Remembering Rachel Corrie

Merrick, 25th March 2005ce

Let's be clear - what is happening in Palestine is no inexplicable 'cycle of violence' where each side is as bad as the other. It is no more an equal cycle of violence than apartheid South Africa. It is militaristic apartheid.

Being against it is not anti-Jewish any more than being against a British government's military aggression means you hate everyone British. Indeed, there is not only an active Israeli peace movement, there are also hundreds of proud and patriotic Israeli soldiers who are refusing to serve in the occupied territories, many of them being jailed for their stance.

Israel has invaded Palestinian land, in breach of international law. In this invaded land, Israeli forces commit random killings, beatings, demolition of homes, curfews and detentions without charge on a massive scale. Israel has ignored repeated UN Resolutions calling for withdrawal within its own borders (even though non-compliance with UN resolutions was given as reason enough to invade Iraq).

The USA touts itself as a fair peacebroker, even though it gives $4bn of military aid a year to Israel and nothing to the Palestinians.

There have been several direct approaches to redressing the injustice. Some people have organised getting the superb organically produced Palestinian olive oil, buying it at premium prices from the Palestinian farmers. It's now available in the UK, under the brand name Zaytoun.

Whilst some took that action to give positive input, others confronted the negative. People around the world realised that the lives of Palestinians are simply not of enough concern to western minds. Hundreds of them formed the International Solidarity Movement, going to Palestine to act as witnesses and human shields to deter Israeli violence.

As well as giving hope to the Palestinian people by letting them know they are not forgotten, the idea is that if the Israeli military know international citizens are staying in a residential area, they'll be disinclined to randomly fire missiles into it. If children are walking to school accompanied by internationals, Israeli soldiers will be less likely to open fire.

When the Israelis declare curfews, they often choose to release randomly detained Palestinians during the forbidden hours, just to make the journey home more difficult. An accompanying international makes it safer. Ambulances are deliberately delayed at checkpoints for hours. An ISM volunteer in the vehicle encourages quicker passage and so often makes the difference between life and death.

This did indeed prove effective for a while. Then the Israelis called their bluff.

Australian Kate Edwards was part of a group slowly backing away from an Israeli troop vehicle in April 2002 when she was shot in the stomach without warning. There was some reporting in the international media, but no outrage. This gave a clear signal to the Israeli forces, and they realised that they could use the most brutal methods to try to rid themselves of the embarrassing spotlight of attention the ISM was shining on them.

On May 2nd 2003 James Miller, a cameraman for the UK's Channel 4 TV, had been filming the demolition of Palestinian houses by Israelis at Rafah in Gaza. As he approached an Israeli military vehicle waving a white flag, he was shot in the neck and killed.

On 11th April 2003 British photographer and ISM volunteer Tom Hurndall was shot in the head as he stood in front of some children at Rafah refugee camp. He was brain dead that day, dying in hospital several months later.

A week before Hurndall was shot Brian Avery, a 24 year old American ISMer, was in Jenin. He was about 20 metres away from Israeli soldiers, standing still with hands outstretched to show he was unarmed, under a bright streetlight and wearing a vest with the word 'DOCTOR' in fluorescent letters in English and Hebrew. He was shot in the face.

Two weeks earlier another 24 year old American, Rachel Corrie was run over and crushed to death by a bulldozer that was destroying Palestinian homes. She was standing on a mound of earth wearing a fluorescent jacket. The driver claims not to have seen her.

These shootings all took place in the space of a month, all unarmed western people, standing or walking slowly, not threatening anyone or anything. All shot without warning with the clear intention of killing. Yet there has been no major diplomatic incident, no constantly rerun stories on CNN personalising the dead.

In the UK and USA there have been people detained indefinitely without charge or trial because there may be evidence they planned to commit political killings of our citizens. Israeli soldiers, however, can do it outright in broad daylight and cold blood and we don't raise a murmur.

Whilst we can believe in the brutality of European police and military forces, and in the corruption and atrocities of those further afield, when it's an English speaking country we refuse to waiver from our commitment to their rightness.

If someone gets maimed or killed by English-speaking forces, they probably had it coming. Even when faced with irrefutable evidence, we go for the 'one bad apple' theory rather than admit such violence could be intrinsic, systemic or policy.

The response to Israeli soldiers killing ISM volunteers shows we've made Israel an honourary member of this club. We effectively grant them a license to kill.

For all the talk of from Western leaders about the need for the ‘rule of law’, it seems we don’t mind the Israeli government executing people without charge or trial. The killings are a stated policy, each approved by the Israeli cabinet as part of their day-to-day business. They are not neat hitman jobs. In killing Hamas leader Saleh Shahada, a one-ton bomb was dropped from an F-16 fighter-bomber. It killed Shahada along with fifteen other people including eleven children, and wounded another 140.

