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&In Gaza, virtual smart cards are essential for stay online | Middle East, the eternal conflict

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Palestinians charge their cell phones at a collective electricity point in a shelter in Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip.< /p>Agence France-Presse

Without virtual smart cards, also known as eSIMs, Gazans would be “cut off from the world” and “no one would know what is happening in the Gaza Strip.” Like many Palestinians, Hani al-Shaer purchased a virtual chip to cope with frequent phone and Internet outages.

After being cut off on Tuesday for the fourth time since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas, telecommunications services are gradually resuming on Wednesday in the Gaza Strip, announced the Palestinian operator Paltel.

The dematerialized chip is the gateway for Gaza residents to communicate with the outside world. These eSIM cards are purchased by families living abroad.

The principle is simple, to activate the card you must scan the QR code sent by the loved one with a cell phone camera compatible with the system. The user then connects in roaming mode on a foreign network, often Israeli, sometimes Egyptian.

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An antenna of a communications tower that relays telephone and internet signals in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Middle East, the eternal conflict

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The use of virtual smart cards is almost essential to stay connected since the Israeli army shelled the Gaza Strip after the attack perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 on Israeli soil, leaving around 1,140 dead, in majority of civilians, according to Israeli authorities.

In retaliation, Israel, which has sworn to annihilate Hamas, is carrying out bombings and a ground offensive in the small territory where more than 21,110 people, mostly civilians, were killed, according to the latest report from the Hamas government.

For more than a week, Samar Labad lost contact with his family.

Her brother who lives in Belgium ended up sending her a virtual smart card, says the 38-year-old mother, who had to flee Gaza City and the fighting to settle with her three children. in Rafah, in the south, where tens of thousands of displaced people are crowded into makeshift camps.

Communication is not stable, but it does the job, she confides. At least we stay in touch with each other for reassurance, even if intermittently.

On the other hand, she cannot directly contact her relatives who live in Khan Younes, in the south of the Gaza Strip. I hear from them thanks to a person who lives with them and whose phone is compatible with the eSIM. have a virtual chip to guarantee communication. The service is only available in areas close to the borders with Israel where you have to climb onto rooftops to receive a signal.

In his mobile phone store, Ibrahim Mukhaimar mainly sees journalists passing by.

They use eSIMs to convey to the world the real situation, in particular the fact that the occupation has deliberately sought to conceal what is happening in the Strip. Gaza, he thinks. Show that it lacks the basic products necessary for its survival, adds the trader.

In addition to reporters, there are also doctors and civil defense employees who seek to know the exact location of the strikes to help people, notes Ibrahim Mukhaimar. Added to this are employees of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, who need them to organize aid convoys, he explains. p>

If these virtual chips compensate for telecommunications outages, the irony is that the Internet is needed to activate them. It can take us two or three hours, explains Yasser Qudieh, image reporter (JRI).

The price of the card varies between $15 and $100, depending on the validity period, which ranges from one week to two months, he says. To get better Wi-Fi service, prices can go up.

Without these eSIM cards, we would be cut off from the world and no one would know what is happening in the Gaza Strip, says Hani al-Shaer, local journalist, who also uses them to broadcast live on 4G or 5G.

At the end of October, the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned that telecommunications and Internet cuts in the band Gaza risks serving as a cover for mass atrocities and contributing to impunity for human rights violations.

In addition to documenting the war, Palestinian journalists holding an eSIM serve as messengers.

Many expatriates contact us to follow the latest news in the band from Gaza and get information about their families, and we reassure them and inform them at the bombing sites when Palestinian service providers are not working, says Hani al-Shaer.

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