Israel rocked by release of Gaza hospital director

By David Brummer

A reporter from India’s NDTV at the Al-Shifa hospital in Gaza

JERUSALEM – Israel’s political landscape was rocked by the news early Monday that the director of Gaza’s Shifa Hospital – Muhammad Abu Salmiya – along with dozens of other prisoners were released back to the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave.

Shifa is the hospital where many Israeli casualties – the wounded, the dying and the dead – were recorded being taken following the Hamas-led onslaught against the Nova Music Festival and communities and kibbutzim on Oct. 7. Abu Salmiya had been in administrative detention in Israel since Nov. 23.

It is not entirely clear who ordered Abu Salmiya’s release, and the recriminations have been both swift and vicious, with fingers pointed at several different parties. Right-wing government ministers blamed the Israel security agency Shin Bet. Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli of the Likud Party took to X to blast the decision: “The release of the director of the Shifa Hospital – in whose beds our people were raped and killed, and which was used as a Hamas base, without any quid pro quo is intolerable. Neither the government nor the cabinet approved this decision, and whoever did needs to give a full account of this careless decision, which has jeopardized Israel’s security.”

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National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who faced attacks from the directorate of the Shin Bet as well as his political opponents, pushed back against claims that he was to blame for the hospital director’s release. According to a report in the Times of Israel, Ben Gvir, in a WhatsApp group, called for the removal of the Shin Bet Director Ronen Bar. Israel’s prisons come under Ben Gvir’s responsibility and they have suffered from overcrowding since Israel’s response – in Gaza and Judea and Samaria – to the Hamas threat. Ben Gvir rejected Interior Minister Moshe Arbel’s quip about him being responsible for the state of the country’s prisons.

Israel’s current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed a finger at the High Court, alleging that it was at least partly responsible for the bureaucratic mess that led to Abu Salmiya’s release. Netanyahu’s office said “the decision to release the prisoners followed discussions at the High Court on a petition against the detention of prisoners at the Sde Teiman detention facility.” (Abu Salamiya was not being held at Sde Teiman, but at Nafha Prison, according to the Israel Prison’s Service,) according to The Times of Israel.

Two of Israel’s former prime ministers, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Benny Gantz (Blue and White), the latter of whom recently resigned from the war cabinet, were highly critical not just of the decision to release the Shifa hospital director but also the image that such a muddle projects.

“This morning’s publication [of the decision] regarding the release of the Shifa hospital director is a continuation of the dysfunction in Israel’s government that will only lead to harming more Israeli citizens. The defense minister didn’t know. The national security minister said it wasn’t his decision. Each of them is passing the buck,” Lapid wrote on X.

Meanwhile, Gantz, who some view as the prime minister-in-waiting, also took to X to bemoan the confusion within the government. “The prime minister and the defense minister are in a hole. The release of terrorists and failed operations; the IDF, the Shin Bet, and the Supreme Court are focused. Whoever doesn’t know how to lead and take responsibility, cannot lead us in these most difficult times.”

Away from the politics of the situation, one father, Avi Marciano, whose daughter Cpl. Noa Marciano was taken hostage from the Nahal Oz military base on Oct. 7 and later murdered inside Shifa Hospital, slammed the government for what he said was further evidence of its neglect.

“Noa was abandoned before Oct. 7 when they didn’t listen to her. She was abandoned on Oct. 7 when they didn’t come to save her. She was abandoned after that when they didn’t do enough to return her home alive,” he wrote on Facebook. “And now, seven months after we buried her, the State of Israel decides to release those who are directly or indirectly responsible for her murder. I’m sorry, my girl, that you continue to be neglected. I will only accept the release of the person who is at least partly responsible for my daughter’s murder as part of a hostage exchange. Not like this.”

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