Palestinian children climb on the rubble of a destroyed home the day after an Israeli airstrike on the Nuseirat refugee camp, in the central Gaza Strip on October 30. — AFP

People called on Starlink to provide internet to Gaza after Israeli blackout. But is that possible?

A telephone and internet blackout isolated people in the Gaza Strip from the world and from each other over the weekend.
Published October 30, 2023

Gaza witnessed a total communications blackout over the weekend as Israel stepped up its operations in the besieged territory in response to the October 7 attack by Hamas.

A telephone and internet blackout isolated people in the Gaza Strip from the world and from each other, with calls to loved ones, ambulances or colleagues elsewhere all but impossible as Israel widened its air and ground assault.

International humanitarian organisations said the blackout, which began late on Friday, worsened an already desperate situation by impeding life-saving operations and preventing contact with their staff on the ground.

Following the blackout, #StarlinkforGaza became a top trend on social media platform X, with people calling for the Elon Musk-owned company to provide internet services for the besieged enclave.

On Saturday, Musk said that Starlink would support communication links in Gaza with “internationally recognised aid organisations”, prompting Israel’s communication minister to say Israel would fight the move.

Musk said that it was not clear who had authority for ground links in Gaza, but we do know that “no terminal has requested a connection in that area”.

Responding to Musk’s post on X, Israel’s communication minister Shlomo Karhi said Israel “will use all means at its disposal to fight this.”

“Hamas will use it for terrorist activities,” Karhi wrote. “Perhaps Musk would be willing to condition it with the release of our abducted babies, sons, daughters, elderly people. All of them! By then, my office will cut any ties with Starlink.”

While communications have been restored since then, analysts are uncertain if Starlink — the website of which says “available almost anywhere on Earth” — can work in Gaza.

Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle East Studies at Hamad Bin Khalifa University based in Doha, told Al Jazeera, “We’ve seen 500,000 posts on X saying Starlink should power Gaza. But people don’t actually appreciate that ‘Starlink for Gaza’ is an impossibility.”

“Starlink terminals or dishes in Gaza would be difficult to smuggle in and distribute at scale. The Israeli government is unlikely to allow legal imports of it,” he said.

“But let’s say Starlink got in. How will it be powered? There is no fuel in Gaza right now,” Jones said.

According to Al Jazeera, Jones noted that the Starlink network relies on ground stations that would need approval within Gaza, which he says is unlikely to get under the current situation.

“Owning a Starlink terminal with two-way transmission could endanger Gazans if detected by Israeli authorities,” he said, adding that the internet provision would likely meet opposition from the United States and Israel administrations.

The report also noted that if such a scenario does happen, it would not be the first. It said that following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia in February 2022, Musk “ensured Starlink terminals would be made available to help people and the army in Ukraine after internet services were disrupted due to the war”.

Commenting on whether Starlink could set up terminals at the Rafah border with Egypt, Jones told Al Jazeera that even if they [Egypt] allowed it or were allowed to set up Starlink terminals, “it would have limited efficacy”.