I had planned on cobbling another informal post about the second PalTweetUp meeting. Instead, news across Twitter quickly spread about a mass communications cut in the Gaza strip, entering its seventh hour. My heart dropped somewhere between my toes. The first thought I had was "Ground Invasion. Air Raids. Naval Attacks." In short, another Operation Cast Lead.
Less than three years ago, my family in Ramallah were gripped by frustration, helplessness, and total despair. My father's family in Gaza were witnessing firsthand Israel's murderous onslaught that lasted for twenty two days, and all I could offer them was a watery phone call imploring them, rather stupidly, to stay safe. I'd start off with false cheeriness before my voice would break, the tears gushing down my face. If half the Samouni family were wiped out, who's to say my family won't be next? My uncles and their wives over the phone would be doing what I was supposed to be doing to them, comforting me, trying to downplay the risks and their suffering: "We're fine, the explosions are only shaking the building. Of course the children are terrified, but that means that we're all sleeping together, good for staying warm. Chin up Linah."
Quickly, news came in that the mass cuts were caused by Israeli bulldozers that destroyed a fiber-optic cable near the border, thus severing land lines, the internet, and cell phone connectivity. That didn't stop me from calling my uncles though. I tried both their land lines and their cell phones, over and over again. I tried to stop myself from overreacting. Why else would there be a massive communication breakdown? It's not a mistake. Mistakes on this large scale don't last for eight hours now. I pushed images of ground troops stealthily infiltrating Gaza from my mind. It was a scary notion, a cruel fact that Gaza was completely isolated from the whole world.
The only other explanation was an oversimplified one, that it was just a technical problem. That still doesn't deter from the real issue at hand: Gaza is still being effectively occupied. Israel controls all border crossings, including the Rafah border, and has the power to turn on and off the electricity that 1.7 million people depend on. It supplies water, and also can cut that off whenever it feels like it. For Gaza to become a black hole for those hours was a terrifying concept to grasp because no one know what was going on. Yasmeen Elkhoudary, probably the only one tweeting -- albeit from a shaky connection -- from Gaza via her Blackberry, provided information that land lines were working, and that to the best of her knowledge, there were no air strikes or anything of that kind.
My finger was still pushing the redial button religiously. Sixty miles separate Ramallah from Gaza, but it seemed like sixty thousand miles. Around 2:40 am, my uncle Mohammad from Tal il Hawa district picked up. I screamed, "'Amo!"
"Ahlain, ya 'ami. How are you?"
He sounded groggy. It suddenly dawned on me that I might have woken him up.
"Don't worry about it," he yawned. "I have to get up for su7oor anyway."
"What's going on? Why are all the telephone lines down? What's happening?"
"The land lines work."
"No, I think they only work within Gaza itself. Because I called you and Amo Mahmoud and Amta Najat and all I get is a busy signal."
"Yeah well..we don't really know what's going on. No one knows the reason for the power cuts. We've heard something about Israeli bulldozers digging too far and hitting a few cable lines, but that's about it. I'm surprised you managed to get through to me. You're probably roaming on the Orange network."
"Are you safe? Do you hear any drones? Missiles? Any news of anyone killed?"
"We're fine. The sky is quiet tonight. Nothing's happening on the ground. People got bored because of no electricity and went to sleep early."
"Are you sure there's nothing?"
"Yes habibti. Go to sleep."
"What time do you go to work? I'll call you then."
I tried my other uncle's cell phone. It was turned off. Relief flooded through my body. Nothing is happening, yet. A couple of hours later I finally crashed.
I woke up at 9am and immediately called Mohammad. He picked up and said something before the line disconnected. I swore under my breath as I realized my phone's battery died. Half an hour later there were confirmed reports that the communication lines were working again. The night had passed smoothly, relatively speaking. I called my uncle again at 2:45pm. He had went home because there was no work in the bank without the internet. People are still bewildered. He told me Jawwal's service connection was back on fifteen minutes earlier, not at 9:30am as some initially reported. I suppose it depended on the different districts and areas. A fifteen hour blackout is no different from a twenty hour blackout. He hadn't heard anything, not even rumors. I called my other uncle a few hours later. I heard waves crashing in the background. He was standing on a hill in Khan Younis overlooking the sea. He seemed convinced that what happened was just a technical problem, but the cynic in me won't shake off the feeling that there must be an ulterior motive on Israel's part.
The psychological warfare inflicted was just another used tactic of Israel's. My family and Gaza were safe, for now.