Saturday, March 15, 2008

Remembering Rachel Corrie

Five years ago a brave American activist from Olympia, Washington took a stand against injustice when she refused to move while facing a mammoth bulldozer in order to save Khaled Nasrallah's house from demolition. To this day her sacrifice is rather unknown unless you are part of the struggle for the rights of Palestinians. It is also without a doubt that Americans are very ignorant of the issue confronting Palestinians and Israelis who fight the occupation to the bitter end, and for Rachel, her end was met too prematurely.

Now her parents' pain is not quelled and their battle for justice to see someone being held accountable for their daughter's death is an uphill one. Tom Wright and Therese Saliba penned a good piece on the story of Rachel's journey and her parents attempt to piece reality together when their own daughter's death is being censored in the country they call home. And because of their resolve and desire to keep her spirit alive, other Westerns can see how one person we will never get to meet can make a big difference on the rest of us who wish for a better world and for a just resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Rachel's life and story is being propagated through a play (that was suppressed here in Toronto as well as New York and had troubles finding a theatre in London) and her journals are now published in a book called Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie. To this day, the US and Israel government refuses to investigate the crime that took Rachel from this world, which really shows what type of mettle our representatives are made of. Here we have a story of a girl who saw something she had to take a stand for, eyewitnesses recount that she was a lone figure standing in the way of a Catepillar bulldozer, very similar to those horrific images we remember of Tiananmen Square, and was flattened not only once, but twice as the driver of the bulldozer decided to back up on Rachel's corpse, and we have no one to speak out on her behalf, just half promises and muddled responses. Here's Cindy Corrie questioning Barry Sabin, head of the Counterterrorism Section of the Criminal Division at the Justice Department:

"'Are you saying that no matter what amount of evidence we bring to you there will never be a U.S. investigation into Rachel's killing?' And Barry Sabin said, 'I never say never, but no.' And our daughter Sarah said, 'Even if we could show intent?' And he nodded."

Seeing the futility in their own government to find someone responsible for the death of their daughter, they went public with a play at the urging of Sabin. This way, it gets more word of mouth as well as more press, especially in North America where the good old Lobby does not want any bad news being spoken about its Holy Country. Cindy had to find out the hard way that the US government is in terrible cahoots with Israel:

"The kind of impotence in government around this whole issue, after five years with Rachel's case points to the need for people at the grassroots level to find other channels, other ways of keeping the communications open, of building those relationships that ultimately are going to lead to some change in the world."

The harder they try to suppress her story, the more romanticised it is going to get. Now I never knew Rachel and I will never get to know her, but her death is not only touching myself but she has many websites dedicated to her and her story is well known in Gaza as well as with many Palestinians. Not only that, but also through her demise we are seeing how hollow our representatives are when they speak of taking a stern stance with Israel whenever a Westerner is killed or injured (but only if they happened to fall from Palestinian resistance do we get any coverage of that sort). One wonders if Rachel had lived and finished up in Gaza with the ISM and returned to Olympia that she would get such a reception and an audience we see today. You could only speculate but I would have to lean towards no. It is sad that only with her untimely death that her story is going to be told to so many in this world.

Of course we will get the demonisers who believe that Rachel was naive and protecting terrorists. Do we even have to get into that debacle? No terrorists were found in the house that was demolished, and even if they did have "contacts" with potential terrorists, that is a violation of the Geneva Accords anyway. Tsk, tsk.

Also there are reports that it was an accident. Like someone gets run over by a bulldozer by accident. How fast do those machines go anyway? If there are any doubts then see this photo account by Electronic Intifada.

Rachel is a true sob story and not the Pat Tillman type either. Here was a person who gave up life in affluence in the West to take up a stance that is not very popular and take on a brutal regime that is oppressing Palestinians for the sake of an ancient ideology. Five years on, she is still being vilified and her play was not welcome in many cities. Rachel could have chosen something simplier but instead she felt she had to do something against the biggest injustices we experience in today's society. And how ironic is it that now, five years after, Rachel's play is going to debut IN ISRAEL.

Now how fascinating is that? This play won't get played in many cities in North America and it's being performed in Israel of all places. Do you think there's a Lobby in North America or what? Or do playwrights and yellow theatre owners just have a knack of avoiding controversial issues that might dent their pocketbooks?

I shall leave with some excerpts of some of Rachel's emails:

"I thought a lot about what you said on the phone about Palestinian violence not helping the situation. Sixty thousand workers from Rafah worked in Israel two years ago. Now only 600 can go to Israel for jobs. Of these 600, many have moved, because the three checkpoints between here and Ashkelon (the closest city in Israel) make what used to be a 40-minute drive, now a 12-hour or impassible journey. In addition, what Rafah identified in 1999 as sources of economic growth are all completely destroyed - the Gaza international airport (runways demolished, totally closed); the border for trade with Egypt (now with a giant Israeli sniper tower in the middle of the crossing); access to the ocean (completely cut off in the last two years by a checkpoint and the Gush Katif settlement). The count of homes destroyed in Rafah since the beginning of this intifada is up around 600, by and large people with no connection to the resistance but who happen to live along the border. I think it is maybe official now that Rafah is the poorest place in the world. There used to be a middle class here - recently. We also get reports that in the past, Gazan flower shipments to Europe were delayed for two weeks at the Erez crossing for security inspections. You can imagine the value of two-week-old cut flowers in the European market, so that market dried up. And then the bulldozers come and take out people’s vegetable farms and gardens. What is left for people? Tell me if you can think of anything. I can’t... [February 27 2003]

You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me. When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resister. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them - and may ultimately get them - on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity - laughter, generosity, family-time - against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances - which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will... [February 28 2003]

I think I could see a Palestinian state or a democratic Israeli-Palestinian state within my lifetime. I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world. 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.

I look forward to increasing numbers of middle-class privileged people like you and me becoming aware of the structures that support our privilege and beginning to support the work of those who aren’t privileged to dismantle those structures... [February 28 2003]

Right now I think I could stay until June, financially. I really don’t want to move back to Olympia, but do need to go back there to clean my stuff out of the garage and talk about my experiences here. On the other hand, now that I’ve crossed the ocean I’m feeling a strong desire to try to stay across the ocean for some time... I would like to leave Rafah with a viable plan to return, too. One of the core members of our group has to leave tomorrow - and watching her say goodbye to people is making me realize how difficult it will be. People here can’t leave, so that complicates things. They also are pretty matter-of-fact about the fact that they don’t know if they will be alive when we come back here.

I really don’t want to live with a lot of guilt about this place - 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. [Rachel's last email]

Rachel's words will live on.

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