Palestine is at the edge of ‘no internet’ sparking human rights concerns

The attacks on Palestinian communication systems and rapidly depleting fuel supplies could cause a full internet blackout, raising concerns among human rights organizations.

In a press conference on Sunday, Palestinian Communications Minister Yitzhak Sidr said that all communications and internet services will stop in the Gaza Strip by Thursday due to depleting fuel, as reported by Anadolu.

The internet outages and problems with connectivity in Gaza have been present since the Israel-Palestine war broke out. Netblocks, an internet accessibility watchdog, posted on X that the current connectivity levels in Palestine are “below half of the pre-conflict levels.”

According to the report published on Friday by AccessNow, a non-profit defending digital civil rights, since October 9th, the overall internet traffic across Gaza has decreased by 80% due to outages affecting many small and large internet service providers (ISPs).

As of October 31st, 15 out of 19 internet providers in Gaza were on the verge of a complete shutdown, with the remaining four experiencing significant disruptions. This affected millions of people, directly impacting around 411,000 users in Gaza and an additional 34,000 in the West Bank.

Reportedly, internet blackouts across Gaza were caused by direct attacks on civilian telecommunications infrastructure, including cell towers, fiber optic cables, and ISP offices.

Restrictions on access to electricity through infrastructure attacks, denial of service, blockading fuel required to run generators, and technical disruptions to telecommunications services have added to the internet blackouts.

Internet shutdowns

AccessNow outlines the layered internet shutdowns in Gaza. Since October 9th, Israel’s bombing campaign has targeted network installations and disabled two of the three primary mobile communication lines.

During Israeli airstrikes on October 9th, two of the major telecom companies in the Gaza Strip, PalTel and Jawwal, had their offices and infrastructure destroyed. Airstrikes have also targeted Al-Watan Tower, which houses media offices and acts as a center for internet service providers.

On October 23rd, the Israeli Ministry of Communications released a statement, initially outlining plans to completely cut off cellular and internet services to Gaza. However, after pushback from the international community, Israeli authorities changed their minds and decided to continue with more targeted and partial shutdowns.

As Israel geared up for a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip on October 27th, intense bombardment severed the final communication lines. Jawwal and Paltel announced a total shutdown of their internet and telecommunications services due to the destruction of their infrastructure. Connectivity was finally restored after 36 hours.

On October 30th, PalTel posted that its services were disrupted in the northern part of the Gaza Strip due to heavy bombardment. On November 1st, there was another full internet and telecommunications shutdown when Israeli authorities disconnected services for approximately 8-9 hours overnight.

Human rights violations

The non-profit organization states that internet shutdowns and telecommunications disruptions in Gaza violate international human rights law. There’s a strong correlation between internet shutdowns and severe human rights abuses during conflict.

“Fluctuating internet access and connectivity is contributing to uncertainty and fear, as people in Gaza are left without the ability to stay informed, keep connected with loved ones, access life-saving information, or document the human rights violations and atrocities occurring on the ground,” writes AccessNow.

In 2023, the top countries for deliberately targeting and shutting down internet connectivity include India, Myanmar, Iran, Pakistan, and Ethiopia, along with the Russian military in Ukraine.

The international community strongly condemns governments using internet shutdowns during wars and armed conflicts as they deepen humanitarian crises. In 2021 the United Nations Human Rights Council released a resolution condemning intentional disruption of internet access by governments.

A report issued by the UN Human Rights Office in 2022 notes that there were 931 documented shutdowns between 2016 and 2021 in 74 countries, with some countries blocking communications repeatedly and over long periods of time. The UN states that “shutdowns are powerful markers of sharply deteriorating human rights situations.”

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