Although much of the debate surrounding the tragic and untimely death of 23-year-old peace activist Rachel Corrie of Olympia, Washington, who was fatally mowed down in mid-March 2003 by a bulldozer operated by 2 Israeli soldiers, while trying to save an ordinary Palestinian family's home from demolition, has been somewhat muted due to our then-impending and now- present wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, there is still much fierce debate to go around, whether it be on blogs, forums, or even in chat rooms.
I, myself have written some opinions on it, and have had some people disagree with me, sometimes calmly, sometimes angrily. I do not support Israel’s longterm occupation of West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, with the demolition of Palestinian homes, the extremely harsh treatment of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli Army and the rightwing Israeli Jewish settlers, the illegal building of Israeli Jewish settlements by the Israeli Government in the Occupied Territories, and the regular sorties by the Israeli Army into those territories that frequently result in the maiming and/or killing of innocent Palestinians civilians. All of these actions/behaviors are wrong--and clearly detrimental to the people under occupation--the Palestinians, but are equally bad for the occupier--Israel.
However, I believe that the fact that the Palestinians are stateless and oppressed today is also partly the fault of the rest of the Arab world as well as Israel, not to mention many of the Palestinians themselves. Back in 1947-1948, the Arab countries, refused to accept the UN-proposed partition of the land in question into two separate, independent sovereign nation states of Israel and Palestine, and began a long campaign of war against the then-newly-formed State of Israel in the hopes of destroying it, a campaign that more or less continued for many years thereafter, exploiting the disenfranchised Palestinians as a political football for that purpose.
Jordan and Egypt ruled over the Palestinians in Gaza and West Bank from 1948 until 1967, when, in early June, during the Six-Day War, Israel, encircled by 3 Arab armies poised on its borders ready to attack, launched a pre-emptive strike, taking those lands and others by storm. Israel has been occupying those lands too long, and the time for Israel to make peace with its neighbors, and to withdraw their troops and settlers from West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem is now long overdue.
Now, for the crux of my present essay:
The International Solidarity Movement, of which the late Rachel Corrie was a member, is a grassroots organization, which was founded in 2002. The ISM, as it's often called for short, regularly sends volunteers from the United States, Europe, Canada, and some other countries into the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem to act as buffers between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli Military and the rightwing Israeli Jewish settlers.
Despite frequently being shot at, tear-gassed and roughed up by the Israeli Army, the ISM's activities include monitoring soldiers at checkpoints, staying with Palestinian families to protect their homes against demolition by Israeli Army-operated bulldozers, walking Palestinian children to and from school, and making sure that Palestinian civilians can go about their regular lives and business without abuse from the Army or the right-wing Israeli settlers. ISM members have also been known to sleep by wells and greenhouses in the occupied territories to protect them, and also to supplant themselves between bulldozers and Palestinian civilian families’ houses that've been slated for demolition, and to sleep in Palestinian civilians’ homes to protect them from demolition.
Members of the International Solidarity Movement regularly document abuses by the Israeli Army and by rightwing Israeli Jewish settlers and relay the information back to their respective countries, in order to make them aware of what's happening in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Before going into the Occupied Territories, ISM volunteers get two days of basic training in role-playing, how to communicate with soldiers and settlers, and how to engage in nonviolent resistance. Unfortunately, despite the best intentions of the International Solidarity Movement, many, if not most of the members of the ISM have not had a great deal of experience, particularly in dealing with extremely volatile situations such as the Middle East, and, with only very basic training to begin with, tactical and strategical mistakes have also been made.
Here's what happened: After receiving a cell-phone call on the afternoon of March 16th, 2003 from one of her colleagues in the ISM telling her that a bulldozer operated by Israeli soldiers was about to demolish the house of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, a Palestinian pharmacist, and his family, who Rachel and other ISM members maintained a friendship with, and whose house they had frequently slept in to help protect it from demolition. (Dr. Samir Nasrallah, btw, had never even been accused by the Israeli military of being a terrorist), Rachel quickly caught a taxi cab back to the general vicinity of Dr. Samir’s house in the city of Rafah, which is located on the southernmost part of the Gaza strip, near the Egyptian border.
Rachel then supplanted herself between the Nasrallah house and the Israeli Army-operated bulldozer, wearing a kaffiyeh as well as a bright orange vest that identified her as an "international", as the International Solidarity Movement members are often referred to. Several of her colleagues and friends in the ISM were standing aside, as Rachel singlely supplanted herself between the bulldozer and the house of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, which she thought was about to be demolished by the bulldozer.
The bulldozer began to pile dirt underneath and around Rachel Corrie's feet. Determined to stop the Israeli soldier-driven bulldozer from demolishing the Nasrallahs' house, Rachel stood her ground and kept climbing up on the mound of dirt piled up by the bulldozer, until she was at eye level with the cockpit of the bulldozer and could see the two Israeli soldiers inside. Rachel had another option at this point: she could've turned or rolled aside and away from the bulldozer to avoid getting hit.
However, as Rachel kept climbing forward, her foot caught on the blade of the bulldozer, she stumbled, and was pulled from view of the bulldozer. By then, it had been clear that Rachel was in trouble, and had begun to panic. A number of her colleagues/friends in the International Solidarity Movement who had been protesting and standing in front of bulldozers for the past 2-3 hours, at that point, and who were then standing off to the side, seeing that Rachel was panicking, had gestured, screamed and protested for the soldiers driving the D9 Bulldozer to stop, but to no avail. Rachel Corrie, by this time, having fallen from view of the bulldozer, was cut down, horribly and fatally, by the blade of the bulldozer, which had run over her once, and then backed up and ran over Ms. Corrie once again, ultimately killing her.
