During the ongoing conflict that has gripped the world's attention, Gaza, a tiny enclave of land and home to 2.3 million souls, found itself in the midst of a digital darkness, cut off from the rest of the world. This blackout was not a natural disaster but a consequence of human conflict, and it sent shockwaves through the global community.
A recent visit to war-torn Gaza, UNICEF chief Catherine Russell decried the "devastating" scenes witnessed and urged conflicting parties to put an end to the ongoing horror.
Gaza finds itself under siege, isolated from the global community, as the internet and communication channels have been ruthlessly severed by Israel's relentless bombardment. This digital isolation is a dire situation that transcends the realms of humanitarian concern, affecting Palestinians, aid organizations, journalists, and civil society groups.
The Global Impact
At the epicentre of this crisis lies a siege that has been ongoing for weeks. Israel's Defense Forces have imposed an unforgiving stranglehold on the Gaza Strip, resulting in catastrophic consequences. A significant portion of electricity has been cut off, and the fuel needed to power generators has run dry. However, the ultimate blow came in the form of a loss of connectivity.
NetBlocks, a watchdog organisation that meticulously monitors cybersecurity and internet activity, was the first to report the grim news. On a fateful Friday evening, connectivity in Gaza collapsed. This was the moment when Gazans, their families, and the world realised the gravity of the situation. The Palestinian telecom provider, Paltel, described the bombardment as causing a "complete disruption" of internet, cellular, and landline services.
⚠ Confirmed: Live network data show a collapse in connectivity in the #Gaza Strip with high impact to Paltel, amid reports of heavy bombardment; the company is the last remaining major operator to supply service as connectivity declines amid ongoing fighting with Israel 📉 pic.twitter.com/nDPf7HnjKF— NetBlocks (@netblocks) October 27, 2023
Isolation and Desperation
The Gaza blackout, a direct result of the military operations, has plunged its residents into a state of complete isolation. Imagine a city shrouded in darkness, punctuated only by the eerie glow of continuous airstrikes. Explosions light up the night sky, yet the lack of communication means the world cannot immediately know the extent of the casualties or the details of ground incursions.
This communication crisis reaches beyond personal connections; it impacts the world's understanding of the situation. The Committee to Protect Journalists has sounded the alarm, warning that the world is "losing a window into the reality" of the conflict. This information void could be filled with deadly propaganda, disinformation, and misinformation.
Journalists Caught in the Crossfire
Israeli authorities informed international news organisations Reuters and Agence France Presse (AFP) that they cannot guarantee the safety of their journalists operating in Gaza. The IDF's reasoning is that Hamas deliberately places military operations in proximity to journalists and civilians, making it difficult to avoid collateral damage.
Meanwhile, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) stated, "communications blackout is a news blackout," which would lead to "serious consequences," including the spread of misinformation.
CPJ is highly alarmed by widespread reports of a communications blackout in Gaza alongside intensified bombing and ground operations by Israeli forces.— Committee to Protect Journalists (@pressfreedom) October 27, 2023
Read our statement ⬇️https://t.co/v5F8asgPKX#Israel #Gaza #Hamas #IsraelGazaConflict
"At this dark hour, we stand with journalists, with those truth seekers whose daily work keeps us informed with facts that shed light on the human condition and help to hold power to account," said the CPJ.
Oxfam also said it was "deeply concerned" over the loss of communications in Gaza and demanded an immediate ceasefire.
As the ground & air offensive intensifies, #Gaza has lost contact with the outside world. Oxfam is extremely alarmed about the escalation and the total loss of communication with Gaza. Wars have rules.— Oxfam International (@Oxfam) October 27, 2023
We demand a #CeasefireNOW to protect innocent lives. https://t.co/pQzlWZwY3E
Escalating Tensions and International Response
This unfolding crisis occurs against the backdrop of Israel's decision to expand its military campaign against Hamas. The resulting escalation has led to intensified ground operations and missile exchanges between the two sides.
Expanding Military Campaign: A Serious Escalation
Israel's decision to expand its military campaign against Hamas underscores the severity of the situation. UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly emphasises the safety of British nationals in Gaza as the top priority. The UK supports Israel's right to self-defense while advocating for the protection of Palestinian civilians.
#starlinkforgaza Trends: A Ray of Hope
Amidst the near-total communications blackout in Gaza, a global call for SpaceX to provide Starlink internet to the region gains momentum. The hope is that this could alleviate the severe communication disruptions, offering a lifeline to a desperate population.
Internet Provider Collapse: Adding to the Crisis
NetStream, a primary internet provider in Gaza, has ceased its services due to a critical shortage of fuel supplies. This exacerbates the communication crisis, deepening the isolation of Gaza's residents.
Deteriorating Network Connectivity: A Grim Turn of Events
Network data shows that network connectivity in Palestine began deteriorating on October 7, coinciding with the outbreak of hostilities between Hamas and Israel. This deterioration has only exacerbated the communication crisis.
