In Rachel Corrie’s words, then and now

Nine years and five months after Rachel Corrie, aged 23, was fatally crushed by an Israeli armored bulldozer in Rafah, an Israeli judge dismissed a civil lawsuit brought by her family, ruling that Israel was not responsible for the “accident” and that Corrie had put herself in harm’s way. According to the High Court in Haifa, the bulldozer driver had not seen Corrie.

Of course, the first question that comes to mind is, how does a soldier and trained bulldozer driver accidentally bulldoze a human being wearing a bright orange jacket and shouting from a bullhorn?

As part of her senior year project at The Evergreen State College in Washington, Corrie chose to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip. Part of her regular activity involved attempting to obstruct the Israeli military from carrying out home demolitions. On March 16, 2003, she stood in front of a Caterpillar D9R bulldozer assigned to demolish a home in the Tel Al Sultan district of Rafah. It moved forward, crushing her and eventually toppling the structure.

If the bulldozer driver avoided locking eyes with Corrie, he’d have at least spotted the four other activists with her, each waving their arms and shouting at the the bulldozer crew to stop. Tom Dale, another ISM volunteer who was standing just meters from Corrie, recounts the following:

“They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did.”

Corrie died on the way to the hospital.

It isn’t hard to understand Corrie’s motivation for getting up every morning and committing herself to the safety of entire families. She had always known right from wrong. In 1990, Corrie was a 10-year-old fifth grade student who knew more about the world than I did at 18. Here’s a brief excerpt of a speech she gave about her dream to end hunger by the year 2000:

“I’m here for other children. I’m here because I care. I’m here because children everywhere are suffering and because forty thousand people die each day from hunger. I’m here because those people are mostly children. We have got to understand that the poor are all around us and we are ignoring them. We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable.”

Her dedication to others drew her to Palestine where she hoped to finalize a sister-city project between Olympia, Washington and Rafah in the south of the Gaza Strip. It also inspired her to befriend those around her and to be more than just a human rights observer or documenter. The home she had defended to her death belonged to a family that she had grown close to.

Corrie was an articulate writer, even in the most informal of settings: email exchanges with family and friends. Her final email was addressed to “papa”.

“I really don’t want to live with a lot of guilt about this place [Rafah] – being able to come and go so easily – and not going back. I think it is valuable to make commitments to places – so I would like to be able to plan on coming back here within a year or so.”

She had planned to stay in Rafah until June at least, and to return soon. Her legacy lives on and even though her family’s civil suit was dismissed, it is not the end for Corrie’s supporters who vow to continue demanding justice until Israel holds itself accountable for the death of a beautiful soul.

Sami Kishawi

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