Gaza: Israel targets Palestinian civilians trying to access communications and internet services

Geneva - Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor has documented the Israeli army deliberately killing Palestinian civilians, including journalists, as they attempted to access communications and internet services to communicate with their families or employers, by targeting them with sniper or drone attacks in various areas of the Gaza Strip. 

At least seven civilians have been killed in the North Gaza Governorate in less than a week after they were directly targeted by Israeli army drones in the Al-Bashir area of Tal Al-Zaatar in Jabalia Camp. The victims were attempting to access internet services to communicate with their families and relatives.

The Geneva-based group clarified that Palestinian civilians are climbing to high elevations in an effort to intercept communications signals to access the internet using electronic cards, after Israeli forces demolished Palestinian communications exchanges. However, the Israeli forces deliberately target these civilians, who pose no threat or danger.

On 22 January, a group of journalists were targeted by Israeli aircraft while attempting to obtain internet services in the Tal Al-Zaatar area of Jabalia. A young man, Muhammad Al-Ghoula, was killed, and the journalist Imad Ghabboun was injured during the attack.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, Israel particularly targets civilians trying to pick up communications and internet signals in besieged areas where serious human rights violations are occurring. This hinders press coverage of the violations and makes it difficult for residents to report them.

On 8 February, Euro-Med Monitor documented the killing by an Israeli quadcopter aircraft of a Palestinian civilian on the roof of the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis, where he was attempting to obtain Internet signals amid the total Israeli siege of the hospital.

On 9 February, six young men were injured when Israeli warships targeted them while they were attempting to access the internet on the Nuwairi height near the sea of the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Numerous civilians were killed and injured after being targeted by Israeli drones and quadcopter aircrafts, while trying to pick up an internet signal on the roof of the Yarmouk Stadium in Gaza City, according to Euro-Med Monitor.

Walid Ghaleb Abu al-Fahm, 34, told Euro-Med Monitor the following details about the killing of his brother, Muhammad Ghaleb Abu al-Fahm, 32, and his two friends, Bassem Hassan al-Kahlot, 33, and Youssef Abu Fayed, 35, on 29 January and 1 December, 2023. The men were all from the Jabalia camp in the northern Gaza Strip. Abu al-Fahm said: “After the Israeli occupation forces withdrew from the Tal al-Zaatar area and the vicinity of Al-Awda Hospital, I went with my brother Muhammad and my friends Bassem and Youssef to the Tal al-Zaatar area to obtain internet and communication services that had been cut off since the end of October.

“Despite the Israeli complete withdrawal from Tal al-Zaatar two days ago, aerial bombardment still occurred. As we got closer to the Al Awda Hospital area and started using our phones to access the internet, all of a sudden a drone's missile fell squarely on top of us. I was a few steps ahead of my brother Muhammad and our friends Bassem and Youssef. I looked behind me and saw them lying on the ground. I was also injured in my arm. I found that my brother Muhammad and my friend Youssef had been killed instantly, while my friend Bassem was in a serious condition and soon died about two hours later. We were attempting to correspond with our friends and family since some of us had to evacuate to the southern Gaza Strip. Although we were excited to get in touch with our families and see how they were doing, my brother and my friends were taken from me sooner by an Israeli missile. From the end of October until mid-February, communications have not been restored, and we remain disconnected from the outside world.”

Speaking to Euro-Med Monitor, Omar Odeh Walaida, 42, from the Tal al-Zaatar neighbourhood in the northern Gaza Strip, narrates the following details of the killing of his neighbours, Youssef Asaad Abu Rawaa, 23, and Ezzat Abu Odeh, who were displaced from Beit Hanoun on 4 February 2024, and the injury of Ali Jihad Abdel Aziz Abu Rawa, 23, saying: “Youssef and I went out to the Al-Bashir area in the Tal Al-Zaatar neighbourhood, which is near our home, to capture Internet signals. It is known that this area is high and can access internet from Israeli companies amid the Israeli total cutoff of communications and internet services in the entire Gaza Strip. Youssef went to speak with his mother and his two brothers, who were trapped in the West Bank after the Israeli crossing closure. At midday, Youssef was talking to his mother about the health situation of his injured brother, Rami, who is currently being treated in Al-Shifa Hospital since he is the only breadwinner for him after his father was evacuated to Deir al-Balah in November. Suddenly and without prior warning, the Israeli artillery shelled directly towards us. We had no idea what was going on. I checked myself and was fine, but I looked around and saw blood and destruction. Youssef and the others were covered in blood, and their phones were lying meters away from them. Youssef was still alive, but his health situation was really serious, and he did not last long." 

"Youssef did not find anyone in his small family to bury him because his mother and two brothers were stuck in the West Bank, his father had to evacuate, and his brother Rami was injured," Walaida continued. "So his family and friends took over the task."

Mahmoud Muhammad Abu Saqr, 60, spoke to Euro-Med Monitor about the killing of his nephew, Hussam Akram Abu Saqr, 25 , and his friend, Amer Khamis Awad, 25, in the Tal Al-Zaatar neighbourhood in northern Gaza, saying: “Hossam went to the Al-Bashir area of Tal Al-Zaatar, which is an elevated area where one can access the Internet. On 9 February, Hossam tried to contact with his brother, who had been left alone in northern Gaza after his parents and five siblings were killed in December. Before Hossam and his friend Amer could start their online conversation, the Israeli planes bombed them. As I live in Tal Al-Zaatar and the Al-Bashir neighbourhood is close by, I hurriedly went to the bombing site that is next to our home. However, they were promptly moved to the nearby Al-Awda Hospital. I was unable to inform my brothers and relatives who were evacuated to the south of the Gaza Strip of my nephew's killing due to the communication breakdown."

Israel systematically destroyed the communications exchanges of the only terrestrial network in the Gaza Strip and the aerial transmission stations of mobile phone networks located on the roofs of houses and buildings. This resulted in the disruption of communications and internet services for most of the Gaza Strip's population, who were forced to look for difficult-to-secure alternatives.

According to Euro-Med Monitor, Israel has shut off the Internet and communications from the Gaza Strip at least ten times since 7 October. The majority of these incidents happened concurrently with or before a planned escalation in the military attacks, with the infrastructure supporting these networks being totally destroyed.

Euro-Med Monitor emphasised that the intentional and unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army, whether through direct execution or sniping and drone attacks, violate their right to life in accordance with international human rights law, are deemed grave violations under the Geneva Conventions, and are crimes of war and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. These actions also serve as an integral part of the genocide committed by Israel against the Gaza Strip since 7 October