Gaza has been plunged into darkness and cut off from the world as Israel knocked out phone and internet connections in the besieged Palestinian strip amidst its military’s unprecedented bombardment campaign from land, air and sea. In the desolate, evacuated southern Israeli town of Sderot, the explosions echo constantly as the ground shakes from Israeli bombs smashing one of the world’s most densely populated places, only a few kilometers away.
From a vantage point that overlooks Israel’s wall sealing in Gaza, the plumes of smoke and dust rise up as people’s homes, schools and offices come down. Israeli ground troops and tanks have been fighting in north and central Gaza. Heavy machine gun fire rattle out from Israeli positions, punctuating the incessant thud of Israeli bombs delivering death and suffering across the 2.3 million-person enclave where nearly half the population are children. Over 7,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, with casualty rates soaring in the last few days.
Soldiers patrol the deserted streets of Sderot while police run checkpoints on the lookout for Palestinian fighters from Gaza launching a counter attack. It is as close to the war in Gaza that Israel is letting the press. A place where bloody armed clashes raged when Hamas launched a surprise assault three weeks ago – overpowering Israel’s southern defenses, taking an estimated 200 hostages and committing massacres – homes and supermarkets are now empty. The town, like much of the area, has left as the Israeli military has built up for a ground invasion of Gaza following an attack that killed more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers.
At just after seven on Friday evening, Israeli Jews were sitting down to Shabbat dinner amidst war without end, where they are still identifying the bodies of killed loved ones from October 7 while the families of hostages are desperate for a resolution where they see their relatives again.
Across the firewall dividing them, Gazans continued to huddle in whatever cover they could find. Gazan journalists were walking between the hospitals where they got power to file their reports and the flattened neighborhoods where they document the indiscriminate killing. Doctors were trying to save lives without the most basic medical supplies and performing surgery at Al Shifa Hospital – Gaza’s largest and under an escalating Israeli threat of bombardment – without anesthesia. Already cut off from the world, their desperate pleas for help and descriptions of the agony forced upon them would also be sealed into Gaza moments later.
On Friday morning, Mohammad Rajoub, a long time fixer for the foreign press in Gaza who now works for an international aid organization, was with his family, taking refuge in a UN shelter in Khan Younis. Fleeing his Gaza City home 16 days ago, he was one of the few Gazans with who still had gas in his company car, as his job required him to regularly travel to Rafah’s border area with Egypt to check on stranded international staff.
Originally reluctant to take his family and extended relatives who had sheltered at his home from bombing in south and central Gaza, he took the Israeli warning and organizations order to evacuate seriously. Describing cramped conditions where water and food are strictly rationed amidst building-shaking nearby blasts, he didn’t know where else to go. Rajoub has already had six members of his family killed by Israeli attacks and before he went completely dark, he received more shattering news. “Today my house got destroyed by an airstrike,” he texted on Friday. Where he is now, and what he’s been through since, is unknown.
Rolling Stone has reached out to multiple people in Gaza, all of whom are unreachable. Human Rights Watch can’t reach any of their contacts in Gaza. B’tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, has lost all contact with their local field researchers who are documenting war crimes on the ground.
“Internet and phone shutdowns can cause considerable harm to the civilian population, including leading to possible injury and death,” says Human Rights Watch’s Israel-Palestine Director Omar Shakir. “They also hinder the world of journalists and human rights monitors.”
Depicting war crimes and atrocities committed by both Israel and Hamas, and calling for an immediate ceasefire and release of hostages before losing contact with her Gaza colleagues on Friday evening, B’tselem spokesperson Dror Sadot was shattered after contact was cut. “No words left…[It’s] terrifying,” she said.
Shuttered in an eerie silence throughout most of Friday, West Bank Palestinians took to the streets as they lost complete contact with the friends and families in Gaza. In reaction to the images of a dark Gaza lit up by red clouds of fire, armed Palestinian groups mostly from the working class refugee camps launched armed attacks on settlers and soldiers.
In an outraged demonstration of hundreds who took to Ramallah streets on Friday night, a religiously conservative crowd of all ages condemned Israeli killings, carried the Green Hamas flag and chanted, “The people want al Qassam,” in reference to Hamas military wing. “They are killing children in Gaza,” says a woman in her thirties carrying a Hamas flag and not wanting to be identified out of fear of reprisal. Beyond the horror of the death and destruction, Palestinians outside of Gaza now can’t even find out what has happened to their trapped friends and family as an impenetrable fog of war descends on Gaza.
The Israeli Military didn’t respond to questions about its Gaza operation, including if it was intending to bomb Shifa Hospital at the time of publication.