Israeli Forces Keep Killing Americans While U.S. Officials Give Them a Pass
Rachel Corrie stands in front of an Israeli bulldozer to protest the destruction of Palestinian homes along the Rafah-Egypt border on March 16, 2003. Corrie was killed later the same day.
Photo: Courtesy of the Corrie family
Alice Speri, The Intercept, July 13 2022
Nearly two decades before Israeli forces killed Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, shooting a single bullet into her head while she was reporting from the occupied West Bank city of Jenin, an Israeli soldier drove a bulldozer over American peace activist Rachel Corrie, crushing her to death.
Both killings left little real doubt about the dynamics at play. Abu Akleh was standing with a group of colleagues, wearing a vest clearly marked “PRESS,” nowhere near the fighting that had taken place earlier that morning. Corrie was nonviolently protesting the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home in Gaza. She was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket with reflective stripes and had been on the scene for several hours, at times speaking into a megaphone.
In the moments before her death, Corrie was standing in the path of the bulldozer as other activists had been doing throughout the day. As the driver pushed the machine forward, she climbed onto a mound of dirt so she would be clearly visible, according to witness testimony reviewed by The Intercept. The driver kept advancing. When she fell to the ground, the dirt engulfed her, but the driver moved several feet forward before backing off, effectively crushing her twice. The possibility that he did not see her, as he later claimed, defies all credibility. Still, the Israeli government never took responsibility for her death, and while the U.S. government rejected the results of the Israeli investigation, it did nothing to ensure that such a killing would not happen again. So it did.
Rachel Corrie lies in the dirt, waiting for medical help with three other International Solidarity Movement activists, after she was crushed under an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza, on March 16, 2003.
Photo: International Solidarity Movement/Getty Images
Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, when she was 23. Twelve years later, on the anniversary of her death, her parents and sister met with Antony Blinken for the last time. The deputy secretary of state spoke to them in the sincere way they had come to know well. “Come back anytime,” he told them as the meeting came to a close.
The Corries didn’t want to come back. They had been meeting with Blinken for years, and they were tired. When he asked, earnestly, “What can I do for you?” they felt frustrated. “I appreciate your kindness,” Craig Corrie told Blinken. “I’m glad you are personally engaged. But unless you engage your institution, it doesn’t do me any good.”
“He’s asking, what can I do for you,” Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, told The Intercept. “But there’s a point at which it’s like, what are you guys going to do?”
“I can’t tell you what tools you have to use,” echoed Sarah, Rachel’s sister. “You need to be telling us.”
Rachel’s killing had brought the Corries to hundreds of offices like Blinken’s over the years but nowhere closer to the accountability they were seeking. Blinken, today the secretary of state, was one of several senior U.S. officials who worked closely with the family during their yearslong crusade for justice and one of a number who now occupy top positions in the Biden administration. The Corries liked him, and they appreciated his efforts and warmth. In emails, he signed himself “Tony.” He always responded to their letters and regularly met with them for longer than scheduled.
Ultimately, however, Blinken failed them.
As they prepared to leave his office for the last time, Sarah told him: “There was a promise made to the president of the United States from Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon of a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation. Your government said that that never happened; that promise was never fulfilled,” she recalled. “You’ve still got a problem here.”
Blinken nodded. “I know.”
“I think in some way I needed them to say no. If they weren’t going to do anything, that’s what I needed to hear out of that meeting.”
Walking away, Sarah knew she was done. Blinken had asked her to follow up with an email; she wondered why she should be the one do that, why one of the staffers in the room couldn’t take notes. “I felt like we could go on like this for the rest of our lives,” she said. “I think in some way I needed them to say no. If they weren’t going to do anything, that’s what I needed to hear out of that meeting.”
Sarah was 29 when her sister was killed, and since then she had devoted herself completely to lobbying the U.S. government for action. “You think about what your life is in your 30s, developing your career, raising your family,” she said in an interview last month. “Mine was this process.”
She had been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease before Rachel was killed, but the stress of the last 12 years had taken a toll on Sarah’s health. The day of that meeting with Blinken, she felt too sick to get out of bed but powered through it. She had two more meetings at the Senate that day. In the hallway outside Blinken’s office, she remembered the words of another senior official, Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff at the State Department at the time of Rachel’s death: “You’re doing the right thing,” Wilkerson had warned the family. “But you may never see results, so don’t lose your health.”
Those words haunted Sarah now. “I’m not going to lose my health over banging my head against the wall,” she finally decided. “I knew at that point I couldn’t keep doing this. I had reached my limit.”
Cindy, Sarah, and Craig Corrie at Sarah’s home in Olympia, Wash., on July 10, 2022.
Photo: Kholood Eid for The Intercept
That was in 2015. Since then, Cindy and Craig Corrie have continued to honor Rachel’s memory through the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. They launched a sister city partnership between Olympia, Washington, where she grew up, and Rafah, the city on the Egypt-Gaza border where she was killed. They speak in support of Palestinians at events around the world. In meetings with activists, Cindy sometimes found herself defending Blinken to critics of U.S. foreign policy. “I told them I did feel this was a good person, who cared and did try to help,” she said. “And I believe Tony Blinken wants the best for Palestinian people too.”
Blinken did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment, but a State Department spokesperson wrote that the administration stood by the statements of previous administrations. “Rachel Corrie’s death was tragic and this administration reiterates our condolences to her family,” the spokesperson wrote. “The U.S. consistently called for a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into Rachel Corrie’s killing.”
Sarah was not much of an activist herself, but she had seen it as her civic duty to ensure that her government worked as it was supposed to. The endeavor of lobbying U.S. officials to do something about Rachel’s killing had become all-consuming, barely leaving time to grieve. After the last meeting with Blinken, she stored the piles of documents she had accumulated over the years and tried to focus on her life. She took up dance classes and flight lessons.
When the Corries gave up, the U.S. government’s effort to get accountability for Rachel also came to an end. “When we stopped, they stopped,” said Craig. “That wagon was in a bunch of mud. If you weren’t pushing on it, you didn’t go anywhere.”
Then in May, Abu Akleh was killed. Several independent investigations, including one by the United Nations, concluded that she was shot by Israeli forces, describing the shooting as “targeted” and the bullet that killed her as “well-aimed.” Her death was referred to the International Criminal Court. But following a tested playbook in such situations, the Israeli government refused to take responsibility.
Children take part in a candlelight vigil to denounce the killing of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11, 2022, in Gaza City.
Photo: Mohammed Talatene/Picture Alliance via Getty Images