In Defense of Rachel Corrie

A theatre near me is putting on a production of the play, "My Name is Rachel Corrie." As elsewhere, the local production has drawn vigorous hassle from those who dedicate themselves to trying to punish any criticism in the U.S. of human rights abuses committed by the Israeli government.

Tonight there is a "talkback" after the performance. Some people are bringing handouts, and I was asked to write something.

In 1996, I was a volunteer for Christian Peacemaker Teams in the Palestinian city of Hebron. Shortly after I arrived in Hebron, 2 of us were arrested and threatened with deportation when members of the CPT sat on the roof of a Palestinian home that the Israeli army intended to demolish. In addition, friends of mine teach at Evergreen and had Rachel as a student. So when I was asked to write something, of course I said yes. Rachel's story is close to my heart, not just as a symbol of human rights abuses carried out by the Israeli government with the acquiescence of the United States, but as a symbol of Americans putting themselves on the line for international solidarity. John Reed is buried in Red Square; veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade have been granted Spanish citizenship. When the Palestinians regain sovereignty over Al-Aqsa, I hope they do something there for Rachel.

Rachel's Death
Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old student at Evergreen State College and volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was killed in 2003 by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army while attempting to prevent Israeli forces from demolishing the home of Palestinian pharmacist Samir Nasrallah in the Rafah area of Gaza near the border with Egypt.

On March 16, 2003, an IDF operation in the land between the Rafah refugee camp and the border with Egypt was demolishing Palestinian houses. Rachel was part of a group of seven US and British ISM activists attempting to disrupt the actions of Israeli bulldozers.

ISM eyewitnesses say the Israeli soldier driving the bulldozer deliberately ran over Rachel, who was wearing a fluorescent jacket and waving and shouting as the bulldozer approached. The driver of the bulldozer and an Israeli military report claimed that the driver did not see her.

Two years later, Human Rights Watch reported that Rachel

had undoubtedly placed herself in a dangerous situation, but the incident did not take place in the context of active hostilities, and did not threaten the safety of IDF personnel or other persons at the site. Under pressure from the U.S. government and the media, Israel conducted operational and Military Police investigations into Corrie's killing. But the investigations fell far short of the transparency, impartiality, and thoroughness required by international law.

Human Rights Watch also stated that:

Eyewitnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, other human rights organizations, and the media stated that the bulldozer crew could and did see Corrie. They noted that two other incidents had taken place on the same afternoon in which ISM members had been at the point of serious injury, but the bulldozer drivers had stopped at the last moment - indicating they could see the activists even when in close proximity, balancing on the rising earth that the bulldozers pushed before them. They said that the activists had regularly had eye contact with the bulldozer driver in the last moments before jumping off the earth mound.

Demolitions of Palestinian Houses by the Israeli Military
Unfortunately, demolition of Palestinian homes has been a longstanding practice of the Israeli military going back to the 1948 war. In a 2004 report, Human Rights Watch noted:

While Israel's punitive and administrative house demolition policies have targeted individual homes, Israel has also in the past undertaken widespread destruction of neighborhoods, camps, and villages for putative security or military purposes. The apparent rationales for much of the destruction in Rafah since 2000 namely, the need for "clear" borders and, to a lesser extent, to facilitate maneuverability of forces in densely populated areas are not new. Such demolitions have also been linked to demographic changes.

During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, the Haganah (the pre-state Zionist military) issued orders to clear all Arab villages within five kilometers of the Lebanese border after a local cease-fire had begun. As part of this policy, the Haganah depopulated and later destroyed a dozen border villages in the north in late 1948 and early 1949, pushing the inhabitants either across the border or to other areas of what became Israel. According to Israeli historian Benny Morris: "the political desire to have as few Arabs as possible in the Jewish State and the need for empty villages to house new immigrants meshed with the strategic desire to achieve 'Arab-clear' frontiers and secure internal lines of communication.It was the IDF that set the policy in motion, with the civil and political authorities often giving approval after the fact."

