israel-hamas war

‘Gaza Has Been Turned Into a Black Box’

Israel’s campaign against Hamas plunges millions into suffering, and the full damage is not yet known.

Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS
Photo: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS

The only light in the Gaza Strip at night will be from fires started by Israeli bombs and a handful of hospitals powered by sputtering generators. The territory’s last functioning power plant ran out of fuel on Wednesday, two days after the Israeli defense minister announced that there would be a complete blockade during the siege: “No water, no food, no electricity.”

And almost no information either. Israel’s war on Hamas for killing more than 1,200 people this weekend has effectively turned the home of 2.3 million people into a deadly prison. Dwindling electricity and the destruction of civilian infrastructure have left very few ways for Palestinians in Gaza to communicate with one another or the world outside. No one, including reporters, is allowed in.

As of Tuesday, the eight internet providers servicing Gaza have almost completely stopped functioning, according to NetBlocks. Paltel, the largest telecoms company in Gaza, has already been bombed and reportedly expects a full communications blackout if any more of the lines connecting the territory to Egypt and Israel are hit by bombs that Tel Aviv says are targeting Hamas’s underground tunnels. Even if Palestinians had a way to charge their cell phones when the power goes out, the 2G service available in the territory severely limits communication.

“There are a lot less eyes on the ground that can report to the world, from their cell phones, relaying their first-hand experiences, documenting criminality on the ground for future accountability,” said Yousef Munayyer, head of the Palestine/Israel Program at the Arab Center in Washington, D.C. “Gaza has been turned into a black box where atrocities can take place.”

One of the few reports from inside Gaza since the war started was from a filmmaker for Britain’s Channel 4, who described “pure panic everywhere you look.”

Official reports relay the grim tally of the past few days. The Palestinian Health Ministry said on Thursday that more than 1,400 people have been killed, with another 6,000 wounded — 60 percent of whom are women and children. As Israel amasses forces on the border for a potential ground offensive, the bombing raids are not letting up with hundreds of air strikes every day. Entire neighborhoods, such as the Rimal district in Gaza City, have been obliterated. Some 180,000 people are holed up in United Nations schools and shelters, with the rest left unprotected. The trauma center at Gaza’s largest hospital, Dar Al-Shifa, is reportedly so overwhelmed that doctors have stopped treating bones crushed by debris and are focusing only on life-threatening injuries.

The hospital’s director, Dr. Muhammad al-Salmiya, said that the number of injured patients waiting for treatment is four times Dar Al-Shifa’s capacity. “You know, it is very difficult to run an electrical generator for 18 hours a day,” Salmiya told NPR. “And, of course, the generators we have do not support the amount of equipment we need to use.” The hospital has already limited its electricity usage to essential tasks, but the generators will soon go offline too: Gaza’s health minister said that the fuel needed to operate them will run out on Thursday. A spokesperson for the International Committee of the Red Cross warned that such a scenario “will turn hospitals into graveyards.” By Thursday, the Palestinian Health Ministry stated that Gaza’s health system “has begun to collapse.”

The siege, and Israel’s refusal to allow for humanitarian corridors to supply relief, is making life virtually impossible for everyone in the territory. Refrigerated food is quickly going bad without power and former United Nations officials expect that food will run out within days. “We’ve got supplies for 12 days for food and water,” Jennifer Austin, deputy director of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, told Al Jazeera. “Roads are blocked, we don’t have telephone lines, we have had networks hit by air strikes. It is really difficult for us to know what’s happening.” One of the U.N. shelters suffered a direct hit from an Israeli bomb on Sunday, and five more schools being used as shelters were damaged on Monday. The IDF stated on Thursday that it has dropped 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip in six days.

The day of the attack in Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Palestinians in Gaza to “get out now” to avoid being hit in the retaliatory strikes against Hamas. But there is nowhere to go. Since Hamas took over the territory by force in 2007, Israel has almost completely banned Palestinians from leaving Gaza through Israel or the Mediterranean Sea. On Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, the Rafah gate — the lone entry point into the Sinai — has been shut down by Cairo, fearing a mass exodus into its territory. Negotiations were underway this week between Israel and Egypt to establish a safe corridor to bring in supplies and get foreign nationals out, but for now the Egyptian president said on Thursday that the residents in Gaza must “stay steadfast and remain on their land.” Israeli officials have also retracted Netanyahu’s earlier advice to “get out,” with an Israeli Defense Forces spokesman acknowledging on Tuesday that there is, in fact, no way out.

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‘Gaza Has Been Turned Into a Black Box’