Blackout in Gaza imminent if sufficient fuel is not restored

a person holds a sign calling for a ceasefire

Israel/OPT: Another blackout in Gaza imminent if sufficient fuel is not restored

Press release

15 November 2023

The occupied Gaza Strip will likely plunge into another total communications blackout on Thursday if appropriate fuel supplies are not immediately delivered, which will worsen an already catastrophic humanitarian situation, Amnesty International said today.

Today, Paltel group and Jawwal, two of the largest telecommunication companies in the area, issued a joint statement to report that their main data servers and switches were gradually shutting down due to fuel depletion. The blackout faced by Paltel and Jawwal would not be recoverable until fuel has been restored––as the two largest operators in the area, the consequences of this would be devastating.

Israel today allowed the first fuel delivery by a single UNRWA truck of 24,000 litres to enter Gaza today, but this covers barely 9% of the daily fuel requirements. While further fuel remains available at the border, Israel has continued to block its entry.

“Israel’s ongoing refusal to deliver sufficient fuel and restore power will bring Gaza’s communications network to a complete halt. It has also severely affected the delivery of vital services to what remains of the crumbling medical facilities treating thousands of ailing victims of the unrelenting assault on Gaza and has hampered the rescue of injured people trapped under the rubble of destroyed buildings. This will be further exacerbated by the collapse of communications services, which in itself could amount to a violation of international law,” said Rasha Abdul Rahim, Programme Director of Amnesty Tech.

“The immediate entry of adequate levels of fuel is essential to enable the delivery of life-saving services by the healthcare system. Allowing the entry of fuel and restoring power is an urgent humanitarian imperative, which must not be further delayed under any circumstances.”

Gaza has been facing connectivity below 30% of pre-conflict levels since 11 October 2023, according to data by IODA and Netblocks. Another telecommunications blackout not only means cutting off Gazans from each other and the rest of the world, but also preventing injured people and those trapped under the rubble from being rescued. People will be deprived of access to lifesaving information, such as finding areas of safety or contacting emergency services. The critical work of humanitarian agencies will also be severely disrupted, as workers lose contact with each other.

It is also well-documented that communications blackouts prevent international and local organizations from documenting human rights violations—such as unlawful killings or the disproportionate use of force by security forces. Activities such as speaking freely against government policies, and documenting and disseminating information on human rights violations all rely on the ability to access communications and the internet.

Such activities are protected under international human rights law, which also guards against unjustified internet shutdowns. In Gaza, the shutdown of communications can therefore provide a cover for grave violations of international law to continue under a veil of darkness and facilitate impunity for crimes under international law.

To date, 15 ASN/ISPs (Internet Service Providers) have faced near-complete outages, affecting the landline, cellular and internet communications across the Gaza Strip. These outages occur in the context of relentless bombardment of Gaza, including indiscriminate and unlawful attacks that have wiped out entire families, and extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure, including critical communications infrastructure.

As organizations such as Access Now have confirmed, the outages in Gaza are the result of a combination of direct attacks targeting critical communications infrastructure as well as technical disruptions to services.

“Against the backdrop of devastating airstrikes on critical civilian infrastructure and dwindling fuel reserves, civilians in Gaza cannot afford another blackout, which risks becoming a protracted period of no communication, darkness and invisibility. Israel must immediately lift its blockade on Gaza and allow the entry and distribution of fuel and life-saving aid for civilians. Israel is subjecting the civilian population to collective punishment, which is unlawful and cannot be justified, while cutting them off from each other and rest of the world as it does so,” Rasha Abdul Rahim, said.

Since 7 October, Gaza has faced at least three total communication blackouts, each lasting between 24-48 hours. During these blackouts, Gazans were unable to seek help, access rescue services and to find out if their family members and loved ones were safe and alive, adding to the prevailing sense of precarity and fear.

Netstream, one of the last remaining network providers in Gaza, initially went dark on 26 October, while also reporting a complete outage of its signals at 12:00 PM local time on 27 October.

From 27 October, nearly 48 hours of complete darkness followed, with connectivity gradually restored in the early hours of 29 October.

During this period, bombardment ensued in and around the areas of Shifa, Al Quds, and the Indonesian hospitals. At least 302 people were reported to have been killed over the course of the blackout, bringing the death toll up from 7,703 to 8,005.

On 31 October, from approximately 9:05pm local time till 10am on 1 November, Gaza experienced yet another total blackout, during which the death toll rose from 8,866 to 9,061, with at least 195 Palestinians killed during heavy bombardment , which saw massive destruction in Gaza’s Jabalia Refugee camp.

Then between 5 and 6 November, another total communications blackout occurred in Gaza from 6pm – 9am local time. During the 24 hour blackout period, the death toll reached 10,022––including 4,104 children––up from the previous figure of 9770 as of 5 November.

Amnesty International reiterates its urgent call for an immediate ceasefire by all parties to the conflict. Internet and telecommunications infrastructure must also be restored as a matter of urgency, to allow rescue operations amidst pounding Israeli air strikes and expanding ground operations that have taken the lives of more than 11,000 Palestinians and rendered more than 1.6 million displaced. In the absence of fuel supplies, Amnesty International also calls on the international community to press Israel and Egypt to allow and facilitate the rapid and unimpeded passage of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza. The Egyptian authorities should activate roaming service on Egyptian networks to allow people in Gaza to connect to communications services.