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From The New York Times, I'm Sabrina Tavernizee, and this is The Daily. Israel's war against Hamas has caused large-scale destruction in Gaza and a death toll that now stands at nearly 13,000 people, according to Gaza health officials. Now, as the war enters its seventh week, Israel finds itself under intense pressure from allies and from critics to justify its strategy. Today, my colleague, Patrick Kingsley, goes inside Georgia with the Israeli military to a hospital that's at the heart of Israel's argument. It's Tuesday, November 21st. Patrick, late Thursday night, you were one of five journalists who were invited by the Israeli military to go inside Gaza to see, really for the first time, what things look like on the ground. So tell me how this trip came about and what your questions were going into it, what you wanted to understand.


The context was that Israel had just taken control of parts or most of a hospital that has been at the center of the discourse about Israel's invasion of Qatar and basically become a proxy for a wider debate about the conduct of Israel's airstrikes and its invasion.




The hospital, Al-Shifa, is the largest in Gaza, and Israel has, since the start of its invasion, maintained that it conceals a secret Hamas military base and that therefore the hospital, even though it is a civilian institution, must be captured in order to defeat Hamas and remove Hamas's military capabilities. The war, as we know, has caused catastrophic loss of civilian life. Around 13,000 people, according to the Kazakhstan Health Ministry, have been killed since the start of the war in Gaza. Many of them are civilians, many of them children. And to Palestinians and to many international observers, that is evidence of Israel's targeting of civilians. But to Israel, there's such a high civilian death toll because of Hamas. Because Hamas embeds itself, they say, within civilian infrastructure, in or near schools or hospitals. Therefore, Israel, in response to the devastating raid on many of its southern towns and villages on October seventh that killed an estimated 1,200 people, has no choice but to target civilian areas. And the Schifa hospital is the embodiment of this debate because it's the largest hospital in Gaza. And if Israel can prove that it was military infrastructure, then many Israelis think that it will help justify and help sustain international support for its invasion.


But if they can't, then to Palestinians and others, it will prove their point that Israel's conduct of the war is illegal and unjustified.


In a way, the hospital is about more than just a hospital, right? It's about the logic that Israel is applying in the broader war.


Absolutely. That was the context in which I woke up last Thursday and we had a lot of questions. The Israeli military agreed late in the afternoon to take me to see the hospital. It was not a decision we took lightly, not least because they did not want us to take pictures of the inside of one of the military vehicles that we were traveling in and they didn't want us to take pictures of the faces of most of the soldiers we were going with. We were only going to be able to see the places that they wanted us to see and we weren't going to be able to talk to any Palestinians. There were plenty of restrictions on our visit, but we decided it was worth it because very few journalists have been able to enter Gaza since the start of the war. Those that are in Gaza have had their movements greatly restricted by airstrikes, the Israeli invasion itself, as well as restrictions placed by Hamas. Dozens of Palestinian journalists have died trying to report on what's going on. We felt that whatever limited window we could get onto what was going on in Gaza, in particular at the hospital would be worth it.


You are.


From what?


New York Times. New York Times, okay.


So tell me the story of going inside Gaza to see this hospital.


We started off inside Israel itself at the village of Beirut. We are just getting into a summer, about to leave the Israeli village of Beirut, which was one of the villages that was overrun by Hamas and its allies on October seventh. We're driving in this Israeli military Jeep down on a bumpy farm road. At a certain point, we were then taken to a second military vehicle, this time an open-sided Jeep. And we're joining a long, long convoy of dozens of military vehicles. We then switched our phones on to flight mode so that after entering Gaza, our phones couldn't be picked up by any digital surveillance systems. We're just crossing the border between Israel and Gaza. We just passed through a gate in the fence that divides the Gaza strip from the state of Israel. And so several hours after we arrived at Kibbutz-Beir-Ree, we were finally rumbling into Gaza through a gap in the same fence that Hamas penetrated on October seventh, this time heading into Gaza rather than out of it, and this time heading into darkness. Just the dim lights of the vehicles in the Israeli army convoy. And above us, the stars in the sky.