A Medical and Humanitarian Catastrophe: The Impact Beyond Words
The loss of communication is more than a mere inconvenience; it's a devastating blow to Gaza's already fragile medical and aid systems. Gaza was already on the brink of collapse under Israel's relentless three-week siege.
UN Humanitarian Coordinator's Warning
Lynn Hastings, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Palestine, emphasised the gravity of the situation. Without phone lines and the internet, hospitals and aid operations would be incapacitated. She rightly points out that "wars have rules, and civilians must be protected."
#Gaza has lost contact with the outside world amid reports of intensified bombardment. Phone lines/internet/mobile networks cut. Hospitals & humanitarian operations can't continue without communications, energy, food, water, meds. Safety of civilians, incl health… https://t.co/oBrN1CTbla— Lynn Hastings (@LynnHastings) October 27, 2023
Relief Agencies in the Dark
Relief agencies and human rights organizations, including Unicef, UN Women, the ICRC, Médecins Sans Frontières, and Amnesty International, all found themselves in the same grim situation. They lost all contact with their staff on the ground, a harrowing reality given the intensifying conflict.
All humanitarians and the children and families they serve MUST be protected. pic.twitter.com/CAshJKDmf2— UNICEF (@UNICEF) October 27, 2023
🚨NEWS: Civilians in Gaza are at unprecedented risk as Israel imposes communication black-out during bombardment and expanding ground attacks.@Amnesty, we have lost contact with our colleagues in Gaza as well.https://t.co/iZuqO2WHK1— amnestypress (@amnestypress) October 27, 2023
Palestinian Red Crescent Society's Concerns
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that they had "completely lost contact with operation rooms" due to Israeli authorities cutting off all landline, cellular, and internet communications. This had dire consequences, hindering the arrival of ambulance vehicles to the wounded and injured.
Rights Groups Speak Out
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have expressed concerns and slammed the communications blackout in Gaza. They warn that this near-total telecommunications blackout risks providing cover for "mass atrocities" and contributing to impunity for human rights violations.
Israel's Escalation and Preparedness: A Complex Scenario
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have significantly increased their airstrikes in the Gaza Strip in recent hours, and they have received authorisation for a ground operation in the region.
Amid this escalation, Israel is alleging that a Hamas terror base is hidden beneath Gaza's largest hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital. The IDF has released images and accompanying graphics, claiming an extensive command post exists under the hospital. This situation underscores the complexity of the conflict and the challenges faced by both sides.
The Shifa Hospital is not only the largest hospital in Gaza but it also acts as the main headquarters for Hamas’ terrorist activity.— Israel Defense Forces (@IDF) October 27, 2023
Terrorism does not belong in a hospital and the IDF will operate to uncover any terrorist infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/Ybpln5xQb2
UNICEF Chief Urges Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza
During a recent visit to the war-torn Gaza Strip, UNICEF chief Catherine Russell highlighted the lack of safe spaces for the region's one million children, calling on the conflicting parties to put an end to the ongoing horror.
Russell, expressing dismay over the devastating scenes witnessed, emphasized the urgent need for action to stop the repeated bombardments, loss, and displacement, "What I saw and heard was devastating. They have endured repeated bombardment, loss and displacement. Inside the Strip, there is nowhere safe for Gaza's one million children to turn,"
The plea comes as tensions escalate in the Israel-Hamas conflict, affecting the lives of many, including internally displaced Palestinian children seeking refuge in UNRWA-run shelters.
The International Response: Concerns from Across the Globe
Even international organizations were not spared from the blackout's impact.
WHO Director-General's Concern
We have lost touch with our staff in Gaza, with health facilities, health workers and the rest of our humanitarian partners on the ground.— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) October 27, 2023
This siege makes me gravely concerned for their safety and the immediate health risks of vulnerable patients.
We urge immediate protection…
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), expressed his deep concern. He pointed out that the siege makes him gravely concerned for the safety of health workers, patients, and humanitarian partners in Gaza.
Amnesty International's Struggle
Erika Guevara-Rosas, senior director of research, advocacy, policy, and campaigns at Amnesty International, highlighted the gravity of the communications blackout. It hindered their ability to obtain critical information and evidence about human rights violations and war crimes committed against Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
#URGENT 🇵🇸🇮🇱— Erika Guevara Rosas (@ErikaGuevaraR) October 27, 2023
Civilians in #Gaza are at unprecedented risk as #Israel imposes communication black-out during bombardment and expanding ground military operation
We reiterate our call for an immediate #CeasefireNOW by all parties in the conflict https://t.co/tccVjci8br
The world watches with bated breath as Gaza remains in the shadows of silence, hoping for a resolution that brings light to a place that has been cast into darkness.
Suggested reading: Israel-Palestine Conflict: Understanding History Of The Gaza Strip