An Update from Some Hackers and a Documentarian Inside the Gaza Strip
A summative infographic regarding the strikes in Gaza from the IDF's Twitter account.
Last night, the world received the news that a ceasefire in Gaza had been agreed upon by Hamas and Israel. As we reported on Monday, the conflict in the Gaza Strip had incited a large-scale cyber war that attacked Israel’s media and PR efforts from all sides. Not only was Hamas combatting Israel’s propaganda by tweeting images of dead children, but Anonymous was taking down every website that operates within Israeli cyberspace that they could. This battlefront, for now, is on pause. To check up on the situation as the dust settled, I spoke with a member of Anonymous’ #OpIsrael, one of the founding members of the Telecomix network of dial-up lines designed to provide internet and communication to people who are stuck under authoritarian internet shut-downs, and a young British documentarian named Harry Fear who is currently in Gaza.
Over Skype this morning, Harry and I spoke about the situation on the ground in Gaza, he told me that: “People are very relieved. The overwhelming majority of people are simply happy that the bloodshed was stopped for now.” It’s not hard to imagine, given that the death toll in Gaza has now reached 100. Harry told me the reason he is reporting in Gaza, is that the conflict there is: “one of the least noticed injustices on the face of the Earth. The overwhelming majority of the media portrays it as a symmetrical conflict between two equally matched peoples, which it’s not.”
As the bombing went on in Gaza, Harry noticed his following on social media skyrocket. Just last night, after the cease fire had been declared, Israeli drones were still flying over Gaza. Harry broadcasted the audio. He’s become a bit of a one-man media outlet, providing the world with live social media updates describing the damage in Gaza: “I started off the day before the war started with 360 followers on twitter, I now have more than 25,000 followers in less than 5 days, I now have 17,000 followers on facebook, so together that’s quite a lot... I get lots of messages from people around the world thanking me and encouraging me to go on. That keeps me going because it’s not an easy thing to report on children being blown up.”
I figured that a growing social media following would make the personal and emotional drain of reporting on such brutal atrocity a little easier to bear, knowing that other people were sharing the impact, but Harry says it’s the opposite: “It’s actually more stressful because it means that I have more of a responsibility and I have more people who are relying on me, manifestly relying on me to carry on.”
Given that the reason Anonymous launched an offensive on Israel was Israel’s supposed threat to cut-off Gaza’s internet, I asked Harry if he had experienced any down time in communications during his time in Gaza. He had: “We had cellular downtime for 20 minutes in total and internet downtime for about two hours in total. We had electricity outages more severely and more intermittently than normal, it’s normally only on for eight hours a day as it is anyway.”
Now that a ceasefire has been agreed upon, Harry’s work isn’t over. He’s going to be working on a documentary about an Israeli strike in Gaza that killed 12 civlians, ten of which were from the same family, the Al-Dalous. According to the Israeli government, the strike is still “under investigation.”
A crater left by the IDF"s "mistake" of blowing up the Al-Dalou family home as reported by RT.
Telecomix is the group that provides dial-up internet lines for citizens who are struggling under an authoritarian regime that is censoring or shutting down their internet. I spoke to one of the central organizers of Telecomix, Stephan Urbach, as he drove through Germany. Stephan told me that Telecomix has up to 300 different dial-up lines at any given time, and that during the revolution in Egypt, they were being used at 80% capacity. Stephan told me people wrote him who had used the lines to “write emails to their parents or to send out pictures and blog posts.” It wasn’t all SOS messages though, after setting up a new dial-up line and checking the activity log to ensure that it was working, Stephan noticed someone in Egypt who was downloading an episode of How I Met Your Mother. He assured me, though, that Telecomix does not monitor or save logs of their dial-up lines and that he had only seen that particular moment when he was testing a new connection.
Now that the Gaza conflict is over, it is hard to say what the next front for Telecomix will be, but they are still working at providing internet to oppressed nations worldwide: “We never know where Telecomix is going... At the moment some Telecomix agents are working in Syria who have their internet blocked, others are working in Kazakhstan, some are working in Bahrain. There is a lot going on and we don’t make plans of what to do, we only work.”
Anonymous, too, announced an end to their offensive. In an official press release, they wrote: "We are gratified and immensely relieved, as is everyone in the world – to hear of the announced cease fire between Hamas and the IDF... We will therefore stand down immediately from all further cyber attacks upon the IDF or Israel so as not to risk this delicate and perilous cease fire arrangement... We ask this NOT on behalf or for the benefit of either the government of Israel, or Hamas – but we beg it of you on behalf of the innocent people of Gaza, that they may no longer be slaughtered with impunity."
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to a hacktivist from Anonymous, who goes by DBCOOPA. DBCOOPA helped to organize #OpIsrael. Now that we’re at the end of the conflict. DBCOOPA let me know that one of the major reasons Anonymous is so concerned about the communications network of Gaza being damaged is that, “war crimes have a tendency to occur when a population is unable to communicate with the outside world... In Egypt, Mubarak intentionally cut off the internet to limit the exposure of the abuses being committed against protesters and activists. There were murders on the streets of Cairo by security forces.” As a result of those murders, Mubarak is now in jail for life.
I asked DBCOOPA how they felt about Anonymous’ impact on Israel: “They definitely lost the social media PR battle. For some reason, they thought live tweeting their military operation would galvanize their supporters online. It had the opposite effect... they obviously tried to downplay Anonymous' role. I believe the Finance Minister claimed only one site had been down for a few hours. That was obviously a lie.”
Given the highly advanced nature of the Israeli military, I posed the question to DPCOOPA of possible retaliation against Anonymous and the hacktivists who bombarded Israeli cyberspace with attacks. I didn’t get a worried answer: “I haven't seen any sort of retaliation yet. Maybe we should start sleeping in our closets though.”
I spoke to Harry Fear about Anonymous’ impact on the landscape of this media and propaganda war. He echoed DBCOOPA’s sentiments, “Israel is in a PR war and it’s succeeding generally, most of the time, but it’s a PR war with the Palestinian people who are landing severe hits that embarrassed the state of Israel... Anonymous is a cool group to most people, so when Anonymous does something like OpIsrael, it creates a real symbolic example. So that was very effective.”