Indonesian hospital refutes Israeli claim that Hamas launches rockets from Gaza facility

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesian hospital refutes Israeli claim that Hamas launches rockets from Gaza facility People stand outside the Indonesian Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip, Jan. 4, 2016.
[Mohammed Salem/Reuters]

An Indonesian charity that operates a hospital in Gaza pushed back on Monday against the Israeli military’s accusations that Hamas militants were using the medical facility to launch rocket attacks.

Through leveling such accusations Israel was laying the ground to justify a potential attack on the Indonesian Hospital, said the head of MER-C, the NGO that runs the hospital in the besieged and densely populated Palestinian enclave.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said that more than a third of the 35 hospitals in the Gaza Strip were not functioning amid Israel’s aerial  bombardment of the Palestinian enclave.

“We built this hospital in a completely professional context, which is in accordance with the needs of the people of Gaza, both then and now,” MER-C President Sarbini Abdul Murad said at a news conference in Jakarta on Monday.

“Israel’s accusations could be a precondition for Israel to attack the Indonesian Hospital in Gaza,” he said, adding that the hospital was a lifeline for the 450,000 people in northern Gaza.

On Sunday, the Israeli military showed videos and photos of what it said was evidence of Hamas’ strategy of exploiting civilian facilities, including hospitals funded by Indonesia and Qatar, according to reports in the Israeli media and by news agencies.  

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), alleged that the Indonesian hospital was built over a network of tunnels used by Hamas to launch attacks on Israel and store weapons, the Times of Israel reported.

“Hamas systematically built the Indonesian Hospital to disguise its underground terror infrastructure,” The newspaper quoted Hagari as saying.

Hamas also rejected Israel’s claim that it was using hospitals for military purposes, news agencies reported.

Representatives from the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (MER-C), an Indonesian NGO that operates a hospital in Gaza, speak at a press conference in Jakarta, Nov. 6, 2023. [Handout MER-C]

The engineer who built the Indonesian Hospital, Faried Thalib, said the hospital did have an underground facility, but it was a place to supply oxygen to patients from a production site next door, and was not a site for launching rockets.

“The oxygen is directly connected from the basement to the hospital,” he said.

He also denied that a video the Israeli military touted, purportedly of an underground tunnel at the Indonesian Hospital, was from the hospital.

“This is not the Indonesian Hospital. I don’t know which hospital this is,” he said.

The hospital in Gaza was inaugurated in 2016 as a symbol of solidarity and friendship between Indonesia and the Palestinian people. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and has been a staunch supporter of nationhood for the Palestinians.

The Jakarta Post said the hospital cost U.S. $9 million, and MER-C said it was funded privately from donations by Indonesians. With 300 beds currently, the hospital is built on around 16,000 square meters (19,136 square yards) in north Gaza’s Beit Lahia neighborhood, on land donated by the Palestinian government in Gaza.

MER-C (the Medical Emergency Rescue Committee) was formed in 1999 and has since carried out more than 100 humanitarian missions in conflict zones in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan.

‘Even war has rules’

Indonesian Hospital has become a shelter for 8,000 civilians who lost their homes in Israel’s relentless bombardment of Gaza, said MER-C’s chief, Sarbini.

On Monday, Palestinian health officials said that more than 10,000 people had been killed in the airstrikes in Gaza. The constant aerial bombings followed surprise attacks by Hamas on Israel that killed at least 1,400 Israelis on Oct. 7.

“We urge the international community to protect institutions that are clearly protected by law, including hospitals,” Sarbini said.

Palestinians evacuate survivors after an Israeli strike on the Gaza Strip in Rafah, Nov. 6, 2023. [Hatem Ali/AP]

The death toll numbers published by the Health Ministry in Gaza in previous conflicts have never been questioned, the head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said on Oct. 27. The ministry’s figures are also used by the World Health Organization for its reports on the Palestinian Territories.

Atef al-Kahlout, director of the hospital, pleaded with the Indonesian government to press the United States, Israel, Britain, France and the United Nations to stop the bombings of Gaza.

“We are very confident in the Indonesian government’s ability to pressure the occupiers to stop the attacks on the Palestinian people, the hospitals and provide protection to the Indonesian hospital,” he said in a statement.

Indonesian  Foreign Ministry spokesman Lalu Muhammad Iqbal said Israel must stop its attacks on civilian facilities, especially hospitals, which are protected by international law.

“The U.N. secretary-general’s warning is very appropriate, ‘Even war has rules’,” he told BenarNews on Monday, referring to a speech by António Guterres to the United Nations Security Council on Oct. 24.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto said Monday he was ready to fly to Cairo to coordinate with Egypt on sending a hospital ship to Gaza.

Prabowo discussed the plan with the Palestinian ambassador, Zuhair Al Shun, and the Egyptian ambassador, Ashraf Mohamed Moguib Sultan, separately at the Defense Ministry office in Jakarta.

“We discussed in detail, especially regarding the plan to send our hospital ship. And this will be followed up immediately,” Prabowo, a presidential front-runner, said after meeting Sultan.

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people rallied in Jakarta to show their solidarity with the Palestinian people and denounce Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians. The rally was one of the largest pro-Palestine demonstrations in the world, with organizers claiming that more than two million people attended.

The attendees included religious leaders, political figures and ministers such as Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Minister of Religious Affairs Yaqut Cholil Qoumas. 

OIC emergency summit

In neighboring Malaysia, meanwhile, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim said on Monday that he would meet other leaders from Muslim-majority countries in Saudi Arabia next week to discuss ways to bring a halt to Israel’s killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and provide those still alive much needed humanitarian and medical aid.

Indonesia also said it would send a delegation to attend the emergency meeting in Riyadh called by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The gathering on Nov. 12 would be the second emergency meeting on the situation in Gaza. The first one, at foreign ministerial level, took place in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on Oct. 18. 

Sunday’s meeting was called by Saudi Arabia in its capacity as OIC chair this year. 

Anwar said he had contacted leaders from the Arab world, Turkey, and also Iran, to hold discussions on the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza. He also urged other nations with a similar stance as Malaysia’s, such as China, Russia, Ireland and Brazil, to participate in the OIC meeting.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters rally in support of Palestine at the National Monument intersection in Jakarta, Nov. 5, 2023. [Eko Siswono Toyudho/BenarNews]

In every meeting with world leaders, Anwar said he would stress three things about the conflict in Gaza.

“[T]o find an immediate solution to stop the attacks, killing of women, children and civilians. Secondly, to provide food and medical assistance, and thirdly to resolve the Palestinian issue as a whole. This is what we do in every meeting,” Anwar told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.

Anwar has been among the most vocal Southeast Asian leaders in condemning Israel’s bombings and siege of the Gaza Strip in the wake of the Hamas attack. 

The U.S. has been pressing Malaysia through diplomatic channels to label Hamas a terrorist group following its Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Anwar had revealed last week, warning that his government would not give in to any coercion.

Malaysia, one of the two largest Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia, has had a longstanding relationship with Hamas and has not condemned the Hamas attacks.

Anwar touched on the issue in an address to civil servants on Monday.

“[I]nternational media ask ‘Do you slam Hamas for the Oct. 7 attacks?’ But the 70 years of attack [by Israel on Palestine] is not seen as a problem,” he said.


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