Property Destruction Under International Law
Under international law, Israel was the Occupying Power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Human Rights Watch noted in its 2004 report. As such, it was bound by agreements that deal specifically with occupation, codified primarily in two legal instruments: the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.

According to Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, "Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations". General security measures not connected to actual fighting are not included in this exception. For this reason, the ICRC [Red Cross] stated during the May incursions in Rafah that "the destruction of property as a general security measure is prohibited."

Palestinians Need an Independent State in the West Bank and Gaza
Rachel's death illustrates the lawless behavior by Israeli authorities experienced every day by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. While people in Gaza today are suffering from an Israeli blockade, the events that killed Rachel wouldn't happen in Gaza today, because the Israeli military is not there. The institutions of the Israeli government - including its Supreme Court - have refused to accept that the obligations of international law apply to Israel's occupation of the West Bank. To protect the human rights of Palestinians in the West Bank from the Israeli military authorities, the Israeli military must be removed from the West Bank. This is likely to happen only as a result of a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and that's a key reason that achieving such an agreement is so urgent.

The Responsibility of Americans
The United States government is not an innocent bystander in this dispute. The United States gives the Israeli government billions of dollars in military and economic aid each year; it also protects the Israeli government politically and diplomatically, for example, by using its veto in the United Nations Security Council to block Security Council action in response to Israeli repression of Palestinian human rights. Determined efforts by the Obama Administration to help bring about a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza are not an altruistic gesture, but the minimum necessary for the U.S. to comply with the responsibilities it incurs by its military, economic, and political backing of the Israeli government.

Rachel Corrie's death in Gaza, followed by Israel's attacks in Lebanon and finally, Gaza in 2008/2009 changed who I am and what I choose to champion in my life: human rights. Each of the above occurrences added chronologically and incrementally to the opening of both my closed eyes and closed heart regarding the Palestinians.
Perhaps as did many others, I pledged my loyalty to Israel unquestioningly from the day in the 1950s when I first saw photographs of the Nazi atrocitiies perpetrated on the Jews, Gypsies, the physically and mentally infirm. For 50 years I rooted for Israel and ignored the Palestinians. Then the events in my first paragraph occurred and I began to wonder if I had been wrong all those years.
I was.
I have been to Gaza now; I have spoken with people who have volunteered both in Gaza and in the West Bank. There is not the tiniest bit of doubt in my mind that today's Palestinians living under Israeli
control receive no more care nor justice than African slaves did in the American South. They are prisoners in their own land, and their own land is not their own!
Israel demolishes Palestinian homes on Palestinian land to build settlements for Israeli occupants. Israel builds an apartheid wall that freely bends from Israel to Palestine, with the end result that the former gains land from the latter. Settlers, allowed to carry weapons, establish outposts (precursors to new settlements), uproot and burn Arab olive groves, and their children throw stones at Palestinian children on their way to school-- all with impunity. Apparently the IDF and Israelii border police are not allowed to
discipline settlers for such activities.
The injustices are many and often are matters of life and death to the Palestinians. The arbitrary rule changes for everything from trying to obtain travel papers to knowing exactly how far they must stay from the Israeli border in order not to be shot, are enough to drive the average person crazy, let alone a
population that is being deliberately brutalized.
Yes, Americans are as responsible as the Israelis. Not only do we help supply Israel with arms; we also interact diplomatically with the PLO, Fatah political party (Arafat, now Abbas), and other West Bank collaborators so that Israel and the US can get what they want. Abbas does NOT represent the majority of Palestinians precisely because his group IS corrupt.
I would like to suggest reading a book by Saree Makdisi called "Palestine Inside Out"; I also recommend a book containing the journals of Rachel Corrie, "Let Me Stand Alone". What a remarkable young woman she was.