There's no question but that the soldiers operating the D9 bulldozer that had fatally run Ms. Corrie over were responsible for Ms. Corrie’s death. Yet, it's also true that the Israeli government, by their policies of occupation of West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, which were designated as Palestinian land, and the destruction that it has wrought, including the demolition of Palestinian's houses and settlement policies, created the circumstances that ultimately led up to Rachel Corrie's tragic and untimely death in the first place. The United States, and the West, generally, have also abetted the situation by not putting more pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories and allow the Palestinians to create their own independent, sovereign nation-state in the territories.
That being said, I definitely agree that Israel has absolutely no business in the Occupied Territories and must withdraw their troops and settlers--now.
Yet (here's something that many people may well disagree with me on), at the same time, I believe that the International Solidarity Movement's leadership, despite clearly good intentions, made some strategic and tactical mistakes which also contributed to and made the loss of Ms. Corrie's life more likely. Prior to Rachel Corrie's death, several ISM members, including Ms. Corrie herself, had encountered narrow escapes while standing/sitting between bulldozers and Palestinians' houses slated for demolition. One young woman from Ireland, who'd been standing between a bulldozer and a Palestinian family’s house slated for demolition, was pulled out of the way of the bulldozer at the last minute by another ISM activist, who sensed that things were getting out of control when the bulldozer she’d been trying to stop began piling dirt underneath and around her feet.
Another ISM member, a young man from the United States, barely escaped serious injury or impalement when the bulldozer he'd been trying to block, stopped at the very last possible moment. The young man had to be extricated from a mesh of concertina wire near the house by other ISM members. Several other ISM members, including Ms. Corrie herself, had been shoved into the side of a house by a bulldozer, at which point Ms. Corrie predicted that the next time around she probably wouldn't be so lucky. Unfortunately, she was proved right; her prediction very tragically came to pass shortly thereafter.
All of the above having been said, I believe that the narrow escapes that several ISM members (including the late Ms. Corrie herself) had while standing singlely between bulldozers and Palestinians’ houses slated for demolition, definitely should have been a wake-up call for the International Solidarity Movement to immediately alter their strategies. I believe that, had they operated in a larger arena and stood as a larger group between bulldozers and houses, as opposed to allowing people to stand singlely in front of bulldozers, that the likelihood of serious injury and/or death would've been far less likely.
Unfortunately, Ms. Corrie, overwrought with passion, as well as a fiercely burning idealism, also did not use the best judgement when she decided to stand singlely between the bulldozer and the Palestinian family’s house slated for demolition, which, along with the Israeli government's occupational policies in West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, the criminally reckless, irresponsible behaviour on the part of the Israeli soldiers operating the bulldozer that ran Ms. Corrie over, plus strategic and tactical mistakes on the part of the International Solidarity Movement, also contributed to the loss of Ms. Corrie’s life.
I also believe, that, while Ms. Corrie’s tragic and untimely death definitely underscore the horrors of war and occupation, it also shows that activism has its limits. The wisdom of sending relatively inexperienced people who’ve had two days of very rudimentary training at the most, out to act as human shields, especially in such a volatile, unstable and dangerous part of the world such as the mideast, is, I believe, questionable at best, and, at worst, no less foolhardy than what the United States Government is presently doing by sending our own men and women soldiers over into Iraq and Afghanistan to either kill or be killed.
Rachel Corrie's parents, Craig and Cindy, and her sister, Sara, attempted a class action against Caterpillar, the USA manufacturer of the bulldozer that rolled over and fatally cut down the late Rachel Corrie, but they lost that in court, and Caterpillar essentially said that they had no control over how their products were used once out of their hands. Recently, Rachel Corrie's family was in Haifa, Israel, where they tried a class action against the State of Israel, the Israeli military and the Israeli Defense Ministry for the wrongful death of Rachel, as well as for accountability for Rachel's death by Israel, her military, and the defense ministry. Unfortunately, the Corrie's verdict was struck down by Judge Odeon Gershon in Haifa District Court, where Rachel's death was ruled as an accident. Frankly, Rachel's death was no accident, but that doesn't mean that her friends and colleagues in the ISM shouldn't have also protected her a little better. Operating in a larger arena would've been a much wiser, more protective strategy for the ISM to pursue, and, imo, would've reduced the likelihood of serious injury or death, and Rachel might very well be alive right now. Without knowing her family personally, I'm sorry about their loss. Losing a loved one is tough, regardless of their age, or how or why it happens. Yet, it's agreed that Israel doesn't belong in Gaza Strip, West Bank or East Jerusalem in the first place, and they should pull back from those territories, for their own sake, as well as that of the Palestinians residing in those territories. I think, although I'm not entirely sure, that the Corries plan to appeal Judge Gershon's ruling in Israel's Supreme Court, which, hopefully, might get them somewhere.
Frankly, I think that the soldiers driving the bulldozer that fatally mowed down Rachel Corrie that day should've at least been convicted of manslaughter, or perhaps 2nd degree murder. The Corrie family wouldn't have gotten everything they wanted, but they would've gotten something, and not come away empty-handed.