Internet Blackouts in Gaza Are a New Weapon in the Israel-Hamas War

“No company can repair or do anything right now,” Mekdad says. Many firms, he says, are waiting until the war is over to see the status of their infrastructure and evaluate it. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last week that 65 percent of households and businesses have lost access to the internet and half of networks have been damaged.

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, on October 17, 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.

In recent years, internet shutdowns have become a dystopian reality for millions of people in India, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq, and other countries. Last year there were 187 internet shutdowns in 35 countries, according to Access Now, a digital rights nonprofit. Internet shutdowns can do huge damage to a country’s economy as well as people’s ability to communicate with friends and loved ones and access medical care and other essential information. Typically, internet shutdowns are initiated by repressive governments trying to control protests, stop people organizing, and quell dissent. The approach is widely condemned by democratic countries, the United Nations, and human rights groups.

After internet service came back in Gaza the first time in late October, the White House wrote in a statement that “the restoration of communications in Gaza was critical. Aid workers, civilians, and journalists need to be able to communicate to each other and the rest of the world. Our Administration cared about this, worked on it, and are glad to see it restored.” The US State Department and White House National Security Council did not return requests for comment from WIRED about the implications of the two subsequent internet shutdowns in Gaza.

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