In every village and town we then passed through, there was almost no light coming from the windows. The convo was a silent juggernaut making its way through a silent, dark landscape. The first village we went to, we didn't see much damage, but we're now passing a building that looks totally bombed out. As we kept on going. Three floors, walls are almost totally destroyed. We could see buildings that felt like someone had taken a bite out of them. The roof appears to have fallen onto the ground floor and the walls have given way. Village after village seemed in total ruin. It's just ruin after ruin. Destroyed house after destroyed house. Rubble upon rubble. It was a ghostly scene, not like the Gaza that I've come to know over the last decade of visits. I can smell. There was no Palestinian to be seen. More than a million, we understand, have fled south, leaving most villages and most towns mostly empty. You know what building this used to be? What?


I don't know. A hotel, I guess. Yeah.


Because there is a place of noise, it's a place of light, it's a place of life outside of wars. But on this night, shortly after midnight on Friday morning, it felt like a place of death. The last time I was here in the late summer, there were beach resorts, cafes, people swimming in the sea, people drinking juice, drinking coffee in those cafes, watching the sunset. Now I'm surrounded by ruins. So what.


Happened next?


We got out of our Jeep and I'm now walking into the Namir, which is an armed vehicle, a bit like a tank, but without a gun turret. We entered a heavily armed personnel carrier. There's a small ramp ducky. And that showed that while Israel seems to have got the middle section of Gaza roughly under its control, it's still fighting active battles in Gaza City, and they wanted to put us in this personnel carrier in order to guard against ambush. Several minutes later, we arrived on the edge of Al-Shivah Hospital, and this was the destination, the final destination of our brief journey into Northern Gaza. We're now leaving the armed vehicle, stepping out into the jet black night. The doorway to the armed personnel carrier slowly went down a bit like a drawbridge to a medieval castle. Being led by special forces. Creating a gangway from the inside of the vehicle to the ground. We're told by a militious spokesman that we've now entered the hospital. To be honest, I didn't notice. We had to pick our way from the street through the rubble of a ruined building, and we were ushered into a ruin on the edge of the hospital ground.


The hospital is not just a single building, it's a roughly square shaped complex. And we arrived in what we were told was previously a cafeteria. And there we met Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hech, who's the international spokesman for the Israeli Army.


Watch your step. We're not a safe area. You might hear some firing.


We picked our way through the debris and out closer to the center of the hospital complex towards a shaft. This is.


One of the entrances, shafts.


Large, wide shaft.


You can see that's like cemented wall. You see it. This is a Hamas tunnel.


That they said that they had discovered earlier that day, underneath a car that they said had contained weapons and explosives and had belonged to Hamas militants.


I just want you to get the visual. It's just important that you see this.


The shaft was several yards deep. It had the remains of a metal staircase descending into it. We could see electrical cables descending into the shaft. We couldn't see where the shaft was leading to, but the military said this is the start of the Hamas underground complex that is underneath the hospital. What does it tell us that there's a spiral staircase going down into the ground? It's interesting, but it doesn't prove anything. It doesn't prove that there is a command center. What would you say it is? I would say it's a spiral staircase leading into the ground. Where to? I don't know, neither do you. It's the middle of the earth. For them, this was proved positive that something untoward was going on within the grounds of Schiefer. It was proved positive that there was a military command center. And it became a subject of dispute because we, journalists, can't just take people's word for it. We have to see for our own eyes what the shaft is leading to. It could be anywhere. It could be a park or anything. We have to see that it leads to a tunnel and then leads to a command center that has weapons in it and so on.


And what we were seeing was simply not that. It was something that seemed odd. Why would there be a shaft with a staircase leading down into the ground, on the grounds of a hospital. But without further information, without further images, without being able to go down to the bottom of the shaft and proceed further, we could not conclude more than that. So is the idea that you can't go further down that spiral staircase because there might be explosives?


