The offline onslaught that helps black out Israel's war crimes in Gaza
To hide the extent of its war crimes in Gaza, the Israeli occupation deliberately cut off Gaza's internet and communication services late last month.
In response, Gazans have desperately tried several ways to restore services to ensure the besieged enclave isn't condemned to digital darkness and isolation, while the death toll continues to mount.
“Due to the ongoing Israeli attack against Gaza, Israel's intense bombing in the last hours has destroyed all remaining international routes connecting Gaza to the outside world, in addition to the routes previously destroyed during the attack, which led to a complete interruption of Internet services to the Strip,” Palestinian Telecommunications Company, Paltel, announced on its social media platforms.
"Israel's deliberate Internet blackout and media siege in Gaza, amid ongoing aggression, underscores a troubling pattern of information control"
On the evening of October 27, there was a sudden interruption in communications and internet services. This happened a few hours after Israel announced their expansion of ground operations in Gaza.
It was part of a campaign to spread terror among the Gazans and to hinder ambulances and civil defence workers from performing their duties. The disruption lasted for around 36 hours.
Internet blackouts only heighten the anxiety of Gazans over what is happening. The lack of communication makes it even more difficult for civilians to know what to expect.
"The internet blackout has caused fear and horror in Gaza, especially as the bombing of Gaza has become worse. When Israeli forces strike, we worry about our family and our loved ones. We don't have any way of knowing if they are alive or dead," a 33-year-old Gazan resident, who wants to remain anonymous for security reasons, explained to The New Arab.
Marwa Fatafta, the Middle East and North Africa policy and advocacy manager at Access Now, explained to Al-Jazeera that "Israel used the shutdown as an opportunity to cover its potential war crimes as they began their ground invasion."
According to NetBlocks, an internet outage monitoring company based in London, the connectivity in the enclave had significantly dropped to 58% on October 30 from an average of 97% on October 7.
Many Palestinians have experienced a total loss of internet access and the ability to communicate electronically.
It seems Israel's internet blackout in Gaza first targeted journalists. During the first period of interruption, journalists covering Gaza on the ground reported that they were unable to contact ambulances and communicate with each other.
“Israel attempts to prevent us from covering its crimes and massacres in Gaza by cutting the internet, but this won't stop us from working. Every day will be a new way for us to complete our work. We have colleagues abroad who help us by sending e-SIMs to cover the truth,” a Palestinian journalist who wanted to remain anonymous for security concerns, said.
Mohammed, a Palestinian photojournalist, told The New Arab: “I felt as if I could not speak, it's as if Gaza had been sentenced to death. It's not an exaggeration when I say that I felt like I'd been killed."
Mohammed isn't wrong, when communications finally returned, ambulance and civil defence crews found hundreds of dead and wounded Palestinians among the rubble.
The Gaza Strip's health ministry said on November 7 that the death toll from Israel's bombardment has reached 10,328, including 4,237 children.
"The so-called safe [humanitarian] corridors have become corridors of death," said the ministry.
A group of international journalists and activists have launched a campaign to send free e-SIM cards to Gazan journalists as a way to support their work by communicating with them using their accounts published on the internet.
Tony Groves, an Irish journalist and owner of the Echo Chamber podcast, said, “The Echo Chamber podcast has covered global news for over six years. As a small media outlet, we face many challenges, but nothing like the challenges that many of our contributors in places like Colombia or Gaza would.
"When Gaza went dark I went looking for solutions," Tony continued. "The e-Sim idea was mentioned online and had an extensive list of people in Gaza, whom it was important to keep hearing from. We purchased dozens of eSIMs and provided them to friends, journalists, and contacts in both Gaza and the West Bank.
"The most important thing is that Palestinian voices continue to report on what is happening in Palestine. The e-SIMs, while not perfect, have helped us keep doing that."
Activists and influencers on the social networking site X (formerly Twitter) launched a global campaign calling on Elon Musk, who owns the satellite company SpaceX, to provide communications and the Internet to the residents of the Gaza Strip, as he did with Ukraine.
Elon Musk responded to this campaign that he would offer his Starlink satellite internet service to "internationally recognised aid organisations" in Gaza. However, the Israeli authorities decided to fight to prevent Elon Musk from providing the internet and communication to Gaza.
“The cut in phone and internet communication lines has exacerbated tensions and fears,” Thomas White, UNRWA's Gaza Strip director, said. “As a result, they feel isolated from their families, both inside Gaza and throughout the world.”
Israel's policy to blackout Palestinian media prevents the world from seeing what's happening in Gaza. It also signals Israel's intent to carry out further massacres in the besieged territory.
The deliberate internet blackout and media siege in Gaza, amid ongoing Israeli attacks, underscores a troubling pattern of information control.
These actions not only hinder the free flow of information but also exacerbate the suffering and isolation of the two million people in the besieged Gaza Strip, as access to information is a fundamental human right in times of aggression and crises.
Mahmoud Mushtaha is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and human rights activist. He works as a media assistant at We Are Not Numbers, a project of the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor
Follow him on X: @MushtahaW
Hadil Wadi is a Gaza-based freelance journalist and creative content writer
Follow her on Instagram: @hadil.wadi