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For weeks, Mirna El Helbawi She has been glued to her phone, helping organize critical aid to the besieged Gaza Strip and channeling voices outside it from her home in Cairo. Then, on Friday, El Helbawi, a 31-year-old author, noticed how the social media accounts of her Palestinian friends in Gaza had gone dark, as had the enclave itself.

As Israeli troops advanced into Gaza and airstrikes continued, the enclave was in the midst of a communications blackout, preventing hundreds of thousands of residents with Palestinian SIM cards from making phone calls or accessing the Internet. The complete disconnection, which came after weeks of poor reception, left Gazans unable to call emergency services, communicate with loved ones or share their plight with the rest of the world.

Some journalists and other activists discovered a loophole: Gazans with some Israeli SIM cards could still use their phones, if they could get high enough or close to an Israeli cell tower.

While SIM cards from Israeli cell phone providers are hard to come by in Gaza, a digital eSIM can be purchased by anyone, anywhere, and sent digitally to Gazans, and it could be used more reliably throughout the enclave. .

This, El Helbawi thought, was how he would help avoid the silence. From his home in Cairo, nearly 200 miles away, he shared a plea with his 750,000 Instagram followers: help keep Gaza online.

El Helbawi’s post sparked a widespread digital effort to circumvent the telecommunications blackout in Gaza, connecting activists abroad to try to keep Palestinian journalists, aid workers and doctors trapped inside in contact with the outside world.

“Everything happened in a spontaneous action,” El Helbawi said in a telephone interview on Sunday. “I did not expect that thousands of people from all over the world (in Europe, the United States and Latin America) would be willing to help Palestinians get proper Internet access.”

El Helbawi was not alone in the effort. At the same time, activists around the world posted on X, formerly Twitter, step by step instructions about how buy an eSIM and activate a cellular plan on behalf of residents trapped inside Gaza.

Ms. El Helbawi’s plan to reconnect Gaza with the world was twofold: a volunteer would purchase an eSIM with roaming service, receive a QR code, and send it via text message to a resident inside Gaza. The recipient would scan the QR code to activate it.

But there was a big challenge: how could a recipient receive the QR code in the middle of a total blackout?

Ms. El Helbawi was determined to make it work. She scanned X to look for journalists who were still online. She knew that if she could contact one, she could send QR codes to many more.

Around the same time, Ahmed Elmadhoun, a 26-year-old freelance journalist and digital creator, was standing on the roof of a hospital in Khan Younis looking for an internet connection.

He and his friends had purchased a rare Israeli SIM card for $100 that morning, but the service was not sustainable because their access to the Israeli mobile network was being blocked. It was also risky to stay too long on an open-air rooftop amid Israeli airstrikes. But he was desperate to connect with the world.

“Even the sound of our pain was prevented from reaching the people,” Elmadhoun said by phone from Gaza City on Sunday. “It was like we were dying alone.”

On Saturday night, the connection clicked for a moment and he he asked his 17,000 X followers. for help: “Someone told me about an eSIM, who?”

Mrs. El Helbawi saw your post. She responded just six minutes later: “Me, me, me.”

Mr. Elmadhoun’s service was spotty, but he only needed to be online long enough to receive the QR code.

After several attempts, it arrived and Elmadhoun was able to scan the code to activate a cellular plan with roaming service in a matter of minutes.

“We were able to give a voice back to Gaza,” Elmadhoun said, adding: “Internet connection is something basic that we took for granted. And suddenly having access to it seemed like a miracle.”

From Cairo, Ms. El Helbawi expressed a shared sense of relief and optimism.

“It was difficult,” he said. “The Internet kept failing. “They see a message from me and they disappear.”

He added: “My faith in humanity was restored for about two days.”

In total, El Helbawi sent about a dozen QR codes to Elmadhoun, who shared them with a group of journalists and medical staff at Khan Younis hospital.

But the effects of El Helbawi’s efforts were felt throughout Gaza over the weekend.

In less than 24 hours, hundreds of eSIMS were distributed throughout Gaza, according to Ms. El Helbawi. She is now associated with simplyan eSIM provider, to try to connect thousands more Palestinians in Gaza to cell service and the Internet.

“We will ensure that everyone has stable and constant Internet access there,” El Helbawi posted on X on Sunday. “The Palestinians will not be silenced again.”

Abeer Pamuk contributed production from San Francisco.

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