Thoughts on the Death of Rachel Corrie - David Bromwich, Professor of Literature, Yale University, The Huffington Post, March 16, 2009 - Today is the sixth anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie. On March 16, 2003, in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, she was run over by an armor-plated Caterpillar bulldozer, a machine sold by the U.S. to Israel, the armor put in place for the purpose of knocking down homes without damage to the machine. Rachel Corrie was 23 years old, from Seattle; a sane, articulate, and dedicated American who had studied with care the methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. At the time that she was run over, and then backed over again, she was wearing a luminous orange jacket and holding a megaphone. There is a photograph of her talking to the soldier of the Israel Defense Forces, in the cabin of his bulldozer, not long before he did it. None of the eyewitnesses believed that the killing was accidental. Perhaps the soldier was tired of the peace workers; it was that kind of day. Perhaps, in some part of himself, he guessed that he was living at the beginning of a period of impunity.
The Israeli government never produced the investigation it promised into the death of Rachel Corrie (as her parents indicate in a statement published today). The inquiry urged by her congressional representative, Adam Smith, brought no result from the American state department under Condoleezza Rice. Her story was lost for a while in the grand narrative of the American launching of the war against Iraq. Thoroughly lost, and for a reason. The rules of engagement America employed in Iraq were taught to our soldiers, as Dexter Filkins revealed, by officers of the IDF; the U.S. owed a debt to Israel for knowledge of the methods of destruction; and we were using the same Caterpillar machines against Iraqi homes. An inquiry into the killing of Rachel Corrie was hardly likely, given the burden of that debt and that association.
Less than a month later, on April 5, 2003, the American peace worker Brian Avery was shot in the face and seriously disfigured by IDF soldiers in Jenin. The group he was with were wearing red reflector vests with the word "doctor" written in English and Arabic. As Avery later described it, they "weren't two blocks from our apartment when an Israeli convoy of two vehicles, a tank and an armored personnel carrier, drove up the street from the direction that we were walking from. And so as we heard them coming closer, we stepped off to the side of the road to let them pass by....We stood to the side of the road, we put our hands out to show we didn't have any weapons and weren't, you know, threatening them in any way....And once they drove within about 30 meters of where we were standing, they opened fire with their machine guns and continued shooting for a very long time, probably shooting about, you know, 30 rounds of ammunition, which is quite a lot when you see them in action. And I was struck in the face with one of the bullets."Three days ago another American peace worker, Tristan Anderson, who was protesting the new security fence in the West Bank town of Ni'lin, was shot by another Israeli soldier....
Statement from the family of Rachel Corrie, March 16, 2009 - We thank all who continue to remember Rachel and who, on this sixth anniversary of her stand in Gaza, renew their own commitments to human rights, justice and peace in the Middle East. The tributes and actions in her memory are a source of inspiration to us and to others.
Friday, March 13th, we learned of the tragic injury to American activist Tristan Anderson. Tristan was shot in the head with a tear-gas canister in Ni’lin Village in the West Bank when Israeli forces attacked a demonstration opposing the construction of the annexation wall through the village's land. On the same day, a Ni’lin resident was, also, shot in the leg with live ammunition. Four residents of Ni’lin have been killed in the past eight months as villagers and their supporters have courageously demonstrated against the Apartheid Wall deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice—a wall that will ultimately absorb one-quarter of the village's remaining land. Those who have died are a ten-year-old child Ahmed Mousa, shot in the forehead with live ammunition on July 29, 2008; Yousef Amira (17) shot with rubber-coated steel bullets on July 30, 2008; Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) and Mohammed Khawaje (20), both shot and killed with live ammunition on December 8, 2008. On this anniversary, Rachel would want us all to hold Tristan Anderson and his family and these Palestinians and their families in our thoughts and prayers, and we ask everyone to do so.
