Rachel Corrie’s Rafah Legacy

Ramzy Baroud, CounterPunch, March 21, 2013

“Hi Papa .. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately,” Rachel Corrie wrote to her father, Craig, from Rafah, a town located at the southern end of the Gaza Strip.

‘Rachel’s last email’ was not dated on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. It must have been written soon after her last email to her mother, Cindy, on Feb 28. She was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003.

Immediately after her painful death, crushed beneath an Israeli army bulldozer, Rafah embraced her legacy as another ‘martyr’ for Palestine. It was a befitting tribute to Rachel, who was born to a progressive family in the town of Olympia, itself a hub for anti-war and social justice activism. But Olympia is also the capital of Washington State. Politicians here can be as callous, morally flexible and pro-Israel as any other seats of government in the US, where sharply dressed men and women jockey for power and influence. Ten years after Rachel’s death, the US government is yet to hold Israel to account. Neither is justice expected anytime soon.

Bordering Egyptian and Israeli fences, and ringed by some of the poorest refugee camps anywhere, Rafah has never ceased being a news topic in years. The town’s gallantry of the First Palestinian Uprising (Intifada) in 1987 was the stuff of legends among other resisting towns, villages and refugee camps in Gaza and the rest of Palestine. The Israeli army used Rafah as a testing ground for a lesson to be taught to the rest of Palestinians. Thus, its list of ‘martyrs’ is one of the longest, and it is unlikely to stop growing anytime soon. Many of Rafah’s finest perished digging tunnels into Egypt to break the Israeli economic blockade that followed Palestine’s democratic elections in 2006. Buried under heaps of mud, drowning in Egyptian sewage water, or pulverized by Israeli missiles, some of Rafah’s men are yet to be located for proper burial.

Rafah agonized for many years, not least because it was partially encircled by a cluster of illegal Jewish settlements – Slav, Atzmona, Pe’at Sadeh, Gan Or and others. The residents of Rafah were deprived of security, freedom, and even for extended periods of time, access to the adjacent sea, so that the illegal colonies could enjoy security, freedom and private beaches. Even when the settlements were dismantled in 2005, Rafah became largely entrapped between the Israeli military border, incursions, Egyptian restrictions and an unforgiving siege. True to form, Rafah continues to resist.

Rachel and her International Solidarity Movement (ISM) friends must have appreciated the challenge at hand and the brutality by which the Israeli army conducted its business. Reporting for the British Independent newspaper from Rafah, Justin Huggler wrote on Dec. 23, 2003: “Stories of civilians being killed pour out of Rafah, turning up on the news wires in Jerusalem almost every week. The latest, an 11-year-old girl shot as she walked home from school on Saturday.” His article was entitled: “In Rafah, the children have grown so used to the sound of gunfire they can’t sleep without it.” He too “fell asleep to the sound of the guns.”

Rafah was affiliated with other ominous realities, one being house demolitions. In its report, Razing Rafah, published Oct 18, 2004, Human Rights Watch mentioned some very disturbing numbers. Of the 2,500 houses demolished by Israel in Gaza between 2000-04, “nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah… Sixteen thousand people, more than ten percent of Rafah’s population, have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.” Much of the destructions occurred so that alleyways could be widened to secure Israeli army operations. Israel’s weapon of choice was the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which often arrived late at night.

Rachel Corrie was also crushed by the same type of US manufactured and supplied bulldozer that terrorized Rafah for years. It is no wonder that Rachel’s photos and various graffiti paintings adorn many walls of Rafah streets. Commemorating Rachel’s death anniversary for the tenth time, activists in Rafah gathered on March 16. They spoke passionately of the American girl who challenged an Israeli bulldozer so that a Rafah home could remain standing. A 12-year-old girl thanked Rachel for her courage and asked the US government to stop supplying Israel with weapons that are often used against civilians.

While Rafah carried much of the occupation brunt and the vengeance of the Israeli army, its story and that of Rachel’s was merely symbolic of the greater tragedy which has been unfolding in Palestine for many years. Here is a quick summary of the house demolition practice of recent years, according to the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, also published in Al Jazeera August 2012:

The Israeli government destroyed 22 homes in East Jerusalem and 222 homes in West Bank in 2011, leaving nearly 1,200 people homeless. During the war on Gaza (Dec 2008 – Jan 2009), it destroyed 4,455 homes, leaving 20,000 Palestinians displaced and unable to rebuild due to the restrictions imposed by the siege. (Other reports give much higher estimates.) Since 1967, the Israeli government destroyed 25,000 homes in the occupied territories, rendered 160,000 Palestinians homeless. Numbers can be even grimmer if one is to take into account those who were killed and wounded during clashes linked to the destructions of these homes.

