For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, getting to work, school or the market has been virtually impossible since Israel’s latest anti-terror campaign began. Now, they won’t be able to get online, either.
Early Monday morning, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) troops took over the offices of Palnet, the leading Palestinian Internet service provider, shutting down the firm’s operations. The move — part of Israel’s 3-week-old “Operation Determined Path,” which has kept seven of the eight major Palestinian cities under strict curfew — reduced Internet access to a trickle in the West Bank and Gaza.
“The Israeli army stormed the office building where six (Palnet) employees were believed to be staying in order to maintain Internet service during this difficult time,” the Palestinian pro-democracy group Miftah said in a statement.
“Explosions were heard and the fate of the six (Palnet) employees is unknown.
IDF sources verified that troops were operating in the Palnet building, but could not confirm any details of the operation.
The strike is part of a larger, intermittent effort by the Israeli military to hobble the Palestinians’ communications and media infrastructure. In January, the IDF blew up the Ramallah offices of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the official voice of the Arafat government, after a member of Arafat’s Fatah organization shot and killed six Israelis. A government spokesman called the corporation a “center of incitement against the state of Israel,” after the attack.
In April, as part of Israel’s “Operation Defensive Shield” anti-terror push, troops destroyed equipment at Palestinian radio and television stations.
Technology was targeted then, as well.
“Records were stolen, computers were smashed, and a big data node in Nablus was destroyed, and the school records of 2 million school children were lost,” said Nigel Parry, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada website.
To Israel’s defenders, such moves are a justifiable means to fight terror.
“The Palestinians have declared war on Israel. And part of defending yourself in war is closing down the other side’s communications,” said Daniel Pipes, director of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum. “It’s a way to reduce the ability to make war, and it’s a way to show the Palestinians that the course of violence they’re pursuing is not going to serve them well.”
But less sympathetic observers see the Palnet shutdown and other events as another sign that the Israel government is trying to make life unbearable for the Palestinians.
“The occupation is not just a physical occupation. It goes beyond that, foreclosing the ability to communicate, to learn, to work,” Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The IDF has recently been talking up the ways in which terrorists are using the Internet to plot and plan. In June, the IDF posted to its website a discussion allegedly taken from the Hamas site in which members debate whether arsenic, rat poison or cyanide would be most effective in killing Americans.
Hackers have repeatedly crippled pro-Hamas and Palestinian Authority Web pages. Almost exactly a year ago, the site of the official Palestinian news agency, Wafa, was shut down by such an attack, and an unofficial Hamas site was replaced with a link to porn.
But this official assault on Palnet will have far more wide-reaching consequences.
“Palnet does the ISP services for most of the government agencies and a lot of the NGO’s (non-government organizations),” Parry said. “Anyone who has a private dial-up account is going to have a Palnet account.”