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Few months ago I read a statistics that 70 percent of Palestinian Gaza homes own a computer. Now I have
seen many computers in Gaza, while there are few top-notch devices that expats bring in with them as they come to visit their families. I know I left my 3 year old Sony laptop to my younger brother so that he can put it to better use. The majority of Gaza’s computers are really old and infested with viruses and an assortment of cookies enough to turn the cookie monster into a Godzilla. The majority of the laptops in Gaza are made in China (that way they are like the rest of of the world) smuggled from the tunnels and sold for a premium. ASUS is the most smuggled laptop and screens into the Gaza market, I guess that’s what they like in Egypt too.
what’s a computer if you cannot get on the internet?
While many Gaza homes have a computer, many fail to connect it to the internet and use the device, to preview movies, play games, and few use them to be productive. Owning a computer is not so much a technological statement, but rather a social statement. Where your cousins will get a better computer than yours just to kill your buzz. However, many Gaza college kids now more and more purchase computers on installment plans where they pay something like 30-50 dollars a month and use them to connect with the rest of the world, learn English or bug people like me with instant massaging.
I know many Gaza Internet subscribers constantly complain of the lack of hardware and service providers. Take for example Hadara, Gaza’s sole Internet provider controls a big share of the market. Few Palestinians even subscribe to the Israeli network which gives more speed for the same price. Looking at their pricing, it’s easy to see the frustration with the rather pricey costs. Gaza businesses can get a fast Internet at speeds of 4 Megabyte download and 0.5 Mega upload for $270 a month. Homes can have an Internet connection of up to 2 Megabyte in download and 0.2 Mega upload for about $70 a month with a $40 one-time installation fee. Which brings me into another phenomena, many Palestinian homes in Gaza often share a line in an effort to reduce the costs, which makes the service affordable, but a lot slower. I know my sister and her husband get the line during the day, but their neighbor who is a fan of the show Prison Break” gets the line at night. As far as hardware, there are a limited number available at the company for rentals. There is also a waiting list for modem and router rentals. I have not seen or heard of anyone using WiFi in Gaza, but I did see few use it on their phone.
One of the hardest part for me is to try to connect to the internet when the power is out. Since there are a frequent power outage, using a computer is impossible. A dozen or so Gaza internet cafes own power generators to keep bored young and off the grid men entertained. I think they charge about a dollar for an hour of internet use. I know for me it was embarrassing to be the only grown up (my wife would disagree with this part) surfing the net in a room full of young boys playing contra. Other hardships involves the erasure of my private life as all these kids want to look at the sites I am looking at (I promise I do not visit any ‘fun” sites). Other kids want to see how fast I type in English as that are not used to speedy typing. Not to worry, I have paid my dues as I think have developed a carpel tunnel syndrome.
Other problem facing internet cafes as few of them have been targeted by extremists groups becasue some internet cafes have lax policies when it comes to adult material on the web. Most of them have installed mentoring and blocking software to avoid the hassle with those extremists and other self righteous individuals. I know of a quasi Hamas group that has distributed posters in every in internet cafe to spread awareness about the dangers of the internet on morality. I am guessing that’s fine becasue the last thing you need, a bunch of kids looking at Lady Gaga images. I have not had any problem viewing political websites in Gaza, it doe snot seem that they block those even the ones they do not like. Unlike the Fatah newspapers that are banned in Gaza, their websites are still active.
There is a dozen of Palestinians firms that are active in the field of information technology, communication and webdesign, but due to limitation on movements they find themselves unable to attend trade shows and other professional gatherings. Maybe that’ why they are relaying more and more on technology and teleconferencing to try to break free.