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Causing Gaza Blackouts, Israel Benefits from Media Double Standards

Israel-allied media minimized Israel’s culpability for internet shutoffs, portraying the shutoffs more as an unforeseeable act of nature.

The post Causing Gaza Blackouts, Israel Benefits from Media Double Standards appeared first on FAIR.


As part of its escalating siege and bombing campaign against Palestinians—in which more than 18,000 people have been killed and roughly 1.9 million displaced—Israel has repeatedly disabled internet and phone service throughout Gaza. Israel’s airstrikes and fuel blockades have devastated the region’s communications infrastructure, depriving more than 2 million Gazans of access to lifesaving information, emergency services and contact with those outside their immediate vicinity, while preventing journalists from reporting on the situation. Since the first blackouts occurred shortly after Hamas’s attacks on October 7, residents have suffered multiple outages.

In recent weeks, Israel-allied media have minimized Israel’s culpability, portraying the shutoffs more as an unforeseeable act of nature than a deliberate act of military aggression.

Israel as innocent bystander 

WaPo: No text, no talk. Palestinians plunged into digital darkness in Gaza.

Washington Post (10/28/23) deploys the passive voice: Who plunged Palestinians into digital darkness?

News sources have rightfully informed readers of the telecommunications void in Gaza. A headline from the Washington Post (10/28/23) read, “No Text, No Talk: Palestinians Plunged Into Digital Darkness in Gaza.” The following month, an Associated Press (11/16/23) dispatch covering a separate shutoff announced that “Under a Communication Blackout, Gaza’s 2.3 Million People Are Cut Off From Each Other and the World.” But judging by these passive-voice alerts, one would have no idea Israel was involved.

Additionally, though the Post promptly alluded to the shutoffs as a “tool of war,” the paper waited 10 paragraphs to assign blame to Israel, noting that “Israel knocked out cell towers, cable lines and infrastructure…creating the near-blackout of connectivity.” AP also hedged and buried its mentions of Israel’s responsibility, explaining that a lack of fuel—caused by Israel’s obstruction of fuel deliveries to Gaza, which AP waited two dozen paragraphs to address—paralyzed the region’s internet and phone network.

To further obscure the cause-and-effect relationship of Israel’s violence and Gaza’s infrastructural ruin, media have presented the two as parallel occurrences. Wired (10/27/23) announced that cables, cell towers and other equipment “have been damaged or destroyed as Israel launched thousands of missiles in response to Hamas.” The New York Times (10/29/23) offered a similar construction: “As Israeli forces entered Gaza on Friday to fight Hamas, phone and internet service was severed.” NPR (10/30/23) contributed its own version, stating, “At the same time Israel intensified its assault on Gaza, internet and phone service suddenly dropped.”

‘Complete siege’

These framings are astonishingly charitable to Israel, given the available documentation of its actions. After promising a “complete siege” of Gaza in early October, Israeli officials ordered cuts to electricity, fuel supplies, food and water (Guardian, 10/11/23), amounting to a war crime. On October 10, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirmed that Israeli airstrikes “targeted several telecommunication installations” in Gaza. Days later, an Israeli Communications Ministry press release listed “an ongoing examination and preparation for the shutting down of cellular communications and internet services to Gaza” in a summary of its operations.

This aggression is enabled by Israel’s seizure and decades-long weakening of Palestinian communications infrastructure, which has rendered Palestinian networks highly vulnerable to damage. According to the Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media:

Since the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, Israel took complete control of the [Information and Communication Technologies] infrastructure and sector in the West Bank and Gaza, impeding development and blocking the establishment of an independent network, instead making Palestinians entirely dependent on the Israeli occupation authorities.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Palestinian telecom companies have attributed the outages to “deliberate actions perpetrated by Israeli authorities.”

Enemies as sinister masterminds

NY Times: Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access

The New York Times headline (11/17/19) held Iran responsible for shutting down the internet, which the story called “one of its most draconian attempts to cut off Iranians from each other and the rest of the world.”

