Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. – Bible He does not make people like Rachel Corrie every day; people who can stare death in the face and offer their own life to save others.
The 23-year old student activist Rachel Corrie just did that. She traveled thousands of miles from her Ivy League university in the United States to form a human shield protecting Palestinian families. This happened in March 2003 when her country and the world were obsessing over the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Full of hope, idealism and dreams about a better, more just world, Rachel Corrie was too young to die. At a time when most of her friends were busy having a good time, Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement and travelled to Palestine. She wanted to make a difference.
She was so passionate about her cause and in love with Palestinians that she spent many months learning Arabic and educating herself and her family and friends about the Middle East and the appalling humanitarian situation in the occupied territories. She went to the West Bank for training with the ISM before volunteering for Rafah in Gaza. She felt it was the most deprived part of the Palestinian territories.
There were many international activists like her on the ground trying to help Palestinians by providing aid, teaching their children and, more importantly, protecting them from the murderous Israeli forces. Rachel enthusiastically joined these valiant efforts. She would visit Palestinian homes offering whatever help she could to the besieged families.
One such family was that of Dr Samir Nasrallah, his brother and their five children. Rachel helped the children with their homework and even spent nights in their room, sleeping at their feet in their parents’ bed when they were too terrified to sleep – what with the constant gunfire and patrolling by Israeli forces.
In an email to her parents on February 7, 2003, she wrote: “I have been in Palestine for two weeks, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. I don’t know if the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly.
“Even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An 8-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me, Ali. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me “Kaif Sharon?” “Kaif Bush?” and they laugh when I say “Bush Majnoon,” “Sharon Majnoon” back in my limited Arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.)
“Nevertheless, I think, no amount of reading, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it, and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality. I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world’s fourth largest military – backed by the world’s only superpower – in its attempt to erase you from your home.”
Rachel arrived in Gaza in January 2003 and she was killed in cold blood seven weeks later on March 16, 2003. She died protecting the home of Dr Samir Nasrallah. When an Israeli armoured bulldozer moved to demolish it, she stood in its path, firm and fearless. And the Israelis being what they are ran over her, literally.
Her friends from ISM and other eyewitnesses recounted in a Haifa court how the Israelis drove over her even as she pleaded with the bulldozer operator to stop the demolition of the house. She wore a fluorescent orange jacket and stood on a mound excavated by the bulldozer shouting over a bullhorn.
The killing machine couldn’t have missed her. It was a cold-blooded, deliberate killing. It was nothing but murder. Richard Purssell, a British activist and eyewitness, recalled how he watched in horror as Rachel was dragged four meters by the 56-tonne D9 Caterpillar bulldozer moving forward at a “fast pace.”
She disappeared under the rubble and lethal blades of Caterpillar and then the bulldozer reversed, trampling Rachel, or what remained of her, once again. When her horrified fellow activists rushed to her, she was still breathing. “I think my back is broken”, she said before she breathed her last.
My eyes watered reading this in a gut-wrenching interview that Rachel’s gracious parents Cindy and Craig Corrie did with the US journalist Amy Goodman. Rachel’s parents have been fighting an endless legal battle in a court in the Israeli town of Haifa to get justice for their heroic daughter. The Israeli authorities have tried everything to undermine this quest for justice treating it as a ‘civil case’ even after pressure from the US authorities.
In a civil case, there will not be any action against those responsible for her killing. The best Rachel’s family could hope for is ‘damages’ or compensation. But that is not what the Corries are looking for. They want the world to know the truth about their daughter’s killing and why she died.
Why did Rachel die? She was guilty of standing in the way of the mighty state of Israel and its mission to build an evil empire, from the river to the sea, on Palestinian homes and bodies.
By giving her life to save Palestinian homes and families, Rachel put her killers in the dock and the state of Israel on trial.
Rachel’s killing is only one example of the evil nature of the folks who claim ownership of the Promised Land and the legacy of its ancient prophets. This is what Palestinians have endured over the past seven decades or so, on a daily basis. Living with death and destruction in their own land, day after bloody day.
If they can do this to a young, peaceful citizen of the most powerful nation on earth and their biggest supporter, financier and protector, it’s not too hard to imagine what Israelis could do to a helpless people totally at their mercy. And they have repeatedly demonstrated this with chilling effect, as was seen once again in Gaza in July-August.
How can one forget the 12-year-old Mohammad al Douri, crouching in a fetal position behind his father, to escape the hail of Israeli bullets, even as his desperate father tried to shield him with his own body? In the end, neither father nor son survived even as the whole world watched in morbid fascination. In the long history of occupation, Palestinians have lost the count of children like Mohammad al Douri whom they have buried over the years. As Stalin put it, a single death is a tragedy, a million a statistic.
The Palestinians have become a mere statistic for the world. For all its hallowed peace-making institutions and hollow rhetoric of its leaders, it doesn’t give a damn about Palestinians – or people like them.
This long and oppressive night of suffering, however, will not last forever. Hope will dawn sooner or later. The sacrifices of people like Rachel Corrie will not go in vain though. What relation did Rachel have with the Palestinians? She had nothing in common with them – faith, language, culture or colour. The only bond that existed between them was that of humanity. This is what makes Rachel Corrie’s act of courage and sacrifice truly noble and unique. God bless you Rachel Corrie and may your tribe grow!
By: Aijaz Zaka Syed