest incident highlights, Gaza’s hospitals are desperately struggling to fulfill their vital mission. The ability to deliver lifesaving care hangs in the balance as shortages compound and medical facilities become both overwhelmed and explicitly targeted.
The forced evacuation of Al-Shifa Hospital speaks to the wider humanitarian crisis throttling essential services in Gaza. Without access to stable healthcare, water, housing, and electricity, ordinary Palestinians pay the steepest price as cycles of violence persist.