Israel's Gaza Internet Chokehold Stokes Fears Of Shutdown

11/20/2012 06:10 pm ET | Updated Nov 21, 2012

From his base in the Gaza Strip, Majed Abusalama has employed social media to ensure that the rest of the world gets a real-time picture of what is unfolding. He has tweeted incessantly, chronicling seemingly every bomb, every death, the sense of fear and outrage.

But with each passing day, the 25-year-old Palestinian journalist said he fears that his latest report could be his last. At any moment, he said, Israel could cut off access to the Internet for him and everyone else inside Gaza, effectively disconnecting the territory from the rest of the world.

With that threat in mind, Abusalama has been preparing alternate ways to stay connected. He has been stockpiling SIM cards that would allow his mobile phone to connect to wireless networks in Egypt. And he has downloaded special software for his smartphone that would allow him to stay online, even if local wireless networks are shut down.

"This is a war," Abusalama told The Huffington Post by phone from Gaza. "We don't know what could happen. The Internet is the only way to send information, so it would be good to have a Plan B."

Israel's advantage over Palestinian militants extends beyond the powerful military apparatus it has deployed this week in response to the rockets landing on its citizens. Israel also has unique control over connectivity. Gaza's telephone networks and Internet servers run through Israel, which gives Israel a potential chokehold over communications inside the Palestinian territory.

"Israel could potentially disconnect the network or censor or surveil the network," said Jillian York, director of international freedom of expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Basically Gaza has no sovereignty over their own Internet."

Israeli newspaper Haaretz said the scenario is unprecedented, noting Monday that Israel's communications advantage means Palestinians "are fighting with at least one hand tied behind their backs."

"There has been no other case in the history of modern warfare where one side controls all the communication infrastructure of the other," the newspaper said.

No news reports have confirmed that Israel plans to shut communications in Gaza. But rumors of a communications blackout have proliferated on social media, Abusalama said, prompting tech-savvy Palestinians to prepare.

A hacker group called Telecomix posted a message last week with instructions on how to work around a potential Internet shutdown. The group told Palestinians to use an Egyptian cellular card to access the Internet from their phone or tablets. Egyptian wireless networks can always be captured from Gaza, according to the group.

Michael Dahan, a professor of Internet and politics at Sapir College in Israel, called Israel's access to Gaza's telecom networks "a digital extension of its control of the Gaza Strip."

Dahan said an Internet shutdown would have little effect on Hamas, which relies on Egyptian networks and long-range walkie-talkies to communicate. But he said Israel could use its control over Gaza's communications to eavedrop on Palestinians, or to block information from citizens and journalists during a potential ground offensive.

"If the fighting goes on and Israel enters the Gaza Strip, I assume Israel will cut off Internet and cell connectivity to prevent people from recording the presence of soldiers," Dahan said. "It would make operational sense."

The conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians has played out increasingly online, with both sides broadcasting attacks in real time on social media. Israeli officials said Monday there have been 44 million cyberattacks on government and security services websites in the past week, with a few sites briefly knocked offline.

It's not uncommon for governments in the Middle East to shut down telecom networks to control the flow of information during conflicts. The Mubarak regime cut off most Internet and cell service in Egypt during the uprising there. Last June, Syria's government shut down Web access to stifle news about escalating protests and violence, according to the Internet monitoring firm Renesys.

A team of telecom experts -- funded by the State Department -- has been building technology that creates a virtual wireless network when a government shuts down or monitors telecommunications systems.

The projects use mini-antennas to wirelessly connect cell phones and laptops to each other and form a "spiderweb of connectivity" if traditional networks are cut off, according to Sascha Meinrath, director of the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation.

"It's a mechanism where people can continue to swap information and make cell phone calls even if Internet connectivity or cell phone infrastructure is not existent," Meinrath said.

He said "off-the-shelf" Wi-Fi equipment could be used to extend the makeshift wireless network for dozens of miles.

"For a couple hundred dollars, somebody could easily re-establish Internet connection from Jerusalem into Palestine," Meinrath said.

For his part, Abusalama is keeping his international SIM cards in his wallet. He plans to distribute them to friends if the Internet goes down in Gaza.

"If the Internet is shut down, we’re going to use them," Abusalama said, as an ambulance blared in the background. "This is about freedom of expression. I want everyone to know what's going on in Gaza and what I'm reporting on."

