On Sunday 17 December 2023, Israeli soldiers raided Al Awda Hospital in Jabalia, northern Gaza. During the raid, they arrested 21 health workers⸱euses, including the hospital director, Dr Ahmed Muhanna.
After three hours of interrogation in degrading conditions, everyone was released⸱e⸱s except Dr Muhanna. We still do not know where he is being held. Al Awda Health and Community Association (AWDA), a partner of Viva Salud and Belgian Development Cooperation for many years, has issued a statement denouncing the arrest and harassment of its health staff and demanding the immediate release of AWDA’s hospital director, Dr Muhanna.
Dr Ahmed Muhanna is an internationally recognised voice denouncing the Israeli attacks on the health system in Gaza. On several occasions, he has described in detail the appalling situation at the AWDA hospital in the north of the Gaza Strip over the last few weeks. In his last audio message, one day before his arrest, he said: “No one can move around in the hospital because of the [Israeli] snipers. The situation in the hospital is terrible. We have 38 patients⸱e⸱s, some of whom⸱e⸱s cannot receive medicine. We have no oxygen and very little fuel for a small generator. We have food for 2 or 3 days at most. The situation is critical.”
Since 5 December, the AWDA hospital has been under siege, with Israeli snipers and tanks surrounding the building. No one can enter or leave the building and a nurse was killed by a sniper’s bullet. A pregnant woman and her mother-in-law who wanted to enter the hospital to give birth were also shot at. The mother-in-law was killed in the attack.
Repeated violence against AWDA hospitals
Earlier, on Friday 13 October, AWDA received a notice from the Israeli army asking it to evacuate the hospital within two hours. Israel then extended the deadline to 6am on Saturday morning (14 October). Dr Muhanna and his team decided to stay at the hospital and with the patients⸱e⸱s, saying in an interview, “I received a call from the Israeli army asking me to evacuate the hospital. It is impossible. Certain⸱e⸱s patients⸱e⸱s have been evacuated⸱e⸱s, but others cannot be transferred⸱e⸱s due to their serious condition. The hospital staff are determined to stay and provide the patients⸱e⸱s with the necessary care.”
The Al Awda hospital in Jabalia is one of the only hospitals in the Gaza Strip to have continued to provide obstetric and gynaecological (surgical) care since the start of the war. More than 100 babies have been born at the hospital in recent weeks. This figure is set to rise as the number of pregnant women in the Gaza Strip is estimated at 50,000, 5,000 of whom are expected to give birth in the next month.
Israel’s deliberate attack on Gaza’s health system is nothing short of a blatant war crime. Following the arrest of the director of the Al Shifa hospital, Israel is continuing in the same vein by brutally attacking the Al Awda hospital, located in the heavily bombarded northern part of Gaza. For weeks, the WHO has been describing the health situation in Gaza as “catastrophic”, “unprecedented” and “on the brink of collapse”. The head of the WHO, Tedros Ghebreyesus, summed up the situation by speaking of total “moral decadence”.