We are writing this message from Cairo where we returned after a visit to Gaza with the Code Pink Delegation from the United States. Fifty-eight women and men successfully passed through Rafah Crossing on Saturday, March 7th to challenge the border closures and siege and to celebrate International Women's Day with the strong and courageous women of Gaza. Rachel would be very happy that our spirited delegation made this journey. North to south throughout the Strip, we witnessed the sweeping destruction of neighborhoods, municipal buildings, police stations, mosques, and schools –casualties of the Israeli military assaults in December and January. When we asked about the personal impact of the attacks on those we met, we heard repeatedly of the loss of mothers, fathers, children, cousins, and friends. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports 1434 Palestinian dead and over 5000 injured, among them 288 children and 121 women.
We walked through the farming village of Khoza in the South where fifty homes were destroyed during the land invasion. A young boy scrambled through a hole in the rubble to show us the basement he and his family crouched in as a bulldozer crushed their house upon them. We heard of Rafiya who lead the frightened women and children of this neighborhood away from threatening Israeli military bulldozers, only to be struck down and killed by an Israeli soldier's sniper fire as she walked in the street carrying her white flag.
Repeatedly, we were told by Palestinians, and by the internationals on the ground supporting them, that there is no ceasefire. Indeed, bomb blasts from the border area punctuated our conversations as we arrived and departed Gaza. On our last night, we sat by a fire in the moonlight in the remains of a friend's farmyard and listened to him tell of how the Israeli military destroyed his home in 2004, and of how this second home was shattered on February 6th. This time, it was Israeli rockets from Apache helicopters that struck the house, A stand of wheat remained and rustled soothingly in the breeze as we talked, but our attention shifted quickly when F-16s streaked high across the night sky. and our friend explained that if the planes tipped to the side, they would strike. Everywhere, the psychological costs of the recent and ongoing attacks for all Gazans, but especially for the children, were sadly apparent. It is not only those who suffer the greatest losses that carry the scars of all that has happened. It is those, too, who witnessed from their school bodies flying in the air when police cadets were bombed across the street and those who felt and heard the terrifying blasts of missiles falling near their own homes. It is the children who each day must walk past the unexplainable and inhumane destruction that has occurred.
In Rachel's case, though a thorough, credible and transparent investigation was promised by the Israeli Government, after six years, the position of the U.S. Government remains that such an investigation has not taken place. In March 2008, Michele Bernier-Toff, Managing Director of the Office of Overseas Citizen Services at the Department of State wrote, “We have consistently requested that the Government of Israel conduct a full and transparent investigation into Rachel's death. Our requests have gone unanswered or ignored.” Now, the attacks on all the people of Gaza and the recent one on Tristan Anderson in Ni'lin cry out for investigation and accountability. We call on President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and members of Congress to act with fortitude and courage to ensure that the atrocities that have occurred are addressed by the Israeli Government and through relevant international and U.S. law. We ask them to act immediately and persistently to stop the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military, not to encourage it.
Despite the pain, we have once again felt privileged to enter briefly into the lives of Rachel's Palestinian friends in Gaza. We are moved by their resilience and heartened by their song, dance, and laughter amidst the tears. Rachel wrote in 2003, “I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity--laughter, generosity, family time—against the incredible horror occurring in their lives.....I am also discovering a degree of strength and of the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances...I think the word is dignity.” On this sixth anniversary of Rachel's killing, we echo her sentiments.
Sincerely, Cindy and Craig Corrie, On behalf of our family
In memory of Rachel Corrie - Gila Svirsky, Co-Chair, B'Tselem Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories - I was not present in Rafah that terrible day, 16 March 2003, but I have frequently replayed in my mind the events leading up to the moment when a bulldozer rolled over Rachel Corrie. I think to myself: What compelled this young woman, neither Jewish nor Palestinian, to travel 10,000 miles from home, throw in her lot with a family not her own, a people not her own, and ultimately meet a death that came suddenly, swiftly, in an instant of shocked comprehension....
Finally, watch as Alice Walker, who just returned from a visit to Gaza, movingly read aloud the letters of Rachel Corrie some years ago, perhaps sowing the seeds for her decision to travel there and this week to bear witness.
Rachel Corrie, Rest in Peace. You may be gone, but your spirit lives on in so many ways and continues to bear witness and to move others to do so.