It could be booby-trap, it could be explosives. It just takes time. We'll do it though. We'll get down there.


And the military, the senior officers told us, Well, that was impossible for now.


It took us a long time to find this. I would've been pressed for the last 36 hours why we didn't come with a big victory picture and show the command chain. This is going to take time.


And they are very frustrated with the outside world, that the outside world cannot see this for what they believe it to be. But for now, we felt that this was only a shaft.


A shaft that is maybe suspicious but inconclusive.


I think that's the right summary. The shaft is odd, it's intriguing. We can imagine what it might lead to, but it stops short, so far, of being conclusive evidence of anything. But so we can't go into the hospital? No. And so we pushed them for other evidence. We pushed them to take us into other places in the hospital complex.


There's still a threat from them. We can't go into the hospital.


They said they couldn't do that for now for a bunch of reasons, including that they fear that Hamas fighters were still in parts of the hospital that they did not fully control and that some gunmen from within parts of the hospital fired on them when they first entered Al-Shif, a hospital compound. For them this again was more proof of what they've been saying all along, that Hamas fights from within the hospital, that it's not Israel that's to blame for attacking a hospital, a place that's supposed to be off limits during a war, but it's Hamas and its allies who have broken international law by entering it in the first place.


This is additional equipment that we found.


We also asked if we could see some of the weapons and IEDs and so on that they said that they collected. They brought their.


Drones, you see here a drone, you see a Kalash, you see a laptop, you see a RTG.


They showed us to a shelf where some of them were. Naturally, anyone can put a bunch of weapons on a shelf and so this in itself is not proof, even if they were taken from other locations in the hospital. It's not something that we, as an international newspaper, can accept as proof. Right.


I told you that nothing will be good enough for you. You have to go to a tunnel, you see a tunnel, it's underground. What else are.


You doing? This caused a back and forth because they were desperately hoping that this would be enough to convince international reporters, but inevitably it wasn't. Can we meet Dr.


Abu Salmae? You can. Okay.


While you were at Shifah, did you see patients? Did you see doctors or even the civilians who were taking shelter there?


We saw none. Why not?


Because you can't go near the hospital.


We asked to visit them and we were told it was too dangerous to enter that section of the hospital.


We gave some fuel. You can see lights are still on. They still have their light.


They still have their light. They've taken the fuel. I don't know. But the soldiers pointed to how there were some lights on in the hospital and the situation there remained tenable. But we knew from other reporting that there was a desperate situation inside. Hundreds, if not thousands of displaced people who'd fled to the hospital for their safety, hundreds of wounded and injured people, some of them on life support machines and more than 30 premature babies who were at risk of dying.


But you didn't see any of that?




Back to the airport.




Leaving? Yes.


We're leaving. Okay, so at the end of your time at the hospital, it seems like what you've learned is that the Israeli military thinks they have some evidence of a command center, but it's this shaft which is unclear what it is or where it goes. They're asserting that Hamas has been shooting at them from within the Shifah complex. That suggests that they are to some extent operating in the civilian place, though you don't see evidence of that either. Basically some evidence of some things, but nothing all that conclusive about any part of it.


Exactly. Not yet. And when we got back into the armed personnel carrier.




Rumbled back through the southern neighborhoods of Gaza City, all these questions that had been in my mind at the start of the journey remained there. The question of whether there was conclusive proof that Hamas had been using this hospital as a military command center. And as we stood amid such a disfigured and damaged landscape, why and whether such disfigurement, such damage was necessary and justified. And that question led to a wider discussion with the commanding officer of the Brigade that has captured that part of Gaza. I've come to Gaza many times, and this would be the area where I would go for my morning run every day. I'd go up the beach and see the cafes, if he was swimming. Now I can't even recognize it. And when I asked the commanding officer of the Brigade, Colonel Elad Zourey, this, Can you explain and justify the scale of the destruction, these cafes are gone, the beachfront resorts have gone, the lifeguard, the towers have gone, the apartment blocks are all shot out. Why was that so necessary? Was every apartment full of terrorists?


