Sunday, March 16, 2014

Remembering Rachel Corrie (1979-2003)

"I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will"
Rachel Corrie, in an email to her mother, February 28 2003

Today is Rachel Corrie Day. 

Eleven years ago today, on 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie, an American student and peace activist, was crushed to death by an Israeli soldier driving an American built military bulldozer in the town of Rafah in Gaza. Corrie was part of a group of people trying to block the demolition of Palestinian homes. 

When she died Rachel Corrie was involved in nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. Eyewitnesses report that Corrie, who was standing in front of the bulldozer and was clearly visible to the driver, was deliberately crushed to death by the advancing bulldozer  beneath a pile of earth and rubble. She was run over twice by the bulldozer, which after striking her the first time, reversed and ran over her a second time.
(this photo shows Rachel Corrie and another international activist defending a Palestinian home shortly before Corrie was killed by the Israeli army bulldozer. (International Solidarity Movement).

Corrie who was an American University student was involved with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement and was protesting Israel's occupation of Gaza and its systematic destruction of Palestinian homes.

The then Israeli PM, Ariel Sharon commissioned a military investigation which found that Israel was not responsible for Corrie's death. Israel claimed its troops were not to blame and the bulldozer driver did not see her, or run her over deliberately.  Israel blamed Corrie and her colleagues for her death, calling their behavior "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous".

In 2005 the Corrie family pursued a civil lawsuit in the Israeli courts against the Israeli military. The wheels of justice moved slowly in Israel and it took seven years after the suit was filed (and 9 years after Rachel's death) before the Israeli courts reached a verdict- that the Israeli state bore no responsibility or culpability for Rachel Corrie's death.

The Corrie family also filed a lawsuit in the USA against Caterpillar, the US supplier of the bulldozers, alleging liability for Corrie's death. The bulldozers were paid for by the US Government as part of its aid to Israel. 

The lawsuit foundered for legal jurisdictional reasons. The Court was unable to rule on the case, without ruling on whether the US Government's financing of such bulldozers was appropriate, a matter which was outside its jurisdiction. 

Since her death an enormous amount of solidarity activity has taken place around the world. Her life and death have inspired , poetry, movies, documentaries, books, plays and music. Her family have established the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice to continue her work.

In Memorial of Rachel Corrie
by William Cook
The picture told the story:
this wisp of a girl defiant
against the armored clad Goliath
Towering above her,
An illustration from the Book of Kings.
This orange-coated giant
Went out from Israel,
The land of the Philistines,
To slaughter the Palestinians.

And he stood six cubits and a span
Above those clustered about their homes.
And he had treaded greaves about the knees,
Sheets of steel about his shoulders,
And shafts thrust forward
To hold his spear, the blade of death.
All who saw him fled in terror
Save this gentle girl,
Who held God's voice in her megaphone.
Did she see the tight curl of his lip
As he sat in his judgment seat
And she stood in the shadow of death?

Did he, when his day was done,
Hose the blood from his blade?
Did he lean against his protective armor
And gaze at the setting sun?
Did he go home that night
And place his yarmulka beside the door?
Did he greet his wife with a loving kiss,
And grasp his daughter tightly to his breast?
And did she, in fear, plead "Be gentle, dear"?

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