Rachel Corrie (1979-2003): Witness for Peace and  Justice 


                      (photo: International  Solidarity Movement)

Who can ever forget the image of the young Chinese student bravely standing in front of a tank in Tiennamen Square? Fortunately the tank stopped in its tracks and spared his life.

Rachel Corrie was not so fortunate.  The story of how this American Evergreen College student  from Olympia, Washington, was bulldozed to death by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) cries out to be told.  Rachel who was 23 years old was not able to graduate with her senior class this past June. She had taken the summer off as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to engage in non-violent demonstrations against Israel's long-standing  policy of home demolitions and the international apathy toward such behavior.

"Demolition of civilian homes is an act of genocide that violates Articles 12 and 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 33, 53 and 54 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Despite this clear international prohibition, the Israeli military government has carried out thousands of demolitions, leaving thousands of innocent Palestinian families without  basic shelter."  (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs)

Rachel was one of eight foreign ISM volunteers seeking to block demolitions in Gaza. Four were British and four were Americans- including Tom Dale (US), Greg Schnabel (UK), Richard Purssell (UK), and Joe Smith (US) all of whom have provided eye-witness accounts. Rachel and her

 colleagues were  in the Haiy el-Salaam neighborhood of the  Rafah refugee camp.  This camp is located in the southern Gaza strip, next to the Egyptian border.   "Apart from suffering in excess from the problems all over Palestine (Israeli manipulation of the water supply, economic strangulation, regular shootings and army operations), Rafah is afflicted by the building of an extra border wall.  It has caused hundreds of homes to be destroyed.  The house in question, that of Dr. Samir Masri, like dozens of others in this area was not set to be demolished because of any supposed link to militants.  Only because it lies within 100 metres of the new border wall, currently in construction.  Families receive no compensation from Israel, and are frequently given just a few minutes warning in the form of live ammunition being shot through the walls of their house." (Israeli Independent Media Center)

Eyewitness accounts, as reported by the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, described what happened:

"On the day, Rachel was killed, she and fellow ISM activist Greg Schnabel, 28,  were at a water well in the Tel el-Sultan area of the Gaza Strip, trying with their presence to protect the well,  and the municipal workers trying to repair it, from destruction by the Israeli army. At approximately 2 p.m. Rachel and Greg received a call from other ISM volunteers, who told them that two bulldozers and a military tank had been spotted in the Haiy el-Salaam neighborhood and that they needed backup if these bulldozers were going to carry out large-scale destruction of the area, as was expected.  Rachel and Greg left Tel el-Sultan to join the others.

"For approximately two hours, beginning around 3 p.m., eight international peace activists tried to prevent the soldiers operating the bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian land and property. They did this by engaging the  soldiers and letting them know that their actions were a violation of international law and could be considered war crimes;  they physically blocked the Israelis' work by sitting and standing on areas that the bulldozers were trying to destroy. One of the bulldozers began to work near the house of Dr. Masri, a friend of the ISM team, in whose house Rachel and other activists often stayed. While the other activists occupied other structures in the area, Rachel sat down in the pathway of the bulldozer coming at the physician's home. Initially about 10 to 15 meters away from the bulldozer, and in a florescent orange jacket, Rachel was clearly visible to the bulldozer driver - and she did not move.  The Israeli soldier driving it, however, kept moving forward. As it became obvious that he was not stopping, Rachel stood up on top of a mound of dirt and rubble to look the driver in the eye.  He kept moving forward, scooping up the dirt and rubble -which knocked Rachel over, and buried her.  Despite the screams of the other internationals, the soldier continued to drive over Rachel's body.  After a few seconds, he reversed the bulldozer, without lifting the blade - effectively running over Rachel again - before he retreated..

(Rachel in her orange jacket in a previous confrontation with an IDF bulldozer)

"As Rachel's friends and colleagues ran to dig out her broken body and administer first aid, Rachel cried: 'My back is broken!'

"An army tank approached the area where the volunteers were desperately trying to stabilize Rachel as they held her, waiting for an ambulance. A soldier looked out of the tank, and one of the volunteers shouted that their friend had been run over. "At no point," wrote Richard Purssell, "did any member of the Israeli forces inquire as to Rachel's well-being or offer any assistance." The soldiers simply did not respond, and the tank retreated from the scene. A  Palestinian ambulance arrived approximately 15  minutes latter and the internationals shielded the Palestinian medics who lifted Rachel onto a stretcher and put her into the ambulance.