Despite the recent ceasefire, there is little hope for a lasting peace. Peace can only be sustained by justice, yet the Israeli government continues to build the massive dividing wall, splitting Palestinian communities and blocking them from their families and their workplaces, by a route that is grabbing Palestinian land into the Israeli side.

They continue to extend the new Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (even though they agreed not to under the US-sponsored 'roadmap to peace'). They continue to kill Palestinians without charge or trial.

The end of apartheid in South Africa was scarcely believable for the innovative and daring manner in which it brought rapid peaceful change. That model, much of it successfully copied for the peace in Northern Ireland, uses powerful public inquiry as its prime tool for making people feel heard, understood and ready to move on.

It would not have worked if the white South Africans merely did a bit less killing whilst continuing to reinforce the mechanisms of apartheid. It would not have worked if those who committed atrocities hadn't spoken up as much as those who suffered them. In Israel, they stay entrenched and defensive of their actions.

Dan Halutz, the man who ordered the bombing that killed Saleh Shahada and so many others, stands by the attack saying, ‘professionally, and in retrospect, too, it was the most correct decision’. He has just been rewarded with a promotion to Deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli military.

This week, the Israeli military have decided not to prosecute the soldier who shot James Miller. The soldier admitted firing shots at Miller and friends, the incident was videoed, the soldier is to be 'disciplined for misuse of his firearm', yet apparently there is not enough evidence to try him for the shooting.

Rachel's cousin Elizabeth Corrie wrote this a year ago;

Only a year ago, the month of March would have held the same positive associations for me as it has for many - the beginning of the end of winter, the promise of springtime and even summer. This year, and for every year for the rest of my life, the approach of March will mean something else entirely - the anniversary of the brutal death of my cousin, Rachel Corrie.

On March 16, 2003, an Israeli soldier and his commander ran over Rachel with a nine-ton Caterpillar bulldozer while she stood - unarmed, clearly visible in her orange fluorescent jacket - protecting a Palestinian home slated for demolition by the Israeli army.

The death of Rachel Corrie, and the response that her case has - and has not - received, reveal several disturbing, indeed immoral and criminal, truths.

First, Rachel died while attempting to prevent the demolition of a home, a common practice of the Israeli Army's collective punishment that has left more than 12,000 Palestinians homeless since the beginning of the second uprising in September 2000. This practice violates international law, including the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Second, Rachel was run over by a Caterpillar bulldozer, manufactured in the United States and sent to Israel as part of the regular U.S. aid package to Israel, which amounts to $3 billion to $4 billion annually, all of it from U.S. taxpayers. The use of Caterpillar bulldozers to destroy civilian homes, not to mention to run over unarmed human rights activists, violates U.S. law, including the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the use of military aid against civilians.

Third, the self-acquittal of the Israeli army for Rachel's death and the resistance of the state of Israel to an independent investigation into this case reveals both the Sharon administration's unwillingness to take responsibility for the death of a U.S. citizen and the Bush administration's cowardice in allowing another nation to attack U.S. citizens with impunity.

Fourth, Rachel's death was in fact only the first of several Israeli attacks on foreign citizens in the West Bank and Gaza. Brian Avery, from New Mexico, was shot in the face on April 5; Tom Hurndall, a British citizen, was shot in the head on April 11 and died Jan. 13, and James Miller, another British citizen, was also shot and killed in April. To date, only in Hurndall's case will the Israeli soldier responsible for the attack face trial, and this is because the British government, after several months, finally responded to the overwhelming evidence presented by the Hurndall family.

As we approach March 16, residents and citizens of the United States should ask themselves how it is that an unarmed U.S. citizen can be killed with impunity by a soldier from an allied nation receiving massive U.S. aid, using a product manufactured in the United States by a U.S. corporation and paid for with U.S. tax dollars. When three Americans were killed, presumably by Palestinians, in an explosion on Oct. 15, 2003, as they travelled through Gaza, the FBI came within 24 hours to investigate the deaths. After one year, neither the FBI nor any other U.S.-led team has done anything to investigate the death of an American killed by an Israeli.

Why the double standard? Perhaps this reveals the most disturbing truth of all.

The deaths of the ISM volunteers have more impact on us for the same reason they were intended to deter the Israeli military; that we identify with westerners, we effectively value them more. The same day that they killed Rachel Corrie, the Israeli military also killed seventeen Palestinians.

So then, here's to the memory and bravery of Rachel Corrie: a true American hero at a time when we really need them.

Palestinian olive oil
International Solidarity movement