How Israel's war is deliberately making Gaza uninhabitable
After nearly six weeks of nonstop bombardment on the densely populated Gaza Strip, it has only recently started to become clear exactly how much of Gaza has been destroyed in the violent Israeli onslaught.
Over 14,800 Palestinians, including 6,000 children, have been killed according to the Gaza Health Ministry since 7 October. The UN estimates that nearly 1.5 million are internally displaced, and Gaza officials say more than 50% of housing units in Gaza have been destroyed.
Using analysis of satellite data, Corey Scher of New York’s CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University found that almost 900,000 buildings across Gaza have suffered severe destruction and damage from Israeli bombardments, including places of worship, hospitals, schools, and residential buildings.
"Israel is destroying Gaza in a way that will impact life for decades to come"
An English professor at the now-destroyed Islamic University in Gaza City, Refaat Alareer decided not to evacuate northern Gaza and is still currently taking shelter there with his family. He spoke to The New Arab about the destruction he has been able to see now that there is a pause in Israeli airstrikes.
“I took a walk in the western parts of Gaza City and the destruction Israel left behind is World War 2 level of destruction,” Alareer said. “The wanton attacks are indescribable. It’s like the tanks were playing Pac-Man and deliberately and systematically destroying homes, buildings, businesses, infrastructure, schools, mosques, and trees,” he added.
“Israel is destroying Gaza in a way that will impact life for decades to come.”
Although claiming that they do not target civilians taking shelter in hospitals and schools, the Israeli military has bombed in and around hospitals in Gaza as well as many UN schools where tens of thousands of Palestinians were taking refuge.
On 3 November, Israel bombed Al Shifa Hospital, Al Quds Hospital, and the Indonesian Hospital in northern Gaza. Thirteen people were killed and more than 80 injured, including injured patients who were in an ambulance convoy. The World Health Organization said these attacks “may amount to violations of international Humanitarian Law”.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, Balakrishnan Rajagopal, referenced the destruction of homes as genocidal. TNA spoke to his predecessor Leilani Farha on her assessment.
“A group of United Nations Special Rapporteurs issued a statement in the middle of November expressing concern that what is unfolding in Gaza is genocide. Approximately 800 legal scholars with expertise on the Genocide Convention wrote a letter expressing the same concern,” she said.
“My expertise is in human rights law, and the right to housing specifically, so I will defer to them, though I have read the Convention and considering the facts and evidentiary base, there seems to be little doubt and a growing consensus that Israel’s actions in Gaza amount to genocide.”
Farha stated that under international human rights law, Palestinians have the right to housing, which entails the right to live in peace, security, and dignity. “Their homes cannot be targeted and destroyed during conflict, regardless of allegations of tunnels used by Hamas running beneath them,” Farha said.
“It’s been plain throughout this conflict that the right to housing of Palestinians has not been respected at all by Israel. Palestinians have thus been bombed out of their homes. With nowhere to go, they have had to seek shelter in hospitals, and schools. Hospitals and schools must be protected from bombardment in line with the rights to health care and education, but also the right to housing, because they serve as ‘home’ for thousands of displaced Palestinians.”
Those who have left northern Gaza, and those who have been victims of Israeli aggression in the south despite Israel’s claims that there exists a “safe zone,” are facing severe food insecurities. According to the United Nations’s World Food Programme, Palestinians who have been forced out of their homes now linger in overcrowded shelters, makeshift tents, and open areas without enough food, clean water, proper sewage or sanitation.
"Israel wants to make the Gaza Strip unfit for human habitation in the hope that there will be large-scale emigration"
Palestinian researcher and analyst Mouin Rabbani told TNA that he believes this indiscriminate targeting has always been the “Israeli way of war,” but this time Israel has a particular objective it is aiming to achieve.
“Israel wants to make the Gaza Strip unfit for human habitation in the hope that there will be large-scale emigration after the initial US-Israeli initiative for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza’s Palestinian population to the Sinai desert was obstructed by Arab governments and Palestinian resolve, and to destroy the civilian (including medical, social, educational, and cultural) infrastructure to deprive Palestinian society of its integrity and fabric,” Rabbani said.
“It's in my view telling that the first neighbourhood to be razed to the ground by the Israeli air force was al-Rimal, a prosperous middle-class neighbourhood of Gaza City that is in contrast to others not identified with either Hamas or its leadership. Was this deliberate? How could it have been anything other than deliberate and targeted?”
The Arab Network of Civil Society to Safeguard Cultural Heritage (ANSCH), an NGO, published a report earlier this month highlighting the destruction of Gaza’s cultural and heritage sites and drawing the attention of the international community to the fact that the “Palestinian people in Gaza are suffering the loss of their heritage, history, and cultural identity alongside their significant humanitarian suffering resulting from this war”.
The report highlights that Israel destroyed 21 mosques, five monasteries and churches, five palaces, nine cemeteries, 39 archaeological hills, and 186 historic houses.
Some notable examples include the Great Omari Mosque, built in the 12th century and one of the most important and largest historical mosques in Palestine, the Church of Saint Porphyrius built in the year 425 AD, and the Qaysariyah Market, located in the Daraj neighbourhood of the Old City in Gaza, one of the most significant historical markets that existed in Gaza.
The destruction Gaza has endured is based on publicly available information compiled by NGOs and local and international groups, together with reporting by Palestinian journalists on the ground.
“For those who care to find out, it’s not difficult to learn of the magnitude of the destruction. Those who follow on social media the remaining Palestinian press in Gaza who’ve yet to be killed by Israel, then it is possible to see, listen to and read about the destruction,” Leilani Farha said.
“For those who choose not to look, who are committed to mainstream media, or who do not care about what happens to Palestinians, then it’s possible they will choose to never know.”
Hebh Jamal is a Palestinian-American journalist based in Germany.
Follow her on Twitter: @hebh_jamal