The Al-Shifa hospital and its history of conflict explained for dummies

Ayaan Paul
Ayaan PaulNov 16, 2023 | 18:02

The Al-Shifa hospital and its history of conflict explained for dummies

Having raided the coastal enclave's largest medical facility for the second day in a row in an attempt to procure evidence, Israel has long claimed that Hamas has used the hospital as a command centre. Here is a brief overview of the hospital and its history of being at the centre of conflict.


  • Al-Shifa Hospital, situated in the heart of the Gaza Strip within the northern Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City, stands as a testament to the resilience and challenges faced by healthcare facilities in conflict zones. 
Photo: Scribble Maps
  • The hospital's history is deeply rooted in the political and military upheavals of the region, with its origins tracing back to a British Army barracks during the British Mandate of Palestine in 1946.

Founding and evolution

  • Originally known as Dar al-Shifa, meaning "house of healing" in Arabic, the facility was initially established to address quarantine and febrile diseases, catering to the medical needs of the local population. 
  • However, the hospital underwent a transformative period during the Egyptian administration of Gaza following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.
  • It evolved into the central hospital for the region, expanding its infrastructure to include vital departments such as internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and ophthalmology.
Photo: Getty Images

Post-war challenges

  • In the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Crisis, the hospital faced a brief occupation by Israeli forces. Despite this, the returning Egyptian administration, under the leadership of President Gamal Abdel Nasser, prioritised the healthcare and social well-being of Gaza's residents. 
  • Al-Shifa saw further expansion, incorporating departments for obstetrics and gynaecology. 
  • The Egyptians established a comprehensive health administration for the Gaza region, complemented by clinics throughout the city staffed by doctors from Al-Shifa.
Photo: Getty Images

Six-Day War

  • The hospital continued to play a pivotal role during the 1967 Six-Day War, despite the challenges posed by the entire Egyptian administration and staff being taken prisoner.
  • By 1969, the department of internal medicine had grown to include several sub-departments, showcasing the hospital's resilience in the face of adversity.

Israeli revitalisation

  • A significant chapter in Al-Shifa's history unfolded in the 1980s when the hospital underwent a major renovation and expansion project under Israeli administration. 
  • Designed by Israeli architects Gershon Tzapor and Benjamin Edelson, the project aimed to improve living conditions for Gaza residents and foster mutual existence between Jews and Arabs. 
  • The hospital's architecture mirrored modernist and post-modernist trends in Israeli design, with a campus intended to house 900 beds.
Photo: Getty Images


  • The project included the construction of an extensive underground infrastructure which soon became a focal point during subsequent conflicts, with Israeli authorities pointing to the underground features as evidence of Hamas's military use of the hospital.

Gaza Wars 

  • The hospital's history is marked by its role in multiple conflicts, notably during the Gaza War in 2008-2009 and the 2014 Gaza War. 
  • In these instances, Al-Shifa found itself overwhelmed with casualties, exacerbated by shortages of medical equipment caused by the blockade of Gaza. 
Photo: Getty Images
  • Amnesty International accused the hospital of being used by Hamas for military purposes, including as a bunker and refuge. 
  • However, these claims were challenging to substantiate, given the restricted access to Gaza during these periods and were consistently disapproved by eyewitness testimonies.

Renewed tensions

  • In the ongoing 2023 conflict, Al-Shifa once again finds itself at the centre of Israeli retaliation.
  • Israel has claimed that the hospital is being used as a military base by Hamas, an accusation vehemently denied by hospital administrators and Hamas. 
Last updated: November 16, 2023 | 18:03
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