Half of Gaza’s buildings damaged or destroyed

According to the United Nations, over 1.7 million people, or more than 80 percent of Gaza's population, have been displaced, with nearly half concentrated in the strip's far south.


February 1, 2024

DHAKAMore than half of Gaza’s buildings have been damaged or destroyed since Israel launched its retaliation for the Hamas attacks of October 7, according to the BBC.

The detailed before-and-after images in a recent analysis seen by the BBC shows how the bombardment of southern and central Gaza has increased since the beginning of December, with the city of Khan Younis bearing much of the brunt of Israel’s assault.

Across Gaza, residential areas have been destroyed, previously busy shopping lanes have been reduced to rubble, universities have been damaged, and farmlands have been churned up, with tent towns springing up on the southern border to house the many thousands of people who have been rendered homeless.

According to the United Nations, over 1.7 million people, or more than 80 percent of Gaza’s population, have been displaced, with nearly half concentrated in the strip’s far south.

Further analysis by BBC indicates the severity of farming destruction, identifying numerous sites of substantial damage.

When asked about the extent of the damage, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) stated that it is targeting both Hamas members and “terror infrastructure”.

Now, satellite data analysis obtained by the BBC reveals the full magnitude of the wreckage. According to the investigation, 1,44,000 to 1,75,000 buildings in the Gaza Strip have been damaged or destroyed. That represents between 50 percent and 61 percent of Gaza’s buildings.

The analysis, conducted by Corey Scher of City University of New York and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University, compares images to detect rapid changes in the height or structure of buildings that suggest damage.

In Khan Younis, more than 38,000 (or more than 46 percent) of buildings were recently burned or damaged, according to the data. Over the last two weeks, more than 1,500 buildings have been demolished or damaged there.

Al-Farra Tower, a 16-story residential block in the city centre and the highest building in the neighbourhood, was flattened on January 9, as evidenced by before-and-after photographs of the city skyline. Since late December, Israeli attacks have destroyed much of the surrounding community.

“Israeli forces targeted residential complexes, especially in the downtown Khan Younis area,” BBC quoted Rawan Qaddah, a 20-year-old displaced resident who has lost communication with her family, as saying.

She named schools among the many structures that had been devastated. Some were now being used as temporary shelters for displaced individuals.

The extent of devastation is clearly seen from street level. Once lively high streets have been dilapidated or demolished.

The images in the BBC story show the facade of the Shawarma Sanabel restaurant prior to Israel’s invasion, as well as the same crossroads in a composite image from January following significant shelling in the area.

The IDF has consistently justified its conduct by citing Hamas’ deliberate embedding in civilian neighbourhoods, as well as explaining building destruction in terms of fighter targeting. But questions have been raised concerning the destruction of buildings that appear to be under the IDF’s direct control.

One example was Israa University in northern Gaza, the BBC said in its report. The building was originally severely damaged before being entirely destroyed in what appeared to be a big orchestrated explosion. The video was widely shared on social media and the IDF claims the approval process for the detonation is currently being probed.

Many of Gaza’s historic sites have sustained significant damage, ncluding the Al-Omari Mosque originally built in the 7th Century.

According to Scher, a scholar who worked on the Gaza damage assessment, the destruction of religious sites in Gaza is unique compared to other war zones he has studied.

“We’ve worked in Ukraine, Aleppo, and other cities, but the scale and speed of the damage is astonishing. I’ve never seen this much damage occur so quickly.”

Further investigation by BBC Verify revealed that significant tracts of formerly farmed land in Gaza have been extensively affected.

Although Gaza was highly reliant on imports prior to the outbreak of conflict, much of its food came from farming and food production within the Strip. According to aid groups, half of Gaza’s population is now at risk of starvation.

Saeed, a farmer who fled south from Beit Lahia, north of Gaza, talked to BBC Arabic in mid-November.

The 33-year-old farmed guava, figs, lemons, oranges, mint, and basil, earning approximately $6,000 every year from these products, which were his, his father’s, and his sister’s sole source of income. For 15 years, he had cared for the property that he inherited from his grandparents.

However, days after departing, he claims he was informed by a relative that the farm had been destroyed by the IDF, along with five nearby homes belonging to his relatives.

Large tracts of land in Gaza’s north and centre, where most agriculture occurred prior to the conflict, appear to be damaged. In many places, the damage is associated with the installation of temporary Israeli defences, earth banks to protect armoured vehicles, and destruction of surrounding land.

Even many of those farmers whose lands were not directly impacted lost crops, the BBC report said.

Mohamed al-Messaddar, a farmer from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, has only been able to visit his land once since Israel’s attacks started.

Arriving during the truce in November, oranges were scattered, rotting on the ground. “The date of harvesting oranges coincided with the beginning of the war. No one would have dared to go there.”

He claims he lost more than 90 percent of his harvest.

Aside from the pattern of land affected by road demolition and defence construction, the IDF has been accused of deliberate devastation.

Aid workers fear that the damage to Gaza’s agriculture will be permanent.

Previous conflicts, such as those in Syria and Ukraine, demonstrated that restoring farmlands may be incredibly difficult.

Farmers who return to work are at risk due to unexploded munitions. There is also the challenge of cleaning up contaminated land and reconstructing infrastructure including water, energy, and transportation systems.

According to the BBC, Satellite pictures taken on December 3 and January 14 indicate a tremendous change: practically every accessible, undeveloped plot of land in northwestern Rafah has been converted into a sanctuary for displaced Palestinians.

When Israel began its campaign against Hamas, it advised Palestinians in north and central Gaza to go south for their own safety. Many have wound up in Rafah, with an unknown future.

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