Rare First-Hand Look at Northern Gaza Reveals Extent of Destruction

Toshiyuki Fukushima/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Israeli soldiers walk amid rubble in northern Gaza on Friday.

GAZA STRIP — The first thing one notices upon entering northern Gaza is the lack of visible signs of life, and the destruction as far as the eye can see. These have become “streets of death.”

On Friday, I was among a group of media members embedded with the Israeli military for a tour of the area where fighting continues between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

It was the first time a reporter from a Japanese news organization had entered the Gaza Strip since Hamas launched a cross-border rampage on Oct. 7 that triggered the fierce Israeli response. I was accompanied by three others from foreign media outlets, including a German news agency.

The Israel Defense Forces imposed several conditions on reporting, such as not mentioning specific locations and not revealing details of military operations. Stories and photos were vetted by the IDF, which made no changes to this report.

At around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, I boarded a military vehicle at a base in southern Israel on the Gaza border. A short time later, we entered the enclave through a gate in a large iron wall.

The Israeli solders had been joking during the journey, but immediately upon entering Gaza, the expressions on their faces turned somber. The sense of danger was palpable.

We could see the Mediterranean Sea on the right as the vehicle headed south on a bumpy road. I could see excavators creating dirt fortifications.

On the gun deck mounted on the vehicle, a soldier kept a keen watch with his finger on the trigger. We could hear the repeated sounds of explosions, and my entire body could feel the vibrations.

A group of buildings that had been reduced to steel skeletons from a bombardment came into view. Mountains of debris from shattered concrete blocks had piled up. It was the remains of what had been a residential complex.

Toshiyuki Fukushima/The Yomiuri Shimbun
Israeli soldiers stand guard in what was once a children’s park in northern Gaza on Friday.

■Nothing Left Standing■

In what was once a popular beach area, filled with cafes and the villas of the wealthy, almost no building was left standing. Only the disturbing debris of great destruction remained.

Until the fighting began, young people would flock to the area, filling the cafes and enjoying the beach fronting the Mediterranean Sea.

Nothing seemed to have survived the barrage, with all structures reduced to rubble. A wall of what was once a two-story house was honeycombed with bullet holes, and showed signs of the structure being burned to the ground.

In a village on the outskirts of Jabaliya, the Israeli military showed our group a school building that had collapsed to its foundation. The minaret of a mosque had been broken like a pencil.

Even a playground set in a children’s park was not spared from the devastation. There were no children in sight, and the unnatural buzz of drones could be heard in the sky above.

An Israeli military unit consisting of infantry, engineers and artillery corps has been deployed to the village. The unit’s commander, a lieutenant colonel, said the unit found weapons hidden by Hamas in day care centers, schools and the mosque.

But, the commander added, the unit has “high morals” and did not shoot women or children.

In another village, the Israeli military called attention to the entrance of an underground tunnel that had been dug in front of a three-story house. The tunnel drops 10 meters vertically and was accessible by ladder.

A sergeant major said that Hamas launched attacks from the tunnel and used it to hide. As long it existed, the Israelis had no choice but to destroy the house, the officer said.

As the sun set, it became pitch black in Gaza, which has been cut off from electricity. Driving back to base in an Israeli military vehicle, the lights of Israel seemed to shine exceptionally bright.