Silenced voices: Communication blackout in Palestine
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Silenced voices: Communication blackout in Palestine

Women, Media & Development (TAM)

The following article – written at the end of January 2024 – comes from the Women’s Media & Development Association “TAM”, a WACC project partner based in Jordan. It offers a “no holds barred” perspective on the silencing of Palestinian voices and media since October 2023.

For three months, Palestinians witnessed the deadliest attacks since 1948. Over 25,490 individuals were killed, 70% of the victims being children and women. Additionally, nearly 85% of Gaza’s population has been forcibly displaced, and are facing a humanitarian crisis. Yet, despite the scale of this catastrophe, Israel has used various tactics to hide the truth in Gaza, to cover up their war crimes and delay intervention.

The chilling silence appeared when Israel’s “defence minister” Yoav Gallant announced a complete siege on Gaza stating, “There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed.” Which gives the world a clue on how much control Israel has over Gaza.

For three months, Gaza endured relentless bombings, field executions, torture, and a humanitarian crisis that is ending with famine. Women in Gaza also face an additional set of challenges. Besides carrying the burden of providing food and shelter for their families, they are facing shortages in hygiene products and new-born birth supplies. Pregnant women or women who are delivering are also facing lack of appropriate nutrition, medical care, and supervision.

A Palestinian boy charges a mobile phone from batteries offered as a free service in his Gaza neighbourhood as it experiences power shortages (File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.)

A Palestinian boy charges a mobile phone from batteries offered as a free service in his Gaza neighbourhood as it experiences power shortages (File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.)


 

As for orphaned female children, they are taking the responsibility upon themselves to care for their younger siblings. Others are disabled or injured with no one to take care of them. All of this with multiple attempts from the Israeli occupation forces to silence the Palestinians and shut them off from the outside world.

After they enforced the siege, Gaza turned into a graveyard with no place for its people to seek shelter. The Israeli occupation carried out intense bombing in Gaza, all while trying to avoid documentation by journalists and civilians. They directly and deliberately cut cables at the start of the war, causing multiple interruptions to the main fibre optic routes connecting Gaza to the outside world. Even after bombing communication towers, the occupation continued its intense attacks on civilians, completely cutting off communications to Gaza City and the northern part of the Strip.

These actions destroyed all remaining international routes connecting Gaza to the outside world, according to statements by the Palestinian Telecommunications Company. As a result, telecommunications services in Gaza came to a complete halt. This directly affected the ability of emergency and medical teams to continue their work, making it difficult to reach the injured as calls for ambulance assistance stopped and the injured had to suffer in silence in the hope of being found by rescuers and medical teams.

Targeting of journalists

Another troubling reality in the attempt to silence Gaza is the targeting of journalists and their families. At least 80 Palestinian journalists have been killed by Israeli occupation forces, according to the Gaza media office. More than 50 media premises or offices in Gaza have been completely or partially destroyed by Israeli attacks. Many journalists lost their houses to Israeli airstrikes and were forcibly displaced; more than 82% of female journalists have been forcibly displaced, some even pregnant, and lost their houses, their money, and any access to food or water.

Journalists face direct threats by Israel through calling them on their personal cell phones. For example, Motaz Azazia, a journalist who documented many Israeli war crimes in Gaza and gained millions of followers on Instagram, was contacted on his phone by a person with a heavy Israeli accent. When Motaz asked who they were, they replied, “I’m nobody,” then proceeded to ask Motaz to post against Hamas and inquire about the possibility for Gazans to flee to Egypt.

Civilian survivors after an airstrike. Photo: Motaz Azaiza. By mid-January 2024, according to Oxfam, the daily death rate in Gaza was higher than any other major 21st century conflict. “Using publicly available data, Oxfam calculated that the number of average deaths per day for Gaza is higher than any recent major armed conflict including Syria (96.5 deaths per day), Sudan (51.6), Iraq (50.8), Ukraine (43.9) Afghanistan (23.8) and Yemen (15.8).”

Civilian survivors after an airstrike. Photo: Motaz Azaiza. By mid-January 2024, according to Oxfam, the daily death rate in Gaza was higher than any other major 21st century conflict. “Using publicly available data, Oxfam calculated that the number of average deaths per day for Gaza is higher than any recent major armed conflict including Syria (96.5 deaths per day), Sudan (51.6), Iraq (50.8), Ukraine (43.9) Afghanistan (23.8) and Yemen (15.8).”

This wasn’t the first time Motaz was contacted by anonymous calls with a heavy Israeli accent. Other journalists faced death threats, and some lost all their family, paying the price for speaking truth to power. For instance, Wael Al-dahdouh received a chilling phone call about the murder of his wife and children while he was live on air. He stated later on, “They’re taking revenge on us through our children.” Even after international attention was directed to this matter, nothing was done to stop the murder of journalists in Gaza, which unfortunately resulted in Wael losing Hamza, his son, who was also a journalist, to an Israeli airstrike.

While the suffering in Gaza remains severe, the situation in the West Bank presents its own set of challenges. Three months ago, when the escalation started, the West Bank suffered another form of oppression. They separated each town with checkpoints, and groups of armed Israeli settlers protected by the Israeli occupation forces roamed around Palestinian towns, terrorizing whoever crossed their path. In some cases, they fatally shot individuals. Additionally, there were intense night raids resulting in arbitrary arrests of over 3,600 people.

The West Bank witnessed another form of silencing as Israeli occupation forces randomly checked people’s phones at checkpoints, searching for applications like Telegram or any social media platforms to monitor posts, likes, and comments about the situation in Gaza. If they found support for Gazans, they would arrest and humiliate individuals publicly. In some cases, men were detained in their underwear at checkpoints before being taken to Israeli prisons.

This tactic has prevented Palestinians in the West Bank from posting or discussing Gaza, specially when moving around towns, fearing phone searches. If soldiers found nothing on a person’s phone or suspected app deletion, they would physically assault them before releasing them. As for Palestinians living under Israeli government control, they face arrest for posting about Gaza under the allegation of “supporting terrorism”.

Social media censorship

In the digital realm, voices advocating for Palestine and Palestinian human rights face a new battleground: social media censorship. Meta’s policies and practices on platforms like Instagram and Facebook have come under scrutiny for silencing individuals and organizations expressing solidarity with Palestine. This intensified with the unfolding of events. The methods of censorship varied, including the removal of posts, suspension or permanent disabling of accounts, restrictions on engagement with content, and even “shadow banning” – all of these actions restricted conversations about Palestine.

In conclusion, the plight of Palestinians remains a pressing humanitarian crisis exacerbated by Israeli aggression and suppression. The silence imposed by the intentional bombing of communication towers in Gaza, coupled with the systematic targeting of journalists, underscores the extent of Israel’s control over the region and its efforts to conceal the truth.

Despite these efforts, the resilience of the Palestinian people and their supporters persists, with social media platforms becoming a new battleground for advocating Palestinian rights and exposing Israel’s war crimes in the region, despite facing censorship and oppression. The international community must continue to amplify Palestinian voices, and challenge oppressive tactics. Only through collective action and solidarity can the voices of the silenced be heard, and true justice achieved.

Resources

Statistics.

Israel announces blockade.

Women & female Journalists.

Meta’s censorship: https://www.hrw.org/report/2023/12/21/metas-broken-promises/systemic-censorship-palestine-content-instagram-and

Journalists: https://www.mediasupport.org/news/the-silencing-of-gaza/

https://www.aljazeera.com/program/newsfeed/2024/1/8/al-jazeeras-wael-dahdouh-pays-tribute-at-his-sons-burial

Motaz’s phone call: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSBfycLKvMg

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