The work carried out to create the ICRC’s 'Broken Cities' 3D models predated the October 2023 escalation in violence in Israel and Gaza. At the time of publication, the Al Mena tower is still standing but we are trying to establish whether the people interviewed in Gaza are still alive.


We lost everything in a few seconds.

Imad Handouqa,
Owner of the Al-Mena Tower
to start

Enough wars, enough killing, enough destruction.

Feryal Al-Sayegh,
Owner of a flat in the Al-Mena tower

Satellite views of Gaza before and after May 2021 hostilities

Sources: ©2021 European Space Imaging / Maxar Technologies

  • 2,000

    homes destroyed

    During the hostilities in May 2021, the damage extended to the destruction of 2,173 housing units, while another 15,000 were partially ruined.

  • 113,000

    people displaced

    The fighting in May 2021 displaced approximately 113,000 people in Gaza, equivalent to 10% of all households.

A dozen stories tall, the Al-Mena Tower in Gaza was a city landmark and home to 20 extended families. For its residents, the apartment block was home: a safe haven, and the culmination of their life’s efforts to build financial stability and a brighter future. This was especially important as Gazans have lived under Israeli restrictions since 2007, when Palestinian leadership changed in the Gaza Strip.

With over two million residents, the Gaza Strip is among the most densely populated places on earth. It is also frequently a conflict zone. During the armed hostilities in May 2021 that killed 13 Israelis and 261 Palestinians - including 69 children and 41 women - the Al-Mena Tower was severely damaged when an airstrike targeted the neighbouring building. The tower’s residents were forced to abandon their apartments, joining 113,000 others made homeless by the renewed hostilities in which residential buildings, municipal facilities and city infrastructure were damaged or destroyed, and services and supplies were disrupted.

The conflict in 2021 worsened an already severe economic situation for Gazans. More than a decade of movement restrictions on people and goods and recurring cycles of violence, have strangled Gaza’s economy. When the families of the Al-Mena Tower were forced onto the streets they entered the maelstrom dispossessed and homeless, their hopes, dreams, and financial security in tatters.

One billion

USD cost

The World Bank’s Rapid Damage and Needs Assessment, conducted in Gaza between 25 May and 30 June 2021, estimated up to US$380 million in physical damage and US$190 million in economic losses, while recovery needs have been estimated up to US$485 million during the first 24 months.

I felt homeless. I felt vulnerable. I felt lost.

Imad Handouqa,
Owner of the Al-Mena Tower

In Gaza, family is the core of social and economic life, and this was true for the residents of the Al-Mena tower, many of whom lived in extended family groups, often in adjoining apartments: parents and children, grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. They shared their daily lives and provided each other with emotional, financial, and social support, mitigating against the absence of government social services caused by the conflict. Living next door to one another, the tower itself was a community of neighbours.

For years, the families had been living in fear of an airstrike, dreading the call to evacuate which eventually came, just minutes before the attack. They escaped with their lives but little else, losing everything from valuable furniture and appliances, to treasured photo albums. The tower was partially demolished and was being rehabilitated on the old foundations, but the former residents feared for its safety, and would rather it were replaced entirely as part of a plan to renew the damaged neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, the community had been scattered and while some who owned their flats were struggling to pay rent, others were forced into temporary shelters, or live on the streets. Without income or cash, they were pushed to breaking point. For the tower’s residents, the instantaneous descent from familiarity, and financial and social security, to relocation, destitution, and uncertainty had left them reeling and suffering severe psychological trauma. With their possessions lost, and support networks fractured, the struggle to survive was harder than ever. All this before violence escalated anew in October 2023.


powerless people

Gazans only enjoy 10 to 12 hours of interrupted power supply a day. It means that one in four Gazan lives without power at any given time, which affects their access to clean water, and ability to cook, clean, study, refrigerate their food or heat their homes.


I don't want your pity. I want to have my apartment back to the way it was. That’s it.

Feryal Al-Sayegh,
Owner of a flat in the Al-Mena tower

International humanitarian law prohibits attacks on civilians, their property and the infrastructure that ensures their survival. Yet, using heavy explosive weapons in urban settings destroys homes, along with infrastructure and much else, undermining civilians’ social and financial stability, as warring parties too often abrogate their responsibilities.

The homeless, displaced, and destitute are especially vulnerable, suffering economic and social harm that leads to stress, anxiety, psychological damage, and trauma, all exacerbated by the extreme proximity and intensity of urban warfare.

In urban settings, cash support can help get people back on their feet, but more is needed: mental health and psychosocial services are as crucial as emergency medical care to withstand the growing conflicts in cities and towns.

Next city

Aleppo / Syria