Foreign correspondents filed down an empty hallway lined with hospital beds partitioned off with white sheets on one side, and with the doors of treatment rooms gaping open, revealing their lack of patients, on the other.
The IDF opened its small field hospital at the Erez crossing on the northern Gaza border on July 20.
Intended for the treatment of Palestinian civilians wounded during combat operations in the coastal enclave, journalists brought to the crossing on a government- sponsored foreign press tour Friday were surprised to see that the facility was devoid of patients.
In the field hospital’s oneroom pediatrics ward, correspondents stood taking pictures of stuffed animals placed on a bare treatment table while a nearby nurse stood folding blankets, seemingly at loose ends.
The hospital was established as a humanitarian initiative and has already seen over 400 people pass through, most of whom did not receive care on the spot but who were sent on for treatment in “the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and of course, in Israel,” Lt.-Col.Sharon Biton from the office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories told reporters.
Only 50 of those who passed through the Erez crossing were treated on site, he continued, saying that “some of them refused to get medical treatments” from the IDF.
There is opposition on the Palestinian side to injured civilians receiving treatment in Israel, Biton asserted, adding that even after bypassing those who he said stand in the way of evacuating the wounded, getting them past IDF soldiers “who naturally suspect any other car that is not an IDF car these days” is a problem.
“Unfortunately, we have past experience as to the misuse or abuse of ambulances for terror attacks,” he said. “This hospital is unfortunately empty due to the fact that Hamas prevents people from coming here.”
“I don’t have that many possibilities of bringing people out here, so I’m using the ICRC and UNRWA, and in some cases the IDF has found people who needed treatment and brought them over,” he said, referring to the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.
Palestinians in need of treatment have contacted COGAT through these organizations, he explained, adding that the IDF had been coordinating with them from “the first minute we opened the hospital.”
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post shortly after the opening of the hospital, UNRWA deputy spokesman Sami Mashasha denied any knowledge of the facility, leading COGAT spokesman Maj. Guy Inbar to label him a “liar.”
“You find me drawing blank on this one,” Mashasha said when asked about Israeli concerns that Hamas may block the transportation of wounded civilians.
“I must admit, a bit embarrassingly, that I didn’t even know that there a field hospital.”
UNRWA did not reply to a request for further on the record clarification on Sunday.
The Israelis are “just lying as usual,” Dr. Medhat Abbas, director of the Hamas government’s Health Ministry in Gaza, told the Post when asked about the Israeli field hospital.
Wounded civilians have been referred to hospitals in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as in Egypt and Jordan, he added.
Abbas accused Israel of sending spokesmen “wearing nice suits” to smile on camera while the army engages in terror against Gazans.
The Palestinian doctor also denounced Israeli claims of missile fire emanating from hospitals, saying that “this is not the first lie we hear from the Israelis,” and accused the IDF of war crimes, including the deliberate targeting of civilians.
Several days ago, the IDF posted a YouTube video of what it says is a projectile being fired from Wafa Hospital in Gaza City’s Shejaia neighborhood, and foreign correspondents have reported that Hamas is using Shifa Hospital as a command center and missile launching site.
Hamas “has prevented Palestinians from entering Israel in order to reach the hospital,” the IDF Spokesman’s Office asserted in a blog posting accompanying a video of wounded civilians being treated at the border crossing.
According to ICRC spokesman Ran Goldstein, ongoing combat operations pose a barrier to evacuating the wounded, and his organization coordinates the evacuation to the closest medical facility.
“What we are facing now are difficulties to get to the field in Gaza because of fighting going on,” he said.
“One of our main challenges is to get access to ambulances to evacuate people.”
Both anger at the IDF for the destruction caused by the conflict and the suspicion that those treated by the IDF may come under in the Gaza Strip are reasons why Palestinian wounded would be reluctant to seek treatment at the Erez crossing, one Palestinian who asked to remain anonymous told the Post.
Hospital officials said they have saved the lives of several Palestinians, including an old woman abandoned by her family in Khan Yunis and a young man with shrapnel embedded in his chest.
Those who have received treatment, hospital commander Lt.-Col. Racheli Meizan said, have exhibited a fear of the army doctors.
“I can tell you that it is very scary, you see it, the way they act, their eyes, but when they see that we treat them like human beings, we are very gentle, they became cool and they even gives us smiles, and it’s very exciting,” she said.
“We can hospitalize almost 20 people, women, children, men, and we can treat a few dozen others,” Meizan said on Friday, the clinic standing empty behind her.