Is proposed site in Gaza really a hospital, or spy station?

Some Palestinian authorities have pledged to obstruct plans to build what they fear could be a US-Israeli military intelligence camp, while Hamas says the facility will be a field hospital in the Gaza Strip.

al-monitor A view of the US field hospital in the Gaza Strip, seen in a picture uploaded Dec. 7, 2019.  Photo by Facebook/FSmedicalMissions.
Ahmad Melhem

Ahmad Melhem

@ahmadme44502893

Topics covered

ngo, spying, military, palestinian authority, mahmoud abbas, hamas, hospital

Dec 19, 2019

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A field hospital being established in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip continues  to stir animosity between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas officials.

Abbas pledged twice within three days to work against the project, which Hamas says is a US-backed field hospital and the Palestinian Authority (PA) insists is a US military intelligence facility with ties to Israel. On Dec. 6, he said during the PLO Executive Committee meeting in Ramallah that the PA will not allow the United States to establish the hospital, nor will it indulge Israel’s plan to establish an industrial island off Gaza's coast.

On Dec. 9, Abbas reiterated his position in a speech at the Anti-Corruption Commission conference in Ramallah.

“We rejected the 'deal of the century,'" he said, referring to the US plan for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. "We put up with pressure and the cutting off of funds and aid. Imagine, they want to establish a hospital in Gaza to provide aid to Gazans while Jerusalem [Palestinian] hospitals are [not given] aid. They want to separate Gaza from the West Bank to accomplish the deal of the century."

In September 2018, the United States cut $25 million in aid for six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem after the PA rejected the US peace proposal, which hasn't yet seen the light of day.

The PA also notes that the hospital plans weren't coordinated with the PA or government.

Surveying for the hospital began in July and the equipment needed to erect the facility entered Gaza on Sept. 24 through the Erez crossing, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported Sept. 25, based on information from a Hamas source who was not identified.

The 43,000 square feet of hospital space is to include 16 wards with a total of around 50 beds.

The hospital is being established on about 10 acres in northern Gaza with Qatari funding and using the expertise of FriendShips, a US nongovernmental organization (NGO) described as a pro-Israel evangelical Christian group. The facility, according to the NGO website, will provide medical services for the public four days a week and will eventually be able to offer services in family medicine, pediatrics, OB-GYN, ophthalmology, dental, physical therapy, hippotherapy (therapeutic horse riding), post-traumatic stress disorder therapy and cancer treatment.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad say the project is part of the recent understandings concluded between Hamas and Israel under the auspices of Egypt. Hamas announced in a Sept. 25 press statement that it agreed to the hospital because its goal is to provide health services to citizens, with no security or political repercussions or costs.

But Ahmed Majdalani, minister of social affairs and member of the PLO Executive Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Hamas isn't authorized to sign any deal with any party for the establishment of a facility on Palestinian land. Hamas is a political party, not an official or legitimate authority. …  Any understandings that Hamas concludes with Israel are not binding on the PLO or the government."

He added, “The field hospital erection plan wasn't coordinated with the Palestinian Ministry of Health — the competent authority to grant licenses for the establishment of hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza."

FriendShips had in recent years run a hospital in Syria. When fighting there abated, the facility's giant tents, equipment and medical and paramedical staff were slated to be relocated to Gaza.

Majdalani raised suspicions about the hospital's goals.

“This is a military hospital with a black history. Its work in Syria was not confined to medical and therapeutic assistance, as it also provided logistical support to the militants. … Amid the political circumstances and the rupture between the PA and the United States, and with the United States having cut off aid for the Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem, the United States is seeking to establish the hospital in Gaza for malicious purposes," he said.

Majdalani added, “The PA and the PLO will work to hinder the work of this illegal hospital, [and the PA will] persuade citizens not to go to the hospital. It will also contact Arab and international parties to pressure the United States into stopping the hospital's work."

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced Dec. 9, “We respond [to the US hospital proposal] by operating the hospital that was built with Turkish funding in Gaza. We are in the final stages of an agreement with our Turkish friends to cover the operational expenses of the hospital, which can start operating immediately.”

However, Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said in a Dec. 11 interview on official Palestine TV that Turkey's parliament has yet to discuss and approve operational costs for the 180-bed Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital.

A source in the Fatah Revolutionary Council told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the PA will oppose the US project in Gaza by inciting local public opinion against it, as the council believes the project is not a medical hospital but a US security base linked to Israel. He pointed out that the PA’s objection to the hospital is based on the position of Palestinian factions in the PLO.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah's Central Committee and the PLO's Executive Committee, said in a Dec. 2 interview on the official Palestine TV, “The US hospital is [for] military security intelligence. It was [once] erected in Syria, and they have decided to relocate it to Gaza following an agreement with Israel. Then they got Hamas’ approval,” with the aim of perpetuating division and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. 

Mohammad Hussein, grand mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine and Al-Aqsa Mosque preacher, warned in a Dec. 2 press statement against the repercussions of establishing the hospital, calling on Gazans not to deal with it.

Omar al-Ghoul, a writer, political analyst and member of the PLO Central Council, told Al-Monitor, "Opposition to the hospital in Palestine and specifically in Gaza is an important matter that must be built upon, especially considering that the [PLO] factions have rejected it."

According to Ghoul, the PA will also ask any countries that have expressed willingness to finance the project to refrain from doing so. He added that the PA will resort to peaceful means to respond to the hospital project by clarifying and explaining its dangers to citizens as a US military hospital with ties to Israel.

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