When Israel suddenly withdrew its troops and unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Al-Shifa Hospital faced an unparalleled challenge. Located in nearby Gaza City, Al-Shifa was the largest medical facility in the area, serving a population of 1.3 million people and providing emergency, medical, and mental health services. As the Israeli forces pulled out, 450 patients were left behind in the hospital in a state of limbo.
These patients had come to Al-Shifa for some of the best medical care in the region, but now they were completely forgotten. With no clear plan for their care or what their future as patients looked like, these individuals found themselves in a heart-wrenching situation. Many had been brought to Al-Shifa from refugee camps far away, or were orphaned after Israeli bombardments of Gaza, and had no other resources to rely on.
Unable to access any truly adequate medical care, these patients were forced to rely on what limited resources Al-Shifa had, and what little assistance the staff could provide. The difficulty of the situation was only compounded by its unique nature. With no precedent for the situation, the hospital grappled with the lack of any state-mandated aid or guidelines to work with. In the end, the hospital was unable to offer more than a sympathetic ear and makeshift accommodations for these individuals.
For the following decade, Al-Shifa continued to manage the limbo of these 450 patients, every day hoping for a resolution that would never come. It wasn't until 2015, a full 10 years later, that Al-Shifa and the Israeli government reached an agreement. As part of the agreement, the Israeli government agreed to pay for the care and accommodation of the 450 patients and to provide them with access to resources that had been denied to them for so long.
This agreement was a real and tangible benefit to the patients of Al-Shifa and the entire population of the Gaza Strip, illuminating the importance of international humanitarian aid and cooperation. While the story of Al-Shifa Hospital is one of sadness and despair, it is also a testament to the resilience of the hospital and its staff, who worked tirelessly to provide aid to the vulnerable and forgotten.