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6 Nov 2023

Leo Sands, Washington Post

OPT: Gaza subjected to third communications blackout in 10 days coupled with intensified bombardment by Israel

"Internet blackouts keep hitting Gaza. Here’s what to know"

The Gaza Strip’s 2.2 million residents were cut off from internet, cellphone and landline telephone networks over the weekend — the third time this has happened since Israel declared war on Hamas on Oct. 7 and began its subsequent military campaign in the enclave.

The resulting communications blackout effectively sealed off the enclave’s residents from the outside world and from one another, preventing information from getting in or out and plunging its residents into digital darkness. Inside the Strip, aid groups said Palestinians were unable to contact emergency services amid heavy strikes...

What is a communications blackout?

According to the main Palestinian telecom provider, Paltel, Gaza residents experienced a complete disruption to their internet and communications services that lasted several hours starting Sunday evening. Internet monitoring groups also detected a major disruption to the enclave’s connectivity...

During the blackout, the only way to reach the outside world was with an expensive satellite phone, via a satellite dish, or potentially using a SIM card issued by a foreign mobile phone providers, capable of picking up signal from across the border with either Israel or Egypt, Toker said. It likely left most Gazans unable to communicate with the outside world.

On top of a gradual deterioration in internet connectivity levels since the war began, NetBlocks has tracked “three collective communications blackouts, manifesting in the near total disconnection from the outside world,” Toker said. These occurred Oct. 27, Nov. 1 and Nov. 5.

After the disruptions, which each lasted several hours, internet connectivity levels abruptly returned across the strip to pre-disruption levels. According to Toker, this points to some form of technical disruption as a potential cause — rather than damage from military strikes, which can take days if not weeks to repair.

“Gaza is highly reliant on Israeli upstream providers,” Toker said, giving Israeli authorities the technical capability to turn off internet access to the enclave if they wanted to. “If we are to rely purely on technical data, I think we can say we see hallmarks of an upstream disruption, but there is still a big grounds for questioning,” he said...

The blackouts prevent Palestinians from accessing up-to-date news about the conflict and limit the ability of journalists in Gaza to report on what is happening. In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said that news bureaus losing contact with their crews and reporters in Gaza meant the world was losing a crucial window into the reality of war and creating an information vacuum.

“A communications blackout is a news blackout. This can lead to serious consequences with an independent, factual information vacuum that can be filled with deadly propaganda, dis- and misinformation,” the CPJ statement read...

What is causing Gaza’s poor connectivity levels?

Internet connectivity levels in Gaza were already low before Sunday’s blackout — ranging from between 30 to 40 percent of their prewar levels, according to NetBlocks. “We’ve tracked the gradual decline of connectivity, which has corresponded to a few different factors: power cuts, airstrikes, as well as some amount of connectivity decline due to population movement,” Toker said.

Much of the gradual degradation to internet connectivity levels since Oct. 7 can be explained by specific examples of damage sustained by communications infrastructure, he said. Within days of the war beginning, for example, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, said that airstrikes had destroyed two of the three main lines Gazans depended on for mobile communication. According to a subsequent update on Nov. 1, OCHA said that almost half of Gaza’s local fiber network — comprising the street poles, cables and fiber trenches that connect internet infrastructure to end users — had been damaged since the beginning of the war...