Related on HuffPost:

Israel-Gaza Conflict

23/11/2012 05:31 GMT

Clinton Warned Netanyahu: Don't Punish Palestinians For U.N. Bid

From Haaretz:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during her talks in Israel this week not to take any extreme actions in response to the Palestinian move in the United Nations for recognition as a non-member state. Clinton said such steps against the Palestinian Authority could bring about its collapse. The Palestinians are planning to ask the United Nations General Assembly to vote on upgrading its status from non-member entity on the symbolic date of November 29.

The day after the cease-fire with Hamas took effect, Israel is preparing for the next crisis with the Palestinians, which is scheduled for six days from now. November 29th is the anniversary of the United Nations vote on accepting the Partition Plan in 1947, which led to the founding of the Jewish Sate. It is also the United Nations' International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

Read more here.

23/11/2012 03:50 GMT

Report: U.S. Urges Israel Not To Build In E-1 Areas

From the Jerusalem Post:

Washington is urging Israel not to allow construction in the area known as E-1 between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim as a possible response to the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition next week at the UN, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

Building in E-1, which would create contiguity between Jerusalem and Ma’aleh Adumim to the northeast beyond the Green Line, is something various Israeli governments have long wanted to do, but which US opposition has prevented.

Read more here.

23/11/2012 00:01 GMT

Life In Gaza's Courtyards

The New York Times' Jodi Rudoren chronicles displays of pride and sacrifice:

Inside a courtyard, there are faded remnants of “Congratulations from the uncles,” from the April wedding of a son of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of the Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, whose assassination last week was the beginning of the latest round of intense battle between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

On the wall outside, the colorful Arabic script reads “Welcome hajji, Abu Muhammad,” a reference to Mr. Jabari’s return from a pilgrimage to Mecca last month. Nearby, the freshest paint pronounces a message from the troops: “Rest in peace. The mission has been accomplished.”

Read the full story at the New York Times.

22/11/2012 23:19 GMT

PHOTO: Egypt Tunnel Into Gaza

Egypt Tunnel into Gaza:

An underground tunnel connecting through which I got into Gaza from Egypt. Israel has repeatedly targeted the tunnel network, trying to hinder flow of goods and weapons into the strip. (Photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy via Flickr)

egypt tunnel gaza strip israel smuggle

22/11/2012 22:55 GMT

Soldiers Show Frustration Via Viral Facebook Photo

16 soldiers spelled out 'loser' with their bodies to critique Netanyahu and show frustration at not going into battle.

Read the full story at The Times Of Israel.

22/11/2012 22:29 GMT

Who Brokered The Ceasefire

The Economist discusses how the ceasefire was achieved and whether it could lead to lasting peace in the region.

Among others coming and going were the UN secretary-general, the American secretary of state and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Germany. But the real bargaining took place behind closed doors at the headquarters of General Muhammad Shehata, Egypt’s intelligence chief. There, in separate rooms, the Egyptians haggled with a legal adviser to the Israeli prime minister, and with representatives from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, and a smaller, more radical Palestinian faction, Islamic Jihad.

Read the full story at The Economist.

22/11/2012 21:22 GMT

Israeli Arab Arrested for Tel Aviv Bus Bombing

From the Associated Press:

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's army spokeswoman says an Israeli Arab who is a member of Hamas has been arrested for Wednesday's bus bombing in Tel Aviv.

The bombing injured 27 people near Israel's military headquarters and threatened to scuttle efforts to broker a cease-fire to end fighting between Israel and Gaza.

Israeli military spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich reported Thursday on Twitter that authorities had arrested the man who planted the bomb on the bus and identified him as an Arab Israeli from the village of Taybeh. She said he was a member of Hamas.

22/11/2012 20:41 GMT

Arrest Made In Tel Aviv Bus Bombing

@ haaretzcom :

BREAKING: #Israel security forces arrest suspects in #TelAviv bus blast

22/11/2012 20:38 GMT

A Palestinian Boy

A Palestinian boy and militants of the Izzedine Al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, attend funerals of five Hamas militants in Mugharka village, central Gaza Strip, Thursday, Nov. 22, 2012. Five Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli air strike yesterday, Palestinian health officials said. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

22/11/2012 20:28 GMT

Israel-Gaza Conflict Winners And Losers

While the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Gaza on Wednesday brought an end to the rockets and airstrikes, the political fallout is just beginning. The Associated Press offers a breakdown of who won and who lost as a result of the truce agreement:

Read the full story on HuffPost World.

Suggest a correction