Joe Smith from Kansas City testified, "I do believe it was intentional.  I saw it, and I know he (the driver) saw her. I know he did and I know he knew she was still under the bulldozer when it backed up without raising its blade.... I just want to dispel a few myths you may have heard in the media. She did not "trip and fall" in front of the bulldozer.  She sat down in front of it, well in advance, wearing one of the orange flouro jackets I got in Amsterdam.... She was defending the house of a physician . We've stayed in the house and we know that there are no weapons of any kind there.  Just a middle-aged doctor and his lovely family.  They want to demolish it because it happens to lie near the border, and they're systematically demolishing all the houses near the border.  It has nothing to do with retaliatory or preventive operations.  They were not searching for tunnels or bombs either.  We know what this looks like;  they do it a lot.  It involves armored drills and bomb dogs and shooting at the ground, none if which was present here."

The trauma to Rachel's body was too severe, however, and at approximately 5:20 p.m.one of the doctors, Dr. Ali Musa,  at Rafah's al Najjar Hospital pronounced Rachel dead of "skull and chest fractures". Tom Dale wrote:  "She was gasping for  breath and her face was covered with blood from a gash cutting her face from lip to cheek. She was showing signs of brain hemorrhaging... She was a brilliant, bright and amazing person, immensely brave and committed.  She is gone and I cannot believe it."

A witness from the Israeli Independent Media Center noted: "If you're wondering about the bulldozers:  they're American-made Caterpillar armoured D9 Bulldozers.  I estimate the blade is maybe 8 feet high, 15 inches wide and more than 9 tons.  They're purchased from America using the billions per annum military aid package that America gives Israel."  (You can check out the previous usage of these bulldozers  at: http://www.gush-shalom.org/archives/kurdi_eng.html)

Rachel's father had himself once driven a bulldozer, he told Professor Edward Said at dinner last May, but the kind that killed his daughter was "a 60-ton behemoth especially designed by Caterpillar for house demolition."

The official Israeli response to this tragic event described Rachel's death as "a very regrettable accident."  Yet Richard Purssell who was but a few feet away from her testified that "The driver cannot have failed to see her." Tom Dale who was 10 meters away from Rachel  said, "There was no way she could not have been seen by them in their elevated cabin. They knew where she was- there is no doubt."

One of her Jewish peace activist colleagues wrote,  "Rachel did not have to be where she was;  she could have remained safe at home, uncaring, ignorant of the plight of others, living a carefree existence;  but instead she chose to share the fate of those less fortunate than herself, those who cannot escape, and not only to share their fate, but to protect them to the best of her ability."

Many of the letters Rachel wrote home were published in the London Guardian. Edward Said describes them as "truly remarkable documents of her ordinary humanity that make for very difficult and moving reading, especially when she describes the kindness and concern showed her by all the Palestinians she encounters who clearly welcome her as one of their own, because she lives with them exactly as they do, sharing their lives and worries, as well as the horrors of the Israeli occupation and its terrible effects on even the smallest child. She understands the fate of refugees, and what she calls the Israeli government's insidious attempt at a kind of genocide by making it almost impossible for this particular group of people to survive.  So moving is her solidarity that it inspired an Israeli reservist named Danny, who had refused to serve,  to write her and tell her, 'You are doing a good thing. I thank you for it.'"

There have been many derogatory, hatefully cruel things written about Rachel by the enemies of justice and peace in the Holy Land.
Far greater, however, have been the messages of love from around the world.  I was particularly touched by one that came from a young lady in Syria named Rim Aljabi. She wrote as follows (edited for grammatical errors):

Poem for Rachel Corrie by  Rim Aljabi

We have lost a sister,
Who came from  over the oceans,
To join hands with us,
You light a candle of hope,
In this dim, bleak world of ours,
To speak out louder than any leader has,
To die for justice in the Holy Land....
And now all Arabs,
With conscience in their hearts,
Feel shameful
Deep in their hearts,
No matter to whom they belong,
For you belong to everyone,
Are praying:
May you rest in peace,
A well deserved peace.

A 2006 update:

The Truth About How Rachel Corrie Died

Saturday, April 15, 2006; A13

Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was killed three years ago in Rafah, Gaza, by an Israeli army bulldozer while trying to prevent the unlawful demolition of the home of a Palestinian family with whom she had lived. David Segal's April 9 Sunday Arts article about the play "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" promulgates misinformation that maligns both Rachel and the Palestinian family whose home she was protecting. We want to set the record straight.

