Hospitals in Israel are going underground to continue their operations amidst rocket attacks from Lebanon

When you visit the Galilee Medical Center in northern Israel, you can hardly tell that you're underground. There are nurse stations, hospital beds, and a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Familiar hospital scenes unfold: a father caressing his newborn's legs, family members gathered around the bed of a sick loved one, and a nurse drawing blood.

The public hospital in Nahariya is just 6 miles from the border with Lebanon, where tensions and fighting between Israel and Lebanese militants have escalated.

"We are together with our patients underground because we are preparing to continue taking care of our patients even under fire," explains Dr. Masad Barhum, the hospital's director. He wears a protective vest over his classic white coat.

According to Israeli officials, it took just a few hours on October 7th to move the first patients underground when Hamas-backed militants crossed the border from Gaza into southern Israel, killing over 1,400 people and taking more than 240 hostages.

According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, Israel bombed the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for a month, resulting in the deaths of over 10,000 Palestinians and damage to overcrowded hospitals.

Concerns are growing that the conflict between Israel and Hamas will spill over beyond the Gaza Strip and Israel. In northern Israel, rocket and artillery exchanges with Iran-backed Hezbollah and other armed groups in Lebanon happen daily. In recent days, civilians on both sides of the border have died in dozens of airstrikes. Near the Nahariya hospital, you can often hear drones and air raid sirens.

"Almost all the hospitals in Israel are preparing for a major war with Hezbollah," says Barhum. "But specifically, we've been preparing for this moment for many years."

Galilee's protection was used during Israel's 2006 war with Lebanon. During that conflict, a rocket from Lebanon hit the hospital's fourth floor. The staff had already moved their medical care underground, so no one was harmed in the attack.

Throughout Israel, but especially in the north, hospitals are going underground or fortifying their facilities.

Parking Lot Transformed into a Hospital In the northwestern city of Haifa, the Rambam Medical Campus has transformed a three-story underground parking garage into a hospital.

Where there used to be parking spaces, there are now hospital beds, oxygen outlets, monitors, and ventilators. Rambam, Israel's largest trauma hospital, has 1,400 beds underground.

"I'm not familiar with any facility like this in the world," says Dr. Netanel Gorovitz, who is part of the team converting the garage into a hospital in Haifa. "If we need to go underground tomorrow, it's ready."

Every day, according to Gorovitz, he and his team monitor the increased activity at the border that could send them underground.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, has stated that he is ready for further escalation of the war at any moment, depending on Israel's actions in Gaza and Lebanon. "All scenarios are open on our southern front in Lebanon," he said in his first speech since the conflict began.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has issued his own warnings to Hezbollah, saying that there will be a "price to pay" for any attack from Lebanon.

Doctors in Gaza describe the devastating impact of the war on healthcare and the civilian population. In Gaza, giving birth under the conditions of destruction is challenging, but children continue to be born.

This situation stands in sharp contrast to the healthcare system in the Gaza Strip, which was already struggling before Israel launched its latest military response to Hamas attacks. According to the Gaza Ministry of Health, since October 7th, 18 hospitals and the majority of primary healthcare centers have ceased operations due to attacks or fuel shortages.

 

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