Honouring Rachel Corrie, 10 years on

US peace activist was killed by Israeli bulldozer in Gaza as she tried to block the demolition of a Palestinian home.
Last Modified: 16 Mar 2013 15:53
An Israeli court said Corrie's death was a 'regrettable accident', and the state was not responsible [GALLO/GETTY]

Ramallah, West Bank - Ten years ago today, American peace activist and International Solidarity Movement volunteer Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent a home demolition in Gaza.

Corrie, 23, spent less than two months in Gaza before her death, and it took an Israeli court less than that to close its investigation into the incident and declare it was an "accident". 

"The bulldozer driver and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the driver continued forward."

- Joseph Carr, eyewitness

The Israeli court said in a statement: "It is clear the death of Ms Corrie was not caused as a result of a direct action by the bulldozer or by its running her over.

"[Corrie] was not run over by an engineering vehicle but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete which was moved or slid down while the mound of earth which she was standing behind was moved.” 

The ruling, however, was in direct contradiction to eyewitness affidavits given under oath by fellow activists at the scene.

"She slipped and fell to the ground in front of the bulldozer, which notwithstanding continued its steady pace," said eyewitness Nicholas James Porter Durie.

Another at the scene, Joseph Carr, said: "The bulldozer driver and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the driver continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the driver. He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer." 

Last year, a civil suit brought by Corrie's family was dismissed by an Israeli court, finding again that her death was unintentional. It called the incident a "regrettable accident".

At the time, Corrie's mother said her daughter's death "could have been and should have been avoided".

'A thinking person'

The family was seeking compensation of $1 for Corrie's death, a symbolic move meant to underscore the fact that they were only after justice for their daughter, rather than a cash payoff. 

Israeli army cleared in Rachel Corrie death

Yesterday, on the eve of the 10-year anniversary of her death, Corrie's father Craig published a statement calling for a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation promised by then-Israeli-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the wake of Corrie's death.

"President Obama should refuse to continue US military and diplomatic support until Israel gives truthful answers to our questions, not just for US citizens like Rachel and Furkan Dogan, but for all the civilians killed or maimed using US-funded weapons," he said.

In the August 2012 ruling dismissing the family's claims, Judge Oded Gershon put the blame squarely on Corrie for her own death, saying "she did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done". 

But emails sent to her family and friends during her time in Gaza show that Corrie thought deeply and carefully about her role in the Palestinian struggle for justice - and the dangers inherent in her activism.  

In an email sent a month before her death, she discussed setting up a sister-city programme between her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and the city of Rafah where she was staying.

Corrie described the role she hoped to play as an international activist in Gaza, and said she hoped to help Gazans send their message to the world. 

"Many people want their voices to be heard, and I think we need to use some of our privilege as internationals to get those voices heard directly in the US, rather than through the filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself," she wrote.

"I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organise against all odds, and to resist against all odds." 

Deeply disturbed

Corrie made frequent reference in her emails to the dangerous situation she found herself in, but said she believed the Israeli military would show more restraint with foreigners than they did with Palestinians, who were frequently arrested, attacked and killed. 

"I am discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances ... I think the word is dignity."

- Rachel Corrie

She said she felt she was protected by "the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen".

In her last email, sent to her father shortly before her death, she said "right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk".

Corrie was clearly motivated by compassion for the people of Gaza, including the family she was staying with who were constantly under threat of having their home demolished.

She wrote of being deeply disturbed by the violence practised by the Israeli military, and the illegal demolitions carried out on homes in Rafah.  

"I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable," she wrote.

"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." 

Despite the efforts of Corrie and thousands of other international activists, Israel still continues the practise of home demolitions.

Although Israeli forces withdrew from Gaza in 2005, demolitions continue in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, nearly 500 Palestinian homes were destroyed last year. 

A eulogy posted Saturday by the International Solidarity Movement reaffirms the group's commitment to the principles Corrie gave her life for and hails her as a continuing inspiration for all people seeking justice in the occupied territories. 

"Rachel’s untimely death was an inspiration to become more involved in the struggle for freedom for Palestine," the group said.

"We honour her memory and what she was standing for, whilst she stood in front of that bulldozer 10 years ago today."


Al Jazeera
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