So, when Rachel Corrie stood with a megaphone and an orange high-visibility jacket trying to dissuade an Israeli bulldozer driver from demolishing yet another Palestinian home, the stakes were already high. And despite the inhumane caricaturing of her act by pro-Israeli US and other western media, and the expected Israeli court ruling last August, Rachel’s brave act and her subsequent murder stand at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It highlighted the ruthlessness of the Israeli army, put to shame Tel Aviv’s judicial system, confronted the international community with its utter failure to provide protection for Palestinian civilians and raised the bar even higher for the international solidarity movement.

The Israel court verdict last August was particularly sobering and should bring to an end any wishful thinking that Israel’s self-tailored judicial system is capable of achieving justice, neither for a Palestinian, nor an American. “I reached the conclusion that there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver,” Judge Oded Gershon said as he read out his verdict in a Haifa District Court in northern Israel. Rachel’s parents had filed a law suit, requesting a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses. Gershon rejected the suit, delineated that Rachel was not a ‘reasonable person’ and, once more blamed the victim, as has been the case with thousands of Palestinians for many years. “Her death is the result of an accident she brought upon herself,” he said. It all sounded that demolishing homes as a form of collective punishment was just another ‘reasonable’ act, deserving of legal protection. In fact, per Israeli occupation rules, it is.

Rachel’s legacy will survive even Gershon’s charade court proceeding and much more. Her sacrifice is now etched into a much larger landscape of Palestinian heroism and pain.

“I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world,” she wrote to her mother nearly two weeks before her death. “I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes which the US supports.”

Ramzy Baroud is editor of PalestineChronicle.com. He is the author of The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle and “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

March 17, 2013
Annual Rachel Corrie Commemorative Dinner

Sunday, March 17
Nile Restaurant, Madison
5:30 pm, dinner at 6:15 pm

March 16, 2013 will mark the tenth anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie in Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

As we have for the last few years, MRSCP will mark this occasion with our annual dinner benefit, once again at the Nile Restaurant on Odana Road. Funds raised by the dinner will go toward the completion of our third water filtration system for Rafah schools, which will be dedicated to Rachel.

The program which follows will feature a recorded video message from Craig and Cindy Corrie and a report on what we saw and learned in our recent delegation to Gaza.

The menu will include hummus, felafel, spinach pie, cheese pie, foule, lentil soup with spinach, bread and dessert.  Ticket prices are $25 per person at the door, or $22.50 if paid in advance by Tuesday, March 12. We are doing our best to keep the dinner cost as affordable as we can; we hope that those who can afford more will consider donating to the water filter project.

If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Donna Wallbaum at dwallbaum@gmail.com or 235-7870 with the number in your party by Thursday, March 14. She will give you instructions as to paying in advance or at the door.

Space is limited, so we urge you to get your reservations in as soon as you can.

As always, thanks for your support and we look forward to seeing you on March 17.

Contact: rafahsistercity at yahoo.com

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) Meets with State Department

Demands End to Siege in Gaza and Justice for Rachel Corrie

Ongoing Attacks in Gaza Underscore Urgent Need for Human Rights Defenders in Occupied Palestine

Washington, DC | www.adc.org | November 19, 2012 — Last Friday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), CODEPINK, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation delivered to the U.S. Department of State more than 17,000 signatures and an open letter signed by over 50 U.S. organizations asking the State Department to investigate the death of Rachel Corrie and each case involving the death or serious injury of an American citizen by the Israeli military since 2001. The groups also met with State Department officials to discuss the need for accountability in the deaths of human rights defenders like Corrie, a need made more urgent by this week’s deadly attacks by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.

In recent days the Israeli military launched a new major military operation on Gaza. The attack has left dozens dead, including an 11-month-old infant and a woman pregnant with twins, and 270 wounded since Wednesday.

Nabil Mohamad from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said, “Rachel’s case is an example of the lack of accountability for Israel’s killing of Palestinians and non-Palestinians alike. American citizens and non-violent activists have been, and will continue, to be killed by Israeli forces unless Israel is held responsible. We call upon the U.S. government to launch an independent investigation led by the Department of State and Department of Justice to bring justice and prevent further loss of life.”

Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the U.S. Campaign, shared that, “Israel’s ongoing attacks against and illegal siege of the Gaza Strip necessitate an end to Israeli impunity for human rights abuses of Palestinians and human rights defenders acting in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israel’s brutal military occupation.”

Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of Rachel Corrie, expressed, "We greatly appreciate the efforts of all who have carried this message today to the Department of State about the need for accountability in all cases of human rights observers harmed by the Israeli military. Lack of such accountability has only contributed to the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military and made not only human rights activists, but also Palestinians and Israelis, less safe.”

CCR’s Laura Raymond, shared that, “Defending human rights in Gaza should not come at the risk of death. Now more than ever we need human rights defenders on the ground to be able to carry out their work without fearing mortal danger.”

Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in March 16, 2003, as she protested the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza. She was 23 years old. Since 2001, a number of other cases have been reported involving the death or serious injury of American human rights defenders in Palestine caused by the Israeli military.