There were no tunnels under the Samir family's home. As the Israeli army bulldozer approached the Samir home, Rachel stood her ground in front of it, knowing that the three young Samir children were inside. Six months after Rachel's death, the Israeli army demolished the home and found no tunnels of any kind under it. The Samir family was neither compensated for its loss nor helped to find a new home.

They, along with 10,000 other families who have had their homes destroyed by the Israeli military (according to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions) are refugees in their own land.

There were no tunnels under the Samir home; the Israeli government has never said there were tunnels under the home Rachel was protecting. Once and for all, it is time to put an end to the fallacy that tunnels had anything to do with Rachel's death.

-- Bonnie Brodersen

-- Eugene Robbins

Ashland, Ore.

The writers are Rachel Corrie's aunt and uncle.

Rachel  Corrie - murdered in Palestine
(photo: American Educational Trust)

On February 7, 2003, Rachel wrote the following message to herparents: "Today as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, 'Go! Go!' because a tank was coming.  Followed by waving and 'What's your name?'  There is something disturbing about this friendly curiosity.  It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids:  Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks.  Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peek out from behind the walls to see what's going on.  International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously, occasionally shouting - and occasionally waving - many forced to be here, many just aggressive, shooting into the houses as we wander away....

"I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't image it unless you see it, and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality:  what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and, of course, the fact that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown.  I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean..."

Brava, Rachel.  You have now crossed the great ocean.  Rest in peace.


Sources for this article.

Jewish Peace News, March 16, 2003 No. 22229  http://www.jewishvoiceforpeace.org
Ha'aretz, Israeli daily newspaper, March 16, 2003  http://www.haaretzdaily.com/
International Solidarity Movement   http://www.palsolidarity.org/
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2003. Vol. XXII, No. 4. http://www.wrmea.com
The Guardian, March 17, 2003.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/
Independent Media Center, Israel. http://indymedia.org.il
Uncommon Thought. http://www.uncommonthought.com
Remember These Children. http://www.rememberthesechildren.org
Distance Ed Design  http://www.distanceeddesign.com/rachel/edward_said_article.htm

Rachel Corrie memorial Web site:  http://www.distanceeddesign.com/rachel

Photo credits:  The American Educational Trust


Update on Rachel's death (The Washington Post..com)

How Rachel Corrie Died

Saturday, May 13, 2006; A15

"The Truth About How Rachel Corrie Died" [Free for All, April 15] is not as billed. Writers Bonnie Brodersen and Eugene Robbins, identified as Corrie's aunt and uncle, assert that "it is time to put an end to the fallacy that tunnels had anything to do with Rachel's death" when she was in the Gaza Strip three years ago as a recruit for the International Solidarity Movement.

In truth, on the day she died, March 16, 2003, Corrie and other International Solidarity Movement recruits repeatedly obstructed Israeli military bulldozers working along the Gaza-Egyptian border. In this area, the Israel Defense Forces frequently uncovered tunnels used for weapons smuggling.

Bulldozers razed not only buildings that hid tunnel entrances but also structures that served as cover for snipers and as storage for contraband ammunition. In addition, the bulldozers destroyed buildings to detonate explosives planted by Palestinian terrorists.

That day, interference by ISM recruits in a closed military area caused the Israeli army to halt its heavy machinery for three hours. ISM members sat or stood in front of the machines.

When Israeli bulldozers resumed demolitions, ISM recruits followed and hindered them; Corrie, behind a pile of rubble, was accidentally run over and killed. Had Palestinian terrorists not used tunnels and conducted other related activities in the area, and had Corrie not been in Gaza for weeks trying to obstruct Israeli counterterrorism, she would not have been killed. Tunnels had plenty to do with her death.

Finally, notwithstanding Brodersen and Robbins's portrayal of their niece as a human shield for Palestinian civilians, the ISM's "internationals" functioned symbiotically with Palestinian terrorists. For example, just days after Corrie's death, the ISM's Susan Barclay told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that "she [Barclay] knowingly worked with representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad." Nine days after Corrie's death, Israeli forces arrested an Islamic Jihad terrorist, Shadi Sukiya, in ISM offices on the West Bank. Five weeks later, after taking tea with ISM members in Gaza and visiting the group's office there, two suicide bombers murdered three people and wounded more than 50 in a Tel Aviv cafe. ISM leaders have termed such crimes "resistance" and have supported nonviolence as a public relations supplement to terrorism.

-- Eric Rozenman


The writer is Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company