Was it every building? Every junction here was full with enemy that fired on us. I'm sure it's a beautiful place. I am sure it could be a beautiful place, but they are firing on us. So we have no other option. We are in a war. This is a war zone. And it's full with enemy and ammunition, IEDs, RPGs, everywhere. Mortars that they are firing from this neighborhood to Israel. Mortars. I know. It's a beautiful place. I know. Could be. But they are firing from here to Tel Aviv. Did you also see this when you ran here?


He responded in a way that suggested my question came from a place of luxury, of privilege and of moral luck. His point was fundamentally that the Israeli soldiers that he commanded had had no choice but to fire back at the places where the Hamas fighters were and by extension, destroy or damage the buildings in which Hamas was hiding. I think we can all understand that the need to take out rocket launches and places where Hamas members firing at Israel. But is every part of this area, it's basically all gone. Did all of it have to be taken out?


Every place that fire on Israeli soldiers need to be taken out. Yes, we are in a war, sir. It is what it is. How much.


Is it?


And they could live here. The people, the gas's people, not Hamas, gas's civilians, beautiful life. But it was not what they choose.


This was a microcosm of his wider point, which was that while to me this looked like a deathscape, a hellscape, ruin upon ruin, that that fundamentally was something that Hamas had brought on itself.


This is fundamentally the Israeli case.


Yes. It's a refrain that you hear in Israel over and over.


We'll be right back. Patrick, we were just talking about your visit inside Schifa Hospital. In that visit you saw suggestive but not conclusive evidence of Israel's claim that there's a Hamas command center under it. What has happened since your visit?


Since my visit, they've released more evidence. They have shown two more videos of the shaft that we visited. But this time they've shown us what the shaft leads to. The shaft seems to lead to a tunnel, a tunnel that extends perhaps dozens of meters underneath the ground until it reaches a metal door. And that's when the videos that they have released stop.


And has the times independently confirmed that this is in fact from Schiffer, this video?


Yes, we've confirmed both our video investigation team has confirmed that this video is from Schiffer. And we can see from the images ourselves, me and my colleagues who were down there on Friday morning that this was the same shaft that we looked at. And that's not the only bit of evidence the Israeli Army has produced since we visited. They've also released closed circuit television footage that shows people dragging in someone under duress into the entrance of one of the buildings of the Schiefer Hospital, and it also shows them wheeling someone who looks badly injured on a journey through the corridors of Schiefer Hospital. The Israeli Army says that these people were people that were kidnapped on October seventh and that this is more evidence that Hamas used the Schiefer Hospital as some military command center. The Times has also verified the location. What we haven't done is confirm the exact timings of those videos. Although the videos themselves do have the date of October seventh in the top left-hand corner.


Bringing the hostages into the hospital could actually mean that Hamas is using it as some base of some sort.


Exactly. There's a counterargument that says that just because they brought in injured people into the hospital. That doesn't mean that the hospital is being used as some military nerve center. Those people perhaps were injured and needed to be treated. The counterargument to that is that at least one of those people does not seem to be badly injured. Secondly, there is more than one hospital in Garza. In fact, there's scores of hospitals. And if Hamas or their allies were really concerned about rushing people to have medical treatment, they could have gone to any number of other medical centers in hospitals that are closer to Israel than Schifa.


Patrick, to the question that we started this conversation with, the question of whether there is proof of the Israeli claim that there is a command center under the hospital, there is more evidence, but it does still seem to stop short of conclusive proof, right?


That's right. Lots of intriguing evidence is coming out. But from a journalistic point of view, if this was a New York Times investigation, our editors would say to us, Go back and gather more evidence. This is not the conclusive Slam dunk that you're saying that it is. Indeed, that is what our editors are saying right now. We're still saying that this stops short so far of conclusive proof of a military command center underneath the hospital.


But is a tunnel with a big metal door that goes down deep into the earth not pretty damning of Hamas, though? I mean, why would there be a tunnel under a hospital at all?


