Ten years ago today American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Caterpillar D9 bulldozer as she tried to protect a Palestinian home from demolition in Rafah, Gaza. Her death, and selfless act of heroism, has galvanized and inspired millions worldwide in the decade since her death.
For me her death will always be intertwined with the rush to war in Iraq. Coming at the height of the second intifada, it was a moment that helped shape me and draw connections between militarism and occupation, between resistance and solidarity. I never met Rachel but her life has influenced me profoundly. Here is a report from a protest I helped with at the time in the days just before the U.S. attacked Iraq. It’s amazing to think that was ten years ago and of everything that has transpired since then. Although much has changed in that time, the situation Rachel was protesting when she was killed remains very much the same.
Throughout the last ten years Corrie’s parents – Cindy and Craig – have been a bedrock for the Palestine solidarity movement in the U.S. They were somehow able to take their loss, their pain, and build a flourishing movement for justice and accountability, not just for Rachel but also for the people of Gaza. In August, on the eve of an Israeli court decision in the Corrie’s civil lawsuit against the state of Israel, I wrote, “the persistence, strength and grace of the Corrie family has a power all its own, and has moved everyone who has had the chance to meet them.” They have never exploited Rachel’s death, or their own pain, but rather picked up Rachel’s baton and took on her struggle as their own.
As the Corrie’s surely will use this anniversary to grieve, they are also using it to say thank you and urge all those touched by Rachel to continue struggling. Yesterday her father Craig Corrie shared a request for President Obama as he heads to Israel/Palestine next week. Writing in The Hill Corrie says ‘ten years on I want answers for my daughter Rachel Corrie“:
On March 16, 2003, my daughter Rachel Corrie was crushed to death under a bulldozer driven by an Israel Defense Forces soldier. The bulldozer was manufactured in the United States by Caterpillar, Inc. and paid for by U.S. foreign military financing aid. My tax dollars paid for the machine used to kill my daughter . . .
What then would I ask President Obama to do as he makes his way to Israel and Palestine this month? Assure Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas alike that we will stand with them for the just aspirations of all their citizens, including the equal recognition to their right to be free of threats to their homes, families, farmland, and future. Explain that the U.S. will no longer support financially or diplomatically the apartheid system embodied in the occupation of Palestine and in the treatment of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Remind them that security cannot come at the expense of the other, but only with the participation of both. Rather than giving license to a government’s most violent instincts by repeating endlessly that Israel has a right to defend itself – ignoring that Palestinians also have that right – call instead for the courage of each side to live by the ceasefires negotiated but left unsigned or ignored.
President Obama should refuse to continue U.S. military and diplomatic support until Israel gives truthful answers to our questions, not just for U.S. citizens like Rachel and Furkan Dogan, but for all the civilians killed or maimed using U.S.-funded weapons. Use this trip to a deeply troubled and divided place to remind the world that Americans believe all people “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Then, make this first principle of America’s existence the foundation of his foreign policy for the next four years.