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7 Nov 2023

Matt Burgess & Lily Hay Newman, Wired

Connectivity blackouts in Gaza allegedly caused by Israel internet shutdowns

"Internet Blackouts in Gaza Are a New Weapon in the Israel-Hamas War", 7 November 2023

Since Hamas’ tragic October attack on Israel that killed at least 1,400 people, the country’s retaliation in Gaza has led to more than 10,000 deaths... and broad destruction of the community's basic utilities and infrastructure. This includes its internet and communication systems, with dwindling connectivity largely cutting off 2.2 million Gazans from the outside world.

... Israel reportedly imposed a full internet shutdown in the area, cutting off the last remaining connectivity for about 34 hours as its troops moved into the Gaza Strip. After what’s left of Gaza’s internet access was restored... the area has suffered two other, similar connectivity blackouts. The most recent lasted for about 15 hours on Sunday as Israel was carrying out an intense operation to cut off Gaza City in the north from southern Gaza

While researchers and technologists who monitor internet connectivity can’t conclusively say that Israel was behind the blackouts—or that they were imposed using technical controls rather than physical destruction of infrastructure—the fact that some connectivity could be restored so rapidly seems to indicate deliberate shutdowns over incidental destruction.

Throughout the Gaza Strip, there are around a dozen internet service providers and cell phone companies that get people online... These companies are heavily reliant on Israeli infrastructure to connect to the global internet, with open internet advocacy nonprofit the Internet Society classing Palestine as having “poor” connections to the wider internet.

“Israel controls the telecommunication and internet that comes to Gaza,” says Husam Mekdad, a telecoms engineer living in southern Gaza in a message to WIRED. He says “most” of the main internet service providers are down, and the mobile operators that can still operate 2G connections have hugely congested networks.

The Palestinian territories’ biggest internet provider, Paltel, has retained the most connectivity, according to internet analysts. But during the three complete blackouts, even Paltel has been knocked offline. “When Paltel is offline, then I think everybody's down,” Madory says.

Paltel alleges that during the three blackouts its services were being “disconnected” by Israel. The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of the State of Palestine has also claimed there has been “systematic targeting” of networks and urged countries to “put pressure on the Israeli government” to restore connections. Paltel has not returned WIRED’s multiple requests for comment in recent weeks.

The Israeli Defense Forces declined to comment when asked whether they were behind the recent internet shutdowns in Gaza. Israel’s Ministry of Communications did not respond to WIRED’s request for comment. However,... ahead of the total blackouts, the Israeli communications ministry published an update on the war that appeared to detail its plans. “There is an ongoing examination and preparation for the shutting down of cellular communications and internet services to Gaza,” the update said.

“Seeing intermittent shutdowns reiterates where the power to shut down actually lies,” says Helga Tawil-Souri, a digital communication and media researcher focused on Israel-Palestine at New York University.

For people living in Gaza, it’s likely that as the war continues there will be more total internet shutdowns.