After the Palestinian Territories suffered a devastating shutdown of their telecomunications last week, in both the West Bank and Gaza, Al-Jazeera English website published an informative piece by Helga Tawil-Souri on Israeli’s total and enduring control of Palestinian telecomunication.
(…)Palestinian Authority (PA) is attempting to figure out how, why and by whom Palestine was hacked. Whether the PA ever comes to a conclusive finding is arguable, even if it manages to mobilise the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) to conduct an investigation. The Palestinian Minister of Communications has been hinting that a state may be behind the concerted attack – by which he means Israel.
The control and the profit:
Israel continues to determine much that shapes Palestinian telecommunications, from the allocation of frequencies to where infrastructure can be built, from how much bandwidth is allocated for internet use to what kind of infrastructure equipment can be imported and installed. Despite the advent of Palestinian telecommunications companies (Paltel’s cellular subsidiary Jawwal, its internet subsidiary Hadara, and as of 2009 a second cellular provider in the West Bank, Wataniya), local landline calls within the Gaza Strip are still routed through Israel; many local calls within the West Bank equally so. International calls in or out of the Palestinian Territories on land or cellular networks are switched in Israel – the international dialling code awarded to Palestine by the ITU remains mostly symbolic. The majority of Palestinian internet traffic is routed through switches outside the Territories. Even on the ubiquitous cellular phones, calls must touch the Israeli backbone. Paltel, Jawwal, Hadara and Wataniya rely on Israeli permissions for the placement, number and strength of routers and exchanges; the range of their signals and the equipment they can use is limited by Israeli restrictions; the allocation of their bandwidth is decided by the Israeli Ministry of Communication – not the Palestinian one.
Landline, cellular telephony and internet infrastructures are forced to be segregated from yet dependent on Israeli networks. While each technology requires different mechanisms to operate, the entire underlying structure of Palestinian telecommunications is occupied.
In the realm of the internet (which parallels landline infrastructure as opposed to cellular telephony), it is the Israeli authorities that determine how much total bandwidth Hadara can have. Similarly, it is Israeli providers who sell bandwidth capacity to Hadara, and do so at substantially higher rates than to ISPs (internet service providers) within Israel. For Palestinians then, it is invariably slower and more expensive to surf the internet than it is for an Israeli. The combination of higher costs, slower speeds and limitations imposed on technologies results in a bondage of bandwidth. In the Gaza Strip for example, Hadara is still waiting for permission for an internet trunk-switch to allow internet traffic to circumvent Israel. Internet networks are continually ‘shutdown’ for various reasons, whether because of Hadara’s failure or delay in paying its Israeli providers, for Israeli-defined ‘security’ issues, or a supposedly inadvertent manoeuvre by a military bulldozer. But the entirety of the telecommunications infrastructure is open to Israeli (state and military-sanctioned) ‘hacking’.
Signals are jammed and hacked into by the IDF. The most notorious example was during the 2008-09 war on Gaza, when the Israeli military sent hundreds of thousands of text messages and voice mails to cellular and landline users in the Strip warning of impending bombings. But these practices have occurred in the West Bank as well, and during both moments of heightened violence.
Helga Tawil-Souri is an Assistant Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University.