That's a very good question and one that we're all asking. There don't seem to be that many innocent explanations for why that would be all that said, this still falls short of conclusive proof, and we need to wait days, possibly weeks for further evidence to be presented.


In a world where this is the extent of the evidence, of the claim that Hamas is underground there at the hospital, what does it mean about the broader underlying justification for hitting a lot of the civilian places that have been hit? If this is it, if this is all we're ever going to see in terms of evidence, what does it mean?


I think it means that in the outside world, the battle lines that have already been drawn between Israel and its supporters and the Palestinians and their supporters will not really shift. And it's going to remain a subject of debate. And more broadly, it means that the debate over whether Israel has been indiscriminately targeting civilian infrastructure or whether Hamas has been bedding itself within civilian institutions is not really going to be shifted because both sides are going to dig in and say that they have enough evidence to prove their point.


Okay, so let's consider the reverse. In a world where we do eventually see conclusive proof of a command center underneath Schifa Hospital, what will it mean specifically about how Israel thinks about the total death toll?


Israel will say that it buttresses their argument that they are not totally to blame for such a high civilian death toll. They will say that, Look, Hamas was embedded within Qatar's largest hospital. Is it any surprise that when we had to take action following Hamas's raid on Israel on October seventh, our response had a civilian toll.


But do you think it still begs the question about Israel's calculus when it comes to civilian deaths? And, of course, the reason why I ask you this is that Israel's stated goal, and really the goal in any military conflict, is supposed to be to target militants, enemies, not civilians. But if the ratio is far, far more civilians are dying versus Hamas militants, that's pretty meaningful.


I think this question boils down to how many civilian deaths is too many civilian deaths. There are many people who look at what's going on in Gaza and say that even one civilian death is too many. But to others, including many in Israel, the question really is about whether Israel is taking precautions to minimize the loss of civilian life when attempting the very difficult task of targeting militants who have based themselves in civilian areas. And that debate becomes even more complicated because we don't know how many militants, Hamas fighters, fighters from other Palestinian armed groups, have actually been killed. There are some suggestions that it could be as many as 5000, some suggestions that it is much lower. They haven't said on the record how many fighters they've killed. We understand they are keeping track. They haven't said exactly what proportion of civilian death to military death is acceptable. Without doing that, they open the door for accusations that they are not taking enough care to prevent the loss of civilian life.


Patrick, it feels like from everything you're saying about the Israeli strategy and from what the IDF soldiers told you when you were there in Gaza with them, that the Israeli belief really is that Hamas is hiding literally anywhere and everywhere, and so that everything is a potential target. But because the stated goal of Israel is to eliminate Hamas, it seems like the only logical outcome of that is basically the total destruction of Gaza and, of course, even more civilians dying in the process.


Yes, and that's why when I went in on early on Friday morning, we saw such devastation, village after village of collapsed buildings, rubble, roads completely churned up, apartment blocks, largely destroyed. It looked like a hellscape and largely relivable.


Patrick, are you getting any indications that any of this, the large numbers of deaths, the destruction that you yourself witnessed in Gaza, is making the Israelis at all queasy or uncomfortable with their overall strategy of targeting Hamas within civilian areas? I mean, is there any indication that they're considering whether there might be a different way to do all of this? Some other way where the toll on civilians is less severe. Are there other tactics being contemplated?


I think they're not just being contemplated, but we are seeing those actions, to some extent, being carried out on the ground. Not in a way that feels meaningful to many of Israel's critics, but nevertheless, they are taking place. An example of that is the operation to capture Schiefer Hospital. Following a lot of American pressure, Israel decided to send in only a small force to capture certain parts of it and to search certain parts of it, rather than sending in overwhelming force that might have created a bloodbath. While this is small consolation to many Palestinians and indeed the people who are inside the hospital, who have not had anything like proper treatment in the last few weeks, this was in Israel's eyes and indeed, I think in the eyes of some of its allies, as an example of Israel trying to temper what it was doing.


