Justice for Rachel Corrie: An American’s Fight and Death
justice for Rachel Corrie

American Rachel Corrie was an advocate for poor and underserved populations from an early age. In this video, we see Rachel as a fifth grader imploring for equal treatment for those around us as well as those in third-world countries. We also see images from the resulting end of her life.

Rachel Corrie was only 23 years old when she was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003. Corrie was standing between the home of a Palestinian family and the bulldozer in a nonviolent direct action, protesting the inhumane demolition of homes for illegal Zionist settlements.

She is remembered as a “caring and gentle person who was outraged by oppression wherever it took place.” Washington-born Corrie had decided to go to Gaza during her winter quarter of college, because she believed “it was important to have international observers” to witness Israel’s treatment of Palestinian families.

Why Did Rachel Corrie Protest Israel’s Demolition of Palestinian Homes?

While in Gaza, Rachel Corrie stayed with Palestinian families whose homes were at risk of demolition. B’tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, reports Israel claims to demolish Palestinian homes in the Occupied Territories for three reasons: unlawful construction, alleged military purposes, and as punishment.

Israel rejects over 98% of Palestinian building permit requests, while Jewish settlements expand. As Palestinian populations grow, buildings to accommodate them are constructed. Israel demolishes unapproved Palestinian families’ homes while supporting development of unapproved Jewish settlements.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the end of Israel’s home demolition policy, calling it a crime of apartheid, particularly harmful to children, discriminatory, and unlawful. In “Separate and Unequal: Israel’s Discriminatory Treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” HRW reports Israel’s discriminatory treatments, “on the basis of race, ethnicity, and national origin … violate international humanitarian law.”

Rachel Corrie’s Unjust Death

Rachel Corrie and seven fellow International Solidarity Movement activists attempted to block the passage of two Israeli army bulldozers and one tank from illegally demolishing a Palestinian home in Gaza. The driver first dropped sand and heavy debris on her, and when she climbed onto a mound of dirt to become even more visible, he pushed the bulldozer into her body and drove over her twice, fracturing her arms, legs, chest, and skull.

Photos taken just before the murder show Corrie in a bright, fluorescent orange jacket, holding a megaphone in one hand with her other hand at her side. Witnesses said she had clearly identified herself as an “unarmed international peace activist throughout the confrontation” and “was doing nothing to provoke the attack.”

Official Israeli and American Responses

The Israeli Army initially claimed Rachel Corrie was killed “accidentally” by running in front of the bulldozer, yet all eye-witnesses insisted this was not true. Israel Defense Forces spokesman Captain Jacob Dallal told Ha’aretz: “We are dealing with a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger.”

Washington representative Brian Baird did his best to help the family find justice in Congress and introduced a resolution calling for a U.S. investigation. “I felt a moral obligation to ensure that our country investigated fully how one of our citizens was killed by a country that receives billions of dollars of U.S. foreign aid, that we consider an ally,” he told The Intercept.

The United States government never investigated the death of Rachel Corrie, or the deaths of other Americans killed by Israeli forces. In 2015, more than 10 years after Corrie’s death, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that the Israeli defense ministry was exempt from liability for actions it deemed “wartime activity.” HRW reported at the time that this ruling sent “a dangerous message to Israeli armed forces that it can escape accountability for wrongful actions” in a system that relied on soldiers’ accounts to determine if an investigation is even warranted.  

Killing with Impunity: From Rachel Corrie to Shireen Abu Akleh

The Intercept’s article “No Path to Justice: Israeli Forces Keep Killing Americans While U.S. Officials Give Them a Pass” connected Rachel Corrie’s murder to the recent death of Shireen Abu Akleh.

Since American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed at the hands of an Israel Defense Forces sniper in May of this year, the world has watched as the United States and Israel dodged responsibility for her death. While Abu Akleh’s family demanded justice, the United States allowed Israel to kill an American citizen with impunity.

The Corrie Family Speaks Out for Shireen Abu Akleh

The Corrie family met regularly with the U.S. government to demand justice during the years following Rachel Corrie’s death. Rachel Corrie’s older sister Sarah told The Intercept: “[Shireen Abu Akleh’s family] shouldn’t have to be asking the exact same questions we were asking in 2003.”

After the Corrie family met with the Abu Akleh family, Rachel’s mother Cindy Corrie shared that she sometimes feels that if the family hadn’t given up fighting for justice for Rachel, Abu Akleh’s family would not be asking the same questions they asked twenty years ago. Sarah Corrie told The Intercept that it is a burden a family should not have to carry, but the U.S. government should carry.

Why Does the American Government Continue to Do Nothing?

The Corrie family spent years travelling around the U.S. and to Israel and Palestine to advocate for justice. In hundreds of meetings with U.S. officials, they found that they had to teach American politicians about the context of Corrie’s death, what and where Gaza was, what the relationship between Israel and Palestine was: “so many offices really didn’t have a clue.”

Representative Baird realized that criticizing Israel led to lost votes and funding, despite the profuse lack of knowledge about the region among American politicians. By supporting the Corrie family’s call for an investigation into the death of his constituent, he was branded as anti-Israel. “There is a reinforced, reflexive obedience and repetition of the Israeli line,” he told The Intercept.

The Chief of Staff to the Secretary of State at the time, Lawrence Wilkerson, also fought for justice, not only for Rachel Corrie but for the children and civilians Israeli forces killed using Hellfire missiles from Apache helicopters intended to target militant leaders. He told The Intercept: “We had photographs of the women and children who had died. And I said, ‘This is going to happen again, and again, and again. Are we going to do nothing each time?’ There was no answer to my question.”

The family shared with The Intercept files from hundreds of meetings with U.S. officials and from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (some of which are now published here) that showed “the lack of political will on the part of the U.S. executive branch and Congress to impose consequences for Israeli human rights abuses.”

The Intercept quoted an interview of Shireen Abu Akleh’s niece Lina earlier this summer: “The U.S. can do whatever they want; at the end of the day, they are a superpower. But they haven’t been doing what they’re supposed to do, which is protect their citizens outside of the U.S.”

Rachel Corrie’s Legacy & Continuing Demands for Justice

The Corrie family founded the non-profit Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice to support grassroots efforts that pursue human rights and foster understanding and cooperation among local and global communities. Their projects have included the annual Peace Works conference and turning Rachel’s hometown of Olympia into a sister-city with Gaza.

The family also published the emails Rachel Corrie sent to family and friends prior to her death about her experiences in Palestine and Israel. In one e-mail to her mother, she described how it felt to experience kindness and witness destruction against U.S. silence:

When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family’s house. I was in the process of being served tea and playing with the two small babies. I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on all the time, very sweetly, by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States, it all sounds like hyperbole. Honestly, a lot of the time the sheer kindness of the people here, coupled with the overwhelming evidence of the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I really can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry about it. It really hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be.

 

To learn more about the Israel-Palestine conflict and how you can get involved, visit The Promised Land Museum and consider hosting an exhibit to promote peace.

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Stefan Moore

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A self-described “secular Jew,” documentary filmmaker Stefan Moore wrote about the troubled history of creating the Jewish state for Consortium News. He argues for a shift from fighting for a two-state solution toward a “democratic secular state accommodating both...

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