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30 Okt 2023

Hibaq Farah, The Guardian

Israeli communications restrictions leave Palestinians facing digital divide

"Israeli restrictions leave Palestinians facing digital divide", 30 October 2023

As Israel launched its heaviest bombardment of the war so far over the weekend, a communications blackout in Gaza meant Palestinians could not communicate via phone or internet with each other, aid groups or the rest of the world.

Paltel Group, a Palestinian company that is a major internet provider in the region, said in a post on X... that landline, mobile and internet services were gradually being restored in the Gaza Strip as its technical teams worked to address the “damage to the internal network infrastructure under challenging conditions”.

Mona Shtaya, a non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy focusing on digital rights, said the communications shutdown “aims to control the narrative, but Israel’s control of services contributes to silencing Palestinian voices”.

The communication blackout is not the start of Gaza’s connectivity crisis but rather the most recent example in decades of challenges for communications in the region.

The information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in Palestine largely relies on the Israeli government. Restrictions placed by the Israeli authorities on Palestinian cellular providers upgrading their networks has meant that for years Palestinians have had to rely on much slower connections than those in Israel. To get around this, many Palestinians use Israeli sim cards to get service.

According to a report by 7amleh, the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, since the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, Israel has taken complete control of ICT infrastructure in the West Bank and Gaza, which has prevented Palestinians from being able to independently run their own services.

There have been calls for Israel to upgrade the cellular network but there has been very little progress.

A 2016 report by the World Bank estimated that Palestinian cellular companies missed out on between $436m and $1.5bn in potential revenue in 2013 to 2015 due to Israeli restrictions on frequencies and equipment and unauthorised competition by Israeli operators.

Shtaya said: “Right now, the digital divide and discriminatory policies against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories means that they are not safe, and right now connectivity can be life-saving. ...”