It was ten years ago today on March 16, 2003 that Rachel Corrie, a 23 year old American volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) was killed by an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) armored bulldozer as it attempted to destroy the home of a Palestinian doctor in the Rafah refugee camp in Gaza. The Palestinians she died protecting are under even greater siege today with village after village targeted for leveling to make way for new settlements, waves of mass arrests, and daily battles between stone throwing youths and heavily armed security forces.
Eye witness members of her ISM team say that Corrie, wearing a bright orange vest, was clearly visible to the driver of the bulldozer before she fell off the mound of earth it was pushing up and was crushed underneath the debris and the tractor, which they said ran over her twice.
The IDF and Israeli government have disputed that and claim that her death was an accident in which the driver never saw her and the tractor never touched her. Despite promises, the official autopsy report and the results of an official investigation have never been released.
While Corrie’s death stirred up international outrage, she was painted by right wing Israeli media as, at best, a naïve dupe of terrorists and more likely an active accomplice who deserved her fate.
Corrie was born to middle class, politically liberal parents in Olympia Washington. She attended her hometown school, Evergreen State College, long known as hot bed of activism. She wanted to be an artist and writer. She studied and was deeply moved by the writings on non-violence by Gandhi and Martin Luther King. In her senior year she devised an independent study program that included service with the ISM in Gaza. She had already organized a pen pal program between children in Rafah and Olympia youngsters.
She arrived in Israel on January 22 and received two days of training in nonviolent tactics at ISM headquarter on the West Bank before being posted to Rafah. It was an intense period of the Second Intifada with regular clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians.
Corrie spent much of February at the Canada Well, a water facility built by the Canadians that had been damaged by the Israelis. She protected Palestinian workers trying to do repair work. She and they came under fire.
On February 15 she was present at a demonstration and was photographed holding a burning paper replica of the U.S. flag. American right wing commentators would use that photo later to claim she was a traitor to her country.
The IDF was in the midst of a massive campaign to clear hundreds of homes and farms from a new buffer zone by the Egyptian border. ISM observers routinely interceded by placing themselves in front of bulldozers to prevent demolitions. Although there had been violent incidents and camps where Corrie and others stayed were subject to harassing arms fire at night, tractor drivers had always stopped before harming the volunteers. Until the day Corrie died.
In April two other ISM volunteers were severally injured by the IDF. American Brian Avery was shot in the face while protracting Palestinian medical workers and Briton Thomas Hurndall was shot in the head. He was declared brain dead and finally died on 2004. About the same time an experienced British news cameraman was killed by IDF fire despite wearing clearly marked press identification.
There was speculation, never proven, that Israeli authorities may have decided to target Western witnesses to their activity in Gaza.
After she died her family released letters and e-mails she had sent from the Gaza. Articulate and moving they were published posthumously as Let Me Stand Alone in 2008. The material was also used to create the play My Name is Rachel Corrie which opened in London in 2005 to good reviews and strong audiences. An attempt to mount an American production initially fell through with the British producers alleging interference by pro-Israel forces. It eventually opened off-Broadway. The play has been produced successfully around the world, including, finally, in Israel.
Corrie’s life and death have also been celebrated in a cantata and songs by over 30 artists.
Meanwhile a counter industry in anti-Corrie books and magazine articles has also sprung up. As her death is commemorated today by those who knew and loved her and by those who admired her, she will be reviled, in often lurid terms, by bloggers and commentators in the U.S. and in Israel.
All of that—the good and the hateful—will be dredged up today.
I, for one, just try to remember a lively young woman who dared put her life on the line for others.