Interesting. What about the question of hostages? Does all of this strategy to destroy Hamas and its military capability jeopardize that other major goal, getting those 240-some-od hostages back? How does that factor into this strategy at this point?


On the one hand, the further that Israel pushes inside Gaza, the greater the chance of street fighting and even subterraane fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas fighters becomes. And as that likelihood rises, so too does the likelihood that hostages might be killed in the crossfire. And that's why there are protesters, not huge numbers of protesters, but there are protesters inside Israel who want a cease-fire in order to save the lives of hostages. The flip side, though, is that the further Israel goes inside Gaza, the more intelligence it's able to pick up about the location of the hostages, the likely is that it might be able to rescue some of those hostages. And thirdly, the likelihood is that Hamas might feel more pressured to release some hostages in order to secure a cease-fire that would buy Hamas some time to regroup, to regroup build its remaining infrastructure, to get fuel in, to get food in, both for civilian population, but also probably for its own purposes. And what we have now are negotiations conducted through mediators between Israel and Hamas about the release of some of those hostages in exchange for Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails.


Those negotiations, we understand, are closer to reaching some conclusion, but it could be days, if not another week before those negotiations actually do bear fruit.


What's your best guess about where the Israeli strategy goes? What's going to happen?


I think it's likely we're going to have a ceasefire at some point in the next week that would allow for some hostages to be exchanged for some Palestinian prisoners inside Israeli jails. But even if that doesn't happen again, it seems likely that Israel is going to head south. That's where Israel believes that the Hamas leadership, including Yaki, a Sinoar, the head of Hamas in Gaza, is hiding. There's also some talk that that's actually where most of the hostages are. And that is going to compound and there's a devastating humanitarian crisis in the south.


Right, because most of the people from the north had fled to the south, right? The south is now housing the majority of the cousin population.


Exactly. The population of Southern Georgia has probably doubled. We've got around two million people in this relatively small pocket of land. There are reports of diseases spreading. People are scavenging for food and water every day because of such a shortage. It's a really desperate situation as it is, and with an invading army heading into that mess, it is expected to get a whole lot worse. What we could see to mitigate that, albeit only in relative terms, is for another transfer of the population back up to the north. Where to? Is really unclear because as I saw, large parts of Northern Gaza are decimated and it's not entirely clear where people would go if they went back north to where they've been living.


The question is, come back to what?


In many cases, they will be coming back to ruins.


Patrick, thank you.


Thank you, Sabrinna.


Over the weekend, a humanitarian team from the World Health Organization was allowed into Schifah Hospital. The team described it as a, quote, death zone. A mass grave at its entrance contained 80 bodies, and the hospital's corridors were filled with medical waste. On Saturday, the remaining civilians sheltering there, evacuated. By the end of the weekend, nearly all the hospital's remaining medical staff had left, as had most of the patients, including 28 premature babies who, on Monday, were taken to Egypt for medical care. The group said that the hospital, Georgia's largest, had ceased to function. We'll be right back. Here's what else you should know today. On Monday, a federal appeals court drastically weakened the Voting Rights Act, issuing a ruling that would effectively bar private citizens and civil rights groups from filing lawsuits under a central provision of the law. The ruling, made by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, found that only the federal government could bring a legal challenge under Section Two of the Voting Rights Act, a crucial part of the law that prohibits election or voting practices that discriminate against Americans based on race. The opinion is almost certain to be appealed to the Supreme Court, where the current conservative majority has a mixed record when it comes to cases on voting rights.


Today's episode was produced by Astha Chatirvadi, Stella Tan, and Carlos Prieto with help from Summer Tamad. It was edited by Paige Cowett and Patricia Willens, contains original music, by Marion Lozano, Rowen Niemestow, and Dan Powell, and was engineered by Chris Wood. Our theme music is by Jim Runberg and Ben Landsford of Wonderly. That's it for The Daily. I'm Sabrina Tavernousseed. See you tomorrow.