Gazans are rapidly losing access to the internet
Here’s what that means in a war zone
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ON OCTOBER 9TH, in response to a deadly attack on Israeli soil by Hamas, the Palestinian militants that run Gaza, Israel tightened its blockade on the strip. Internet connectivity, which has always been lower in Gaza than the rest of the region, has fallen significantly since the start of the current fighting (see chart). That presents an enormous challenge for civilians and aid workers, and restricts Israel’s ability to communicate with Gazans.
Israel has tight control over Gaza’s internet infrastructure. Fibre-optic cables to the strip pass through Israel. It has also banned technology upgrades that would make connections more secure, meaning that mobile-internet providers there are limited to 2G. This is much slower than the 5G connection that most Israelis can get access to, compounding connectivity issues.
Since the start of the current conflict Israeli air strikes have crippled Gaza’s already fragile communications infrastructure. Attempted repairs are fraught with danger. And, on October 11th, due to Israel’s blockade, Gaza’s only power plant ran out of fuel. This has further throttled internet connection, as well as hitting other crucial infrastructure such as desalination plants.
The hit to connectivity in some districts is so severe as to be equivalent to a shutdown caused by a government order or a natural disaster. The hit to connectivity levels is greater than that in Ukraine in the early weeks of its conflict last year. For some areas the internet will, in effect, be offline: cellular data and home broadband will not work. In other areas the internet will be usable but slow. In places that used to have several functioning fibre-optic cables and internet service providers, there is now just one. Text-based messaging may work depending on the provider or region, but audio and video will be very slow, if they work at all.
Internet access takes on a new importance during war. The UN monitors outages because they can give cover to human-rights violations. It is vital for alerts to be transmitted, too: on October 10th the Israel Defence Forces used Facebook to warn residents of Gaza’s al-Daraj neighbourhood about forthcoming airstrikes. Without stable internet, it becomes harder for anyone to know what is going on.■
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