Palestinian websites knocked offline

Israel’s military action in the Palestinian territories has disrupted the region’s computer networks. Many Palestinian websites run from the region have been knocked offline for weeks, including most government sites.

Since the Israeli withdrawal from certain areas, Palestinians technicians have been working to restore the telecoms network.

For their part, computer security experts say Israeli websites have been the target of hackers, although most government websites have remained readily available.

Equipment destroyed

The disruption to Palestinian websites started at the beginning of April, when Israeli troops hit the Nablus headquarters of the Palestinian telecoms network, PalTel.

Set up in 1996 at a cost of $65m cost, PalTel provided the communication infrastructure for the territories.

As a result, many sites were set up to temporarily redirect visitors to a holding page at the US-based ElectronicIntifada site.

“During the time of incursion, most of the servers were affected,” said Sabri Saidam, a technology consultant who worked on the Palestinian Authority’s web projects.

“The rampage targeted Palestinian institutions, as well as internet service providers and private groups,” he told the BBC programme, Go Digital.

In some cases, computer equipment was destroyed, offices badly damaged and electricity supplies cut.

An eyewitness who visited the offices of the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute in Ramallah described a scene of devastation there.

“All the computers in the office have been thrown into one big pile at the entrance; desks and chairs are broken and scattered on top of each other,” wrote Patricia Smith in a report for a Palestinian NGO.

“The computer hard-drives have been taken out and the server is gone, together with all the printers and fax machines.”

‘Extremely painful’

Rebuilding the computer network is going to take time and money. Many of the fledgling websites of the Palestinian Authority had been funded by international donors.

The EU, US and even China had helped to pay for the equipment and facilities destroyed in the recent violence.

“There were hopes of building on the peace that existed in the last seven years,” said Dr Saidam.

“Sadly, all this seems to have collapsed. All these dreams seem to have been dashed.

“It has been extremely painful to see everything you have worked on being demolished before your own eyes,” he said.

For activists, the damage has been done to limit the ability of Palestinians to use the net to spread information about events on the ground.

“These days much of the Palestinian advocacy takes place on the internet. This relies not so much on websites but on e-mail from the ground,” said Nigel Parry of the US-based ElectronicIntifada.