Mark Regev, Chief Spokesman, Embassy of Israel, in an appearance on C-SPAN (11-28-07) spoke about his father being liberated as a refugee from Nazi Germany by the U.S. Army in 1945 during WWII and brought to a displaced persons camp and eventually integrated into society. He said Israel was the solution to the Jewish refugee question. M. J. Rosenberg, Israel Policy Forum, a guest on Bill Moyers’s Journal, spoke about his wife’s father being liberated from Nazi Germany as a refugee who also went to Palestine. So European Jewish refugees go to Palestine, take homes and land that belong to the Palestinians making the Palestinians refugees. So Jews are to the Palestinians what Hitler was to them? Are Jews any less evil? Jews owned 7% of Palestine at this time.
Israel attacked the USS Liberty, a US intelligence-gathering ship in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula on June 8, 1967, killing 34 sailors and wounding 172. I had an occasion to meet a survivor of that war crime. Tears rolled down his face as he recounted that war crime and the valor of Captain William L. McGonagle and the crew in saving the LIBERTY. He said he could remember it as clearly as if had happened yesterday. America must remember this also! It was a colossal mistake not to have charged Israel with this war crime and hold Israel accountable for the brutal murder of America's patriotic sailors. (ASSAULT ON THE LIBERTY -- by James M. Ennes, Jr).
Perhaps had Israel been held accountable and punished for this war crime, they would not have murdered Rachel Corrie. It seems Israel has a red light to commit egregious crimes for which they are never punished. Instead they are rewarded with billions of extorted American tax dollars!
America is deeply ashamed of our congress's obsequious support of Israel, much to the chagrin of the American people, much to the sadness of the American people, much to the embarrassment of the American people!

America's beloved Alice Walker in an appearance on C-SPAN talked about Israel's assault on Gaza and described the bodies of five little girls in a row, appearing to be asleep, but dead, their grandmother wailing over their bodies; while in another frame, Nancy Pelosi saying that Hamas, elected by the Palestinians people, are thugs. She wondered if Rep. Pelosi had seen the bodies of the children? Five sisters killed by our tax dollars, their mother critically injured. “What are we to do with this assault on a people that has been forced into a space too small for them, refugees consisting mostly of women and children, deprived of water, food, medicine and mobility, of fathers, brothers and husbands, five sisters on whom a 1,000 pound bomb was dropped. How are we to live with this? This tragedy to the human race is unbearable. How are we to raise children in this atmosphere of savagery? Every child on the planet realizes that he or she is in danger from grownups gone mad. When I think of children left alone with images of bloody corps of children just like themselves, it is hard to sleep.”

Ms. Walker continues a portrayal of fear of the terrorization of the planet by the United States and Israel. “Yes, African, India and smaller armies are imitating the big guys as best they can. I happen, however, to be attached to the United States and Israel through the strongest possible bonds, BIRTH and TAXES! These overly armed countries are attacking people who cannot possible put up an equal fight which makes attacking them sadistic! Where is the glory, the freedom, the bravery, the wisdom, even the profit in this. All the oil in the world will not wipe away the bomb scars now seared on the hearts of billions of earthlings, cowering in their beds.”

Here is a poem I wrote about Rachel Corrie:
Lament for the death of Rachel Corrie, aged 23,
on March 16, 2003

A youth, an Israeli driver
at the helm of an American-made bulldozer
knocked down & trampled, killed the living body
of a young American woman, a peacemaker
neither Palestinian nor Jew.
She stood, arms spread out, in the way of the destruction,
the desecration
of a Palestinian home, one more Palestinian home,
that sacramental place where a family eats bread & drinks wine,
daily, around their own table.
That place where a family closes their eyes in sleep each night
& prays to open them in the morning to a new day.
That place which is to any woman, to one more Palestinian woman,
her home, that is to say, her larger body.
Her protector, Rachel, did not suppose death would happen to her that way,
on that particular hour of that particular day.
Her last thought, maybe, “This couldn’t be…”
Lament that violation.
Lament that terrible death.
Lament the besmirched soul of the driver
& of all those who taught him
that some lives are not sacred.
Lament their karma.

- Karen Ethelsdattar

You are free to use it in any way you wish.
Karen Ethelsdattar

There is a need to lower it down. It depends on the focus.

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