We cannot bear the blackouts

An Israeli airstrike in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. 

Chine Nouvelle / SIPA

Israel has completely blocked internet communications in Gaza multiple times since declaring its genocidal war.

Each of these blackouts had extremely negative consequences. We have not been able to keep in touch with our family members in other parts of Gaza or with the outside world.

The latest blackout lasted for more than a week.

During it, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warned that the blackout prevented people from accessing potentially life-saving information and from calling first responders. Other forms of humanitarian assistance were impeded, too.

Rima Saadi, 35, was at the European Gaza Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis when the latest blackout began. She learned about the blackout from her brother Muhammad, who went out in the street and asked various people if they had internet connections.

Muhammad tried to provide some levity. Being without the internet would give the family a chance to know each other better in real life, he joked.

His humor did not allay anyone’s fears.

“I felt very worried,” Rima said. “Did the Israeli occupation have a new plan to kill us without the world knowing? Every time the internet has been cut off, there have been massacres without the world knowing about them on social media.”

Rima was especially fearful for her sister Rawaa, who lives in a camp to the west of Khan Younis.

The two sisters had been regularly sending each other messages since the beginning of the war. They were always checking on each other.

“Moments before the internet outage, Rawaa sent me messages about how there was bombing in the area surrounding her home,” Rima said. “I was very worried about her. How could I communicate with her?”

“I felt very frustrated by this sudden blackout,” she said. “What’s even more frustrating is that Israel controls all aspects of our lives, even the internet. We have nothing to control.”

“Painful reality”

Khaled Lawz, 20, noted that when the internet blackout began his neighbors gathered and listened to the radio.

“The news on the radio was very limited,” he said. It was no substitute for being able to contact people directly.

“My father did not care much about the internet before the war,” he added.

“He did not like social media and things like that. But since the beginning of the war, he has been following the news on his phone through Al Jazeera’s YouTube channel. He has taken care to charge his phone twice a day at the European Hospital – next to where we live – so that he can stay connected. When the internet was cut off, he became very upset and when he heard the sound of bombing, he would say, ‘how will we know where this bombing is?’”

“I could not bear the days without the internet,” Khaled said. “I felt very worried about my sister and my friend. I had promised to keep in touch with my friend after she lost her husband and her son in the war.”

To try and take his mind off things, Khaled spent time viewing photos he had taken before the war.

“I have beautiful memories of beautiful places in Gaza,” he said. “I wish that we were going through a bad dream and that it would end soon. But unfortunately it is a painful reality and we do not know when it will end.”

Ruwaida Amer is a journalist based in Gaza.