Why Gaza keeps losing communications

Palestinian journalists attempt to connect to the internet using their phones in Rafah, Gaza, in December. (Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images)
8 min

BEIRUT — Israel’s war on Hamas has deprived people in Gaza of food, water, electricity and shelter.

It’s also disrupted communications. Gaza’s cellphone network had struggled before the conflict. Now, under Israeli bombardment and the mass displacement of Gazans, it’s failing as people are trying to connect with loved ones and secure resources.

Communications blackouts have also stymied aid organizations and emergency workers trying to coordinate with the local population and with each other. And for Gaza’s journalists, the blackouts are an impediment as they try to inform the world about suffering in the enclave.

How frequent are the communication outages?

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel, Gaza has suffered nine communications blackouts, according to the cybersecurity monitoring group NetBlocks. They have ranged in duration from nine hours to 72 hours. Communications have been out again since Friday.

What’s causing the outages?

Israeli bombing has damaged cellphone networks, according to Mamoon Fares, director of corporate support for the Palestinian Telecommunications Co., or Paltel, one of two providers in the enclave. Most of the internal fiber connections that link to switches and street cabinets “are damaged and need to be fixed,” he said.

Cellphone towers had also been damaged. “We have more than 550 towers inside Gaza,” said Fares, who is based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “Most of them were partially or completely damaged.”

Compounding the problem, he told The Washington Post, is the displacement of more than 1.8 million people inside the enclave. The migration from north and central Gaza to the south has overwhelmed network capacity there.

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“If traffic increased by 15 to 20 percent, it’s okay,” he said. But with so many people heading south, “suddenly our network lost more than 50 to 60 percent of its capacity due to damage, and the 1 million people [in the south] became 2 million people.”

During the humanitarian pause in November, Paltel made repairs and restored some service. “Since then,” Fares said, “things have gone from bad to worse.”

Most repairs, he said, are carried out “under fire.” The company has coordinated repairs with Israel, but employees have worked with “fighting around. There is shooting around them. There are tanks that harass them from time to time.”

Two Paltel employees were killed last week, according to chief executive Abdel Majeed Melhem, who said the workers were “targeted” by Israel. The company said 13 of its employees have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.