In contrast to their Israel coverage, US and US-allied media waste no time identifying alleged culprits of internet shutdowns in non-allied countries.

Reporting on protests over rising fuel prices, the New York Times (11/17/19) ran the headline “Iran Blocks Nearly All Internet Access.” The active voice in the story’s lead clearly indicated responsibility: “Iran imposed an almost complete nationwide internet blackout on Sunday,” in order to “cut off Iranians” amid “widespread government unrest.” An adjective elsewhere in the lede—“draconian”—which, though it undoubtedly applies to Israel, is almost unimaginable in corporate media discussions of the 75-year US ally (, 10/20/23, 11/15/23, 11/17/23).

AP (7/12/21) adopted equally decisive language in a piece scolding Cuba for supposedly blocking social media sites during a protest. The agency insisted that “restricting internet access has become a tried-and-true method of stifling dissent by authoritarian regimes around the world,” a category under which China and North Korea, too, evidently fell.

And, months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, media were swift to caution of the occupying force’s ambitions to wrest control of Ukrainian networks. According to Wired (6/15/22), Russia was “Taking Over Ukraine’s Internet” by rerouting Ukraine’s online traffic through “Vladimir Putin’s powerful online censorship machine.” The New York Times (8/9/22) echoed these charges, characterizing the action as “part of a Russian authoritarian playbook that is likely to be replicated further if they take more Ukrainian territory.”

Defying evidence (or lack thereof)

Rest of the World: Did Cuba really shut down the internet to quell protests?

Although critics pointed to from network monitor Kentik as proof that Cuba was shutting down its internet, a Kentik analyst told Rest of the World (7/14/21) that “internet measurement data alone can’t tell the difference” between an intentional shutdown and an overload.

In many cases, US and Western media’s assertions of enemies’ digital repression lack or contradict evidence. The AP (7/12/21) report on Cuba, for example, called the disruption an instance of a “go-to tactic to suppress dissent.” The agency’s quantitative source was data from NetBlocks, a London-based internet monitoring organization commonly cited in Western reporting on global online access, including that in Gaza (Al Jazeera, 12/4/23).

But the referenced information didn’t support all of the AP’s claims. The tech-news site Rest of World (7/14/21)—hardly a Castroite publication—found no conclusive proof that the outage was planned. A source from network monitoring company Kentik told the site that the interruption “could either happen deliberately or due to a technical failure,” adding that “internet measurement data alone”—which NetBlocks and Kentik used to gauge online activity in Cuba—“can’t tell the difference.” (The AP also neglected to mention the US’s record of limiting Cuban internet access.)

In a particularly egregious example, Foreign Policy (2/21/23) accused China of muffling internet service for Taiwan’s Matsu Islands, in what “looks like targeted harassment by Beijing.” This assumption was based on reported incidents in which a Chinese fishing vessel and freighter cut undersea cables on separate occasions. No conspiracy was confirmed; Foreign Policy itself acknowledged that a Taiwanese official “told reporters that there was no indication the incidents were intentional.” Still, this didn’t deter the magazine from trumpeting, “China Is Practicing How to Sever Taiwan’s Internet.”

Meanwhile, Western media have access to ample evidence that Israel willfully throttles, disables and bombs the communications networks it has usurped—in part to mute those who might challenge its official narratives (Al Jazeera, 11/9/23; NBC News, 11/11/23)—and displaces and kills the people who depend on them.

And yet those same media contort and trivialize that evidence to obfuscate Israel’s offenses. Apparently, sabotage of essential lines of communication for a beleaguered population doesn’t constitute subjugation—as long as the saboteur is a friend of the right countries.

The post Causing Gaza Blackouts, Israel Benefits from Media Double Standards appeared first on FAIR.

This content originally appeared on FAIR and was authored by Julianne Tveten.

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