FACT CHECK: Fact-Checking Claims About Levels Of Destruction In Gaza

Elias Atienza | Senior Reporter

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees In The Near East (UNRWA) claimed in a June 10 X post that more than 50% of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed.

Ynet reported that “UN figures ” show that 50% of Gaza’s buildings were destroyed and “foreign media reports” found that 70% were destroyed.

Verdict: Misleading

The United Nations Satellite Center (UNOSAT) assessment shows that 55% of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed or damaged. It does not state half of buildings are destroyed. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) data reportedly states that 16% of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed. Neither UN figures or foreign media reported that 70% of buildings were destroyed.

Fact Check:

UNRWA claimed in a June 10 X post that more than 50% of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed, citing a UNOSAT assessment.

“The destruction in #Gaza is indescribable. More than half of all buildings have been destroyed, according to @UNOSAT. Clearing the rubble will take years. Healing from the psychological trauma of this war will take even longer. This suffering must come to an end,” UNRWA tweeted.

This claim, though, appears to be misleading. Check Your Fact reviewed the UNOSAT assessment. The assessment found that 55% of “total structures” have been damaged or destroyed, not that half of buildings have been destroyed.

“According to satellite imagery analysis, UNOSAT identified 36,591 destroyed structures, 16,513 severely damaged structures, 47,368 moderately damaged structures, and 36,825 possibly damaged structures for a total of 137,297 structures. These correspond to around 55% of the total structures in the Gaza Strip and a total of 135,142 estimated damaged housing units,” the assessment reads.

AFP reported on June 3 that the UN analysis shows that “55 percent of all structures in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed, damaged or possibly damaged since war erupted in the Palestinian territory eight months ago.”

An UNRWA spokesperson told Check Your Fact in a WhatsApp message that the wording of the tweet should have been “destroyed or damaged.”

“Indeed, the wording should have been ‘destroyed or damaged,’ but a drafting error in our content led to the latter getting dropped,” the spokesperson said and referred Check Your Fact back to the UNOSAT assessment.

IDF data reportedly says that 16% of Gaza’s buildings have been destroyed, according to Ynet. This data was reportedly based on “advanced drones and other technological means in addition to satellite imagery…”

“Figures revealed for the first time by ynet on Thursday, claim only 16% of buildings in the Strip were destroyed since the start of the war, as opposed to 50% according to UN figures and 70% in foreign media reports. The data referred to the period ending May 31,” Ynet reported (emphasis added by Check Your Fact.)

Ynet’s report referenced a December 2023 Wall Street Journal report. Ynet reported,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) said in December that the war caused the destruction of 70% of Gaza’s buildings and even compared the situation to the carpet bombing of Dresden in the final days of WWII. The paper claimed that most of Gaza’s homes were damaged or destroyed.”

The WSJ report found that “70% of Gaza’s 439,000 homes and about half of its buildings have been damaged or destroyed.” It does not state “that the war caused the destruction of 70% of Gaza’s buildings.” (RELATED: Fact-Checking Biden’s Claim About Wage Increases Versus Inflation)

The 70% figure is also likely a reference to research done by Corey Scher of CUNY Graduate Center and Jamon Van Den Hoek of Oregon State University. Their research, based on an analysis of satellite data, shows that Israel has damaged or destroyed 50% of Gaza’s buildings between Oct. 7 and April 2, including damaging or destroying 70% of northern Gaza’s buildings, according to Axios.

It does not appear that Scher or Van Den Hoek said that 70% of buildings were destroyed since the start of the Israeli-Hamas war. Scher and Van Den Hoek told Check Your Fact in an email their estimate did not say 70% of buildings were destroyed.

“This 70% estimate is our estimate of the % of buildings likely damaged OR destroyed across North Gaza and Gaza governorates; but we otherwise do not know what estimate they are referring to because they do not reference their sources,” they said.

The two also commented on the IDF’s data, saying said data found that “16% of 217,761 permanent structures have been destroyed – that equals 34,842 buildings. This is only 5% less than the UNOSAT estimate.”

“Our latest estimate from June 1 based on a satellite radar analysis indicates that 58.5% of buildings across Gaza are likely damaged OR destroyed,” the two added.

“UNOSAT labels buildings as having “severe,” “moderate,” and “possible” damage. The IDF did not release estimates for these other damage categories. But if you include all categories from UNOSAT, the latest UNOSAT assessment concludes that 55% of structures in Gaza have been damaged OR destroyed. This is 3.5% different from our estimate,” they further said.

They also referenced a World Bank March assessment that found that “more than 60% of the physical infrastructure in all sectors, except WASH, has been damaged or destroyed” by the end of January.

They stated:

“Three different datasets – UNOSAT, our assessment, and the World Bank — all converge on similar estimates of damage or destruction across between 55%-60%. If the IDF were to release data on buildings that have been damaged, in addition to what they have marked as completely destroyed, we could more fairly compare their estimates to ours.  Since we do not have any insight or detail on the methodologies used by the IDF, and do not have access to their original map of pre-war building footprints, we cannot comment on the accuracy of their work.”

Check Your Fact reached out to the IDF, UNOSAT and the WSJ for comment. Check Your Fact also reached out to Ynet through emails associated with the news outlet.

Elias Atienza

Senior Reporter
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