Gaza blackout sparks emergency connectivity wrangles
Two days after cellular and internet service abruptly vanished for most of Gaza following Israeli airstrikes, services have been resumed – but the blackout raises human rights issues and highlights the influence of big tech owners in such conflicts.
The Paltel Group, which provides communications services in the Gaza Strip, reported on X yesterday evening that telecommunication services were ‘gradually being restored’.
It said: “We are pleased to announce that telecommunication services (landline, mobile, and internet) in Gaza Strip, disrupted on Friday, October 27, 2023, due to the ongoing aggression, are gradually being restored.”
“Our technical teams are diligently addressing the damage to the internal network infrastructure under challenging conditions.”
Separately, internet monitor Netblocks reported that real-time network data show that internet connectivity is being restored in the Gaza Strip.
Israel has heavily bombarded Gaza since October 7, when Hamas carried out a cross-border attack, killing around 1,400 people, and taking over 200 hostages.
Latest reports by the Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip put the death toll from the Israeli strikes at over 8,000 people.
Heavy civilian losses have been reported on both sides.
On Saturday morning Palestinian telecoms provider Jawwal (owned by Paltel group) reported a “complete interruption of all communication and internet services with the Gaza strip in light of the ongoing aggression”.
Human rights advocacy NGO, Human Rights Watch commented that the blackout risked providing cover for atrocities and human rights violations.
“This information blackout risks providing cover for mass atrocities and contributing to impunity for human rights violations,” Deborah Brown, the NGO’s senior technology and human rights researcher, said in a statement.
Space X owner Elon Musk also weighed in, offering his Starlink satellite internet service to “internationally recognised aid organisations” in Gaza, prompting protests by Israel.
This is not the first time the big tech billionaire has found himself in the firing line from two warring sides, as it emerged that he took Starlink offline to disrupt an airstrike on Russia.
However, the Wall Street Journal said that that Musk’s offer was not likely to have much of an immediate impact in Gaza. The satellite service requires terminals on the ground to communicate with SpaceX satellites to connect to the internet, and there were unlikely to be any such terminals in Gaza because of an Israeli blockade erected earlier this month.
Shlomo Karhi, Israel’s communications minister – also communicating via Musk’s platform X (formerly Twitter) – said that Israel would “use all means at its disposal” to fight the re-establishment of communications in Gaza.
During the blackout Karhi also suggested Musk use the promise of a re-established internet to negotiate the release of Israeli hostages by Hamas and claimed that the group will end up using Starlink for “terrorist activities” if it’s provided.
Other organisations that provide emergency telecommunications during humanitarian crises include the 25 year old NGO Telecoms Sans Frontieres.
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