Many mobile phone towers like this one have been destroyed by Israel's 17-day bombing campaign in Gaza. Paltel, the only Palestinian cell provider, reports that 90 percent of its mobile service network is down.
Ismail Hummos, a DePaul University Arabic instructor and a counselor for troubled Chicago youth, is distraught with worry over the safety of his cousins in Gaza.
Two weeks ago, he reached a neighbor’s cell phone and learned that his relatives had fled their home. Since then, Hummos has received no more information about their whereabouts or well-being.
“Their cell phones are not working and there’s no electricity to charge the phones,” Hummos said. “I think the whole network is shut down. The first couple of days of the war, we could get through. God knows what’s happened now.”
Hummos’s story is shared by many Chicagoans who have loved ones living in the Gaza Strip. Since the start of the war 17 days ago, 900 people, many of them civilians, have been reported killed in an Israeli bombing campaign against Hamas. Thousands more have been injured.
The only Palestinian phone network, Paltel, reported in a Jan. 4 press release that “90 percent of the mobile service network is down, in addition to a huge number of fixed lines which are out of order, either due to direct damage or because of the loss of electricity.”
Paltel, a privately-owned company, serves 400,000 land-line customers, 1.1 million cellular customers and 55,000 Internet subscribers. Some organizations report that Paltel’s Internet and landline services have been somewhat reliable during the Gaza war, although the situation on the ground is constantly changing.
Jennifer Bing-Canar, Middle East program director at the Chicago office of the American Friends Service Committee, tried for two days to reach her Gaza City staff by phone. She eventually got through by e-mail, and her colleagues in the West Bank were able to reach Gaza through a Paltel landline connection.
Bing-Canar learned that her Gaza City staff, many of them close friends of hers, had avoided the shellings and violence, but were running out of water and received electricity for only a couple of hours per day. That was 72 hours ago.
“I keep thinking about my friend, Amal,” she said, talking through tears. “Her name means hope in Arabic…I force myself to look at the media coverage and the photos [of the injured and the dead] and I have to admit, I look for her.”
Hummos felt similarly hopeless as he waited for news about his cousins in Gaza. At the juvenile detention center where Hummos works as a counselor, he often encourages troubled boys to strive for a better future. Now these boys are giving Hummos a dose of his own advice.
“Instead of me infusing hope in their lives, it’s the other way around,” Hummos said. “[The youth] are telling me not to give up hope.”