The State Department declined to act on previous calls for an investigation into Corrie’s death, citing a civil trial in Israel brought by the Corrie family against the Israeli military. In August 2012, however, that case concluded when the presiding judge absolved the State of Israel of any liability and ruling that Corrie’s death was "an accident she brought upon herself." U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro called Israel’s investigation into the case unsatisfactory and lacking in transparency.

CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, said, "As American citizens, we are horrified that our taxpayer dollars are funding the military equipment used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes, like the one Rachel Corrie died defending, and the destruction that is being wrought upon Gaza at this very moment. We call upon the State Department to condemn these unjust and inhumane actions, instead of continuing to let Israel act with impunity."

VOICES OF CONSCIENCE: DELEGATION to THE GAZA STRIP

Interfaith Peace-Builders, November 5, 2012

November 5, 2012 – Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) is pleased to announce that our 21 member delegation to the Gaza Strip passed safely through the Rafah Crossing Monday morning and is now safely in the Gaza Strip.

Interfaith Peace-Builders has sent more than 44 delegations to Palestine/Israel since 2001. This is the first IFPB delegation to enter the Gaza Strip since 2003. Like other IFPB delegations, its purpose is to educate North Americans about the region and deepen their understanding of its conflicts.

On the eve of the Presidential Election in the United States, the US-brokered peace process continues to show few results and US military aid to the region continues to flow unabated.

This delegation focuses on the realities of Palestinian life in the Gaza Strip. Participants have the unique opportunity to hear directly from Palestinians throughout the territory regarding their hopes for peace and the role of the United States, the US government, and other international actors, in promoting a resolution to the conflict.

The Interfaith Peace-Builders delegation to the Gaza Strip is led by Michael Brown and Cindy Corrie. Michael Brown worked off and on in the Gaza Strip between 1993 and 2000 for the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. A former IFPB board member, Michael continues to work today on the media and Palestine. Michael led an IFPB delegation in 2008. Cindy Corrie is the mother of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie who on March 16, 2003, was killed by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.  Motivated by her daughter’s work and sacrifice, Cindy Corrie has dedicated herself to the pursuit of justice and peace in the Middle East and has visited Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza on numerous occasions. She is also president of the board of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, inspired by her daughter.

del44gaza
a photo of the delegation in Gaza City

The delegation includes the following people:

Diane Adkin – Camas, Washington
Michele Bahl – Madison, Wisconsin
Carol Barr – Madison, Wisconsin

Michael Brown – Asheville, North Carolina
Marsha Carlton – Davis, California
Craig and Cindy Corrie – Olympia, Washington
Gary Doupe – Bainbridge, New York
Rich Forer – Yardley, Pennsylvania
Joyce Guinn – Germantown, Wisconsin
Maya Harris – Olympia, Washington
Wendy Hartley – Nevada City, California
Darlene Jones-Owens – Carrollton, Georgia
Declan Keogh – Decatur, Georgia
Ralph and Emily McCoy – Boone, North Carolina
Donna Nassor – Moonachie, New Jersey
Karen Peterson – Horseheads, New York
Cathy Sultan – Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Colleen Toomey – North Andover, Massachusetts
Sonja Wentz – Olympia, Washington

Reports and Photos from IFPB’s November 2012 Delegation to the Gaza Strip:
Photos
Report 1: Greetings from Gaza, Palestine
Report 2: Occupation is "An Ongoing Terror"
Report 3: Bringing Gaza With Us
Follow-Up: Delegates in Action!

In addition to the reports linked from this page, IFPB delegation participants may be blogging and tweeting about their experiences. Like the trip reports posted here, individual blogs and tweets reflect the views of delegation participants only, and not necessarily Interfaith Peace-Builders or partners.

Blogs by delegation members:
Maya Harris may be blogging here
Cindy Corrie may be blogging here

Interfaith Peace-Builders believes in the power of eye-witness experience and transformation. Given the opportunity to speak directly with Israelis and Palestinians, delegates return to the United States better informed, more energized, and with a deeper understanding of the possibilities for true justice in the Middle East.

Upon their return to the United States, delegates will share their experiences with the public, the media, and their political representatives.

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Jennifer Loewenstein on KPFT 90.1 FM

Arab Voices, KPFT 90.1 FM, September 26, 2012

mp3 audio file

Jennifer Loewenstein

Political activist and Faculty Associate in Middle East Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is an expert on contemporary Middle East: history, politics, culture, religion, and U.S. foreign policy in the region. She is a freelance journalist, a human rights activist, volunteer for the Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, and founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project. In 2010 Jennifer received ADC’s Rachel Corrie Award.

Topics

The ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine and its effects on the Palestinians, the recent verdict by an Israeli court about the murder of Rachel Corrie, the U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East, Romney’s recent comments about the Palestinians, the Arab uprisings, and more.


Arab Voices is an independent radio talk show that has been broadcasting live every Wednesday since April 2002 on KPFT Radio (Pacifica Station), 90.1 FM in Houston and 89.5 FM in Galveston. The show also broadcasts live worldwide on the Internet at www.kpft.org or at www.ArabVoices.net.