Israel's revenge on Gaza for border breakout

ISRAEL ESCALATED its air assault and campaign of strangulation against Gaza in the weeks after Palestinians tore down part of the Rafah border wall with Egypt.

On February 9, several Israeli missile attacks killed a Palestinian policeman in Rafah and caused severe damage in al-Shaboura refugee camp, where several people were injured and a large vegetable storage facility was completely destroyed, along with several homes, according to Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.

Two days before that, Israeli forces launched missile and ground attacks that killed seven Palestinians, including a teacher, and wounded 10 others, including three teenage students. In addition, Israel again cut Gaza's ration of electricity on February 7.

On January 23, the world witnessed scenes of Palestinians, starving under Israel's blockade of fuel and other supplies, pouring across the border from Gaza as Egyptian soldiers looked on.

What else to read

For two eyewitness accounts of life in Gaza under Israel's siege, read "Rafah Today," an Internet blog by Palestinian independent journalist Mohammed Omer, and "From Gaza With Love," a blog written by Dr. Mona El-Farra.

The Electronic Intifada Web site provides updates on the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank.

Between the Lines: Readings on Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. "War on Terror," by Tikva Honig-Parnass and Toufic Haddad, documents the apartheid-like conditions that Palestinians live under today.

For background on Israel's war and the Palestinian struggle for freedom, read The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays edited by Lance Selfa on the history of the occupation and Palestinian resistance.

If just for 12 days, life changed for the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who were able to cross into Egypt and buy much-needed supplies. "Before they opened the border, I was unemployed, and my family and I were living off charity," Munir Al-Areir, a merchant, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "When they opened it, I would return home every day with $100 in my pocket. My life changed completely, and now it's hard to imagine that my source of income has suddenly been cut off again."

On February 3, the Egyptian government resealed the border, and Egyptian police are now forcefully rounding up Palestinian who crossed the border into Egypt--including those who have residencies in other countries and were promised visas. "Whoever breaks the border line shall have his foot broken," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit warned Gazans, according to Egypt's state news service.

During clashes between Egyptian border guards and Palestinians last week, a Palestinian was killed.

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SO FAR, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and leaders of the rival Hamas party have not reached an agreement in talks about how the border will be managed. Since 2005, the Rafah crossing was supervised by the Palestinian Authority and monitored by European Union (EU) observers. After Hamas' takeover in Gaza seven months ago following its victory in PA elections, EU monitors left, and the border crossing was shut down.

Now, with Israel cutting electricity to Gaza, Palestinians are living with rolling blackouts that last eight to 12 hours a day. But this isn't punishment enough for some in the Israel government. "If they fire a rocket, then there should be no electricity or water or fuel" that day, said Vice Premier Haim Ramon.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert claims its latest tightening of the blockade on Gaza is in response to the injury of an 8-year-old Israeli boy and his brother by Qassam rockets fired into the town of Sderot from Gaza on February 8. The incident was unusual because the unpredictable, short-range homemade rockets and mortars used by Palestinian militants typically fail to cause injury.

On February 10, Israel's Interior Minister Shimon Sheetrit said Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' democratically elected prime minister, was a "legitimate target" for assassination. In addition, Sheetrit said, "We must take a neighborhood in Gaza and wipe it off the map."

As Ali Abunimah pointed out on the Electronic Intifada Web site, "Executing democratically elected leaders may require more chutzpah than even Israel has shown, but the possibility and its disastrous consequences have to be taken seriously given Israel's track record," including the 2004 assassination of Hamas cofounder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and his successor Dr. Abdel Aziz Rantisi four weeks later.

"Aside from the United States, Israel is the only country where the murder of foreign leaders is openly debated as a policy option," Abunimah added.

Israel's attacks and electricity cutoffs are part of an ongoing campaign to defeat the Hamas leadership in Gaza and send a message to anyone who dares oppose Israel's brutal occupation.

Hamas leaders even agreed to a ceasefire in 2006, but Israel--and its ally, the U.S.--refused to deal with them and initiated a boycott to strangle the Palestinian population. The result today is that the lives of 1.5 million Palestinian in Gaza hang in the balance.