Unesco has released a preliminary damage assessment report for cultural properties in the Gaza Strip. According to a 2nd of February 2024 press report, “as of 25 January 2024, UNESCO has verified damage to 22 sites since 7 October 2023 – 5 religious sites, 10 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, 2 Depositories of movable cultural property, 1 monument, 1 museum, and 3 archeological sites”.

In particular, 20 of the sites designated as of interest are located in Gaza City (Gaza Governorate). These are the following:

Anthedon Harbour, Ibn Othman Mosque, Rashad Ash-Shawwa Cultural Centre, The Great Omari Mosque, Dar AsSa’ada Dome and Manuscript Center, Pasha Palace, Zofor Domri Mosque, AsSaqqa Palace, Subat Al Alami, Al-Qissariya Market, The Commonwealth Gaza War Cemetery, Hamam As Samra, Khader Tarazi House, “Al Mathaf” Hotel (movable heritage repository), the storage facility of movable cultural objects at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities at Sheikh Radwan, the Roman cemetery of Gaza, The Ghussein House, The Saint Porphyrios Orthodox Church Complex, Sabil Ar Rifaiya (Ar Rifaiya Fountain), and HatHat House.

As for the remaining two sites which are located outside the city, these are the Old Al Omari Mosque in Jabalia (North Gaza Governorate) and the archaeological site of Tell Rafah in Rafah Governorate, near the border with Egypt.

The assessment is ongoing and it is based on satellite imagery and analysis provided by UNITAR/UNOSAT, as on-the-ground assessments are impossible in the current situation.

Back on the 3rd of January, 2024, the Palestinian Ministry of Culture extended Unesco and the Red Cross a call to “establish an international committee to investigate these artifacts, archaeological sites, and museums”. It emphasized that “tampering with Palestinian antiquities and cultural properties in Palestine is a violation of an essential part of human memory. Therefore, the international community must take real responsibility to protect this memory”.

Unesco’s recent announcement indeed confirms the damages noted in a series of monthly press releases by the Palestinian Ministry of Culture, shared since the beginning of the war in Gaza back in October 2023. In the longest of these reports, based on preliminary data collected and classified by the Ministry’s teams in Gaza and Ramallah and shared via the Ministry’s Facebook page on the 18th of January 2024, the list of monuments affected appears longer, including at least twelve museums. A section of the report also refers to the immense loss of heritage/culture-related human capital: the long list of heritage workers, researchers, and artists killed or declared missing during the war.

Info provided by Unesco is also by the finds reported on Nov. 7 2023 by NGOs Heritage for Peace and ANSCH, where 104 sites had been noted as impacted since the beginning of the war. Satellite imagery updates, which especially focus on antiquities along the Gazan coastline, are released by NGO Forensic Architecture in an ongoing project that maps the site since 1995. The findings of these projects had also been summarized in press reports on the cultural loss in Gaza by Al Jazeera, The Art Newspaper, and New Lines Magazine as well as blog posts such as Everyday Orientalism.

It has to be stated that, as early as 18 December 2023, Unesco had voiced its concerns for Gaza’s St. Hilarion monastery Complex, one of the oldest monasteries in the Middle East, granting it the highest level of immunity established by the 1954 Hague Convention and its Second Protocol. As stated in a press release, “UNESCO intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954 Hague Convention) has decided on 14 December to grant “provisional enhanced protection” to Saint Hilarion monastery complex, located south bank of Wadi Gaza”. The monastery has been noted as affected by Israeli targeting in the Palestinian Ministry of Cultures press release of January 18, 2024, but it is not mentioned in Unesco’s current assessment report.

Archaeology Newsroom