“I want to go home even if I have to sleep on the rubble of my house,” said Yousef Hammash, an aid worker with the Norwegian Refugee Council who fled the ruins of the Jabaliya urban refugee camp for southern Gaza . “But I don’t see a future for my children here. »
The Israeli military’s use of high explosives in densely populated residential areas – which Israel describes as the inevitable result of Hamas using civilian sites as cover for its operations – has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians and led to staggering destruction. Hamas denies this claim and accuses Israel of recklessly bombing civilians.
“When I left, I couldn’t tell which street or intersection I was crossing,” said Mahmoud Jamal, a 31-year-old taxi driver who fled his hometown of Beit Hanoun in the north of the country this month. -this. He described apartment buildings resembling open-air parking lots.
Israeli bombing has become one of the most intense air campaigns since World War II, said Emily Tripp, director of Airwars, a London-based conflict monitor. In the seven weeks since Hamas’s unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, Israel has dropped more munitions than the United States did in a given year of its bombing campaign against the group Islamic State – a blockade that the UN describes as the deadliest urban campaign since World War II. .
In grainy thermal images from Israel showing airstrikes targeting Hamas tunnels, fireballs blot out everything in sight. Videos from Hamas’ military wing show fighters armed with tilt grenades marching through smoke-filled streets. Fortified bulldozers cleared the ground for Israeli tanks.
“Northern Gaza has become a big ghost town,” said Mkaimer Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, who fled to Egypt last week. “People have nothing to return to. »
About half of all buildings in northern Gaza were damaged or destroyed, according to an analysis of Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite data by Corey Scher of the CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of the State University of Gaza. ‘Oregon. With the UN estimating that 1.7 million people are now homeless, many wonder if Gaza will ever recover.
“You will end up having displaced people living in tents for a long time,” said Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation, a research group.
The war has knocked out 27 of Gaza’s 35 hospitals, according to the World Health Organization. The destruction of other critical infrastructure will have consequences for years to come.
“Bakeries and grain mills were destroyed, along with agricultural, water and sanitation facilities,” said Scott Paul, senior humanitarian policy advisor for Oxfam America. “It takes more than four walls and a ceiling for a place to be habitable, and in many cases people don’t even have that. »
Across the enclave, more than 41,000 homes – 45% of Gaza’s total housing stock – are too destroyed to be inhabited, according to the UN.
“All I left at home were dead bodies and rubble,” said Mohammed al-Hadad, a 28-year-old party planner who fled the Shati refugee camp along the coast. from Gaza City. Shati suffered nearly 14,000 war damages – ranging from an airstrike crater to a collapsed building – over just 0.5 square kilometers (0.2 square miles), according to analysis of satellite data.
Southern Gaza – where shortages of food, water and fuel have created a humanitarian crisis – was spared the heaviest firepower, according to the analysis.
Palestinians search for survivors under the rubble of destroyed buildings following Israeli airstrikes in the Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, November 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Abed Khaled, File)
But that is changing. Over the past two weeks, satellite data shows an increase in damage in the southern city of Khan Younis. Residents say the army has flooded the city’s eastern neighborhoods with evacuation warnings.
Israel urged residents of southern Gaza to move again to a slice of territory called Muwasi, along the coast. On Thursday, Israel and Hamas were still ironing out the details of a four-day truce that would allow more humanitarian aid to enter Gaza and facilitate the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages.
“This is our Nakba,” said journalist Tareq Hajjaj, 32, referring to the mass displacement of around 700,000 Palestinians during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel – an exodus Palestinians call the “Nakba » or “catastrophe”.
Although Palestinians publicly reject the idea of being moved out of Gaza, some privately admit that they cannot stay, even after the war ends.
“We will never return home,” said Hajjaj, who fled his home in Shijaiyah, eastern Gaza City. “Those who remain here will face the most horrible situation imaginable. »
The war between Israel and Hamas in 2014 razed Shijaiyah, transforming the neighborhood into fields of gray, lifeless rubble. The $5 billion reconstruction effort there and across Gaza remains unfinished to this day.
“This time the scale of destruction is exponentially higher,” said Giulia Marini, international advocacy officer at the Palestinian rights group Al Mezan. “It will take decades for Gaza to return to what it was before. »
It is still unclear who will take responsibility for this task. At the recent security summit in Bahrain, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi promised that Arab states would not “come clean up after Israel.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the military to restore security, and U.S. officials have floated the seemingly unlikely scenario of a takeover of the Gaza Strip by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, seen as weak by many Palestinians, has rejected the idea in the absence of Israeli efforts toward a two-state solution.
Despite the horrors of war, Yasser Elsheshtawy, an architecture professor at Columbia University, hopes reconstruction could offer an opportunity to transform Gaza’s dilapidated refugee camps and crumbling infrastructure into “something more livable, more equitable and more humane,” including public parks and a revitalized waterfront. .
But Palestinians say it is not just destroyed infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt, but also a traumatized society.
“Gaza has become a very scary place,” Abusada said. “It will always be full of memories of death and destruction. »
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