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People in Gaza have been running out of desperately needed resources like food, water, electricity and fuel. And, recently, internet connection and cell service were added to that list. Broadband and cell service were suddenly cut on Friday evening in the enclave, causing panic. For 34 hours, there was no practical way for internal aid groups or over 2 million civilians to contact the outside world or one another. A few civilians were able to get the news out with international SIM cards and satellite phones. According to The New York Times, two American officials said anonymously that the US thinks Israel was behind the shutdown.
On Saturday, Israel officially expanded its ground operations into Gaza, and, over the weekend, it also launched its heaviest airstrikes so far. Paramedics had no feasible way of getting to people who needed medical attention and reportedly just rushed toward the sounds of explosions.
Now, Gazans are starting to regain internet connection. How?
On Sunday, Paltel Group, a Palestinian company that provides a lot of the internet to Gaza, posted on X (formerly Twitter), “We are pleased to announce that telecommunication services (landline, mobile, and internet) in Gaza Strip, disrupted on Friday, October 27, 2023, due to the ongoing aggression, are gradually being restored.” Gazans noticed connectivity gradually starting to come back around 4 a.m. on Sunday.
But help is coming from outside, too. Some people asked Elon Musk to boost Palestine’s web services via SpaceX’s Starlink, which has satellites that enable broadband all over the world. On Saturday, he posted on X that “SpaceX will support communication links with internationally recognized aid organizations.” But Israel’s communications minister said that Israel "will use all means at its disposal to fight this [decision].”
So, activists have been getting more resourceful. One Egyptian woman named Mirna El Helbawi has been leading the international campaign to buy eSim cards and distribute them among Palestinians who need them. A digital eSim can be bought by anyone from anywhere in the world, and it can be sent digitally to people in Gaza for more reliable internet access right now. Using social media, El Helbawi called on her 750,000 followers to donate money or buy eSims themselves to be distributed to Gazans – prioritizing journalists, aid workers and doctors. She and others created a distribution network by tracking down the few people in Gaza who were still active online.
“It all happened in a spontaneous action,” El Helbawi said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “I wasn’t expecting the thousands of people from all around the world – in Europe, the United States and Latin American – to be ready to help Palestinians get proper internet access.”