Hezbollah Conflict Forces Israeli Hospital to Seek Refuge Underground

In the heart of northern Israel, beyond the 15-foot concrete barricades and the blast doors, a major medical center is fighting its own battle. The Galilee Medical Center, located mere miles from the volatile Lebanese border, has been transformed into a subterranean fortress as the conflict between Israeli forces and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah intensifies.

The hospital, once bustling with the sound of doctors and patients, now echoes with the deafening silence of its empty corridors, a stark testament to the escalating tension in the region. The hospital has been preparing for this eventuality for years due to its proximity to the border. As Dr. Masad Barhoum, the director general of the hospital, put it, “We knew this moment would arrive, we just didn’t know when.”

The underground operation at Galilee Medical Center is emblematic of the upheaval life in northern Israel has experienced since Hezbollah began unleashing attacks against the Israeli military, aligning with Hamas. The effect of this cross-border conflict is far-reaching, prompting massive evacuations from towns, schools, and businesses on both sides of the border.

In the face of this turmoil, the hospital made a strategic decision to relocate the majority of the hospital to an underground annex in response to the Hamas-led attack on October 7. This preemptive move, made even before government evacuation orders were issued, was designed to ensure the hospital could continue to function even under the threat of a Hezbollah assault.

Navigating the labyrinthine underground complex reveals a striking adaptation to the conflict. The once bustling internal medicine ward stands empty, its neon-lit hallways shrouded in silence. In contrast, the underground complex buzzes with activity, the narrow tunnels filled with the hum of machinery and the beep of golf carts ferrying supplies. The hospital has been reduced to 30 percent capacity, a strategic move to allow for an influx of trauma patients should the need arise.

Amid the clinical sterility, human resilience shines through. In the dimly lit neonatal intensive care unit, new parents in protective gowns bottle-feed their babies. Doctors perform life-saving procedures just a few feet away, a testament to the extraordinary efforts of the medical staff to maintain a semblance of normalcy amid the chaos.

The neonatal unit, under the direction of Dr. Vered Fleisher Sheffer, was the first to move underground. Dr. Fleisher Sheffer and her team have been through this before – during the last all-out war with Hezbollah in 2006. But as she points out, the challenge is not just logistical but also emotional, “we are humans, and now we must stay underground.”

The reality of the escalating conflict is starkly evident in the casualties the hospital has been treating. Just a day before journalists visited the hospital, a Hezbollah strike hit a nearby village, resulting in numerous casualties. “These are our neighbors,” Dr. Fleisher Sheffer said, a poignant reminder of the human cost of conflict.

This underground transformation of Galilee Medical Center underscores the resilience of a community under siege and the lengths to which medical professionals will go to ensure the continuity of care. As the conflict continues to rage above ground, the hospital remains a beacon of hope, a testament to human resilience in the face of adversity.