Monday, September 27, 2010

The killing of Rachel Corrie seven years on By Renee Bowyer


September 27, 2010

When the name of Rachel Corrie is mentioned you cannot help but pause for a painful moment; a tugging at the heart is the best way to describe it. You want to stop the conversation altogether and retreat into yourself and demand that those around you pay tribute.

In an instant, pictures flash before your eyes: Rachel standing in her fluorescent jacket, a massive Caterpillar bulldozer encroaching on her young life and innocence while she demands that the monster and its driver prove to her that humanity is not dead in this world; then a crushed body and three dismayed and disorientated people around her, witnesses to the rejection of Rachel's demand; finally, a disfigured and bloodied face, a young woman being cradled by her companions.

All these images weigh upon the heart. Not just because you know that the 23 year-old peace activist was murdered in such a horrific way, but also because her death proved that in Occupied Palestine the occupier has lost its humanity.

When Rachel is mentioned in conversation we feel more than sadness. Along with the deep respect one feels for Rachel there is also unease bordering on despair. Rachel's name conjures up not only the images of the young woman and her death but also makes us remember the devastated strip of land that is Gaza.

Gaza: wailing sirens, phosphorus bombs, burning schools and dying policemen, babies with bullet holes through their chests the horror of Israel's "Operation Cast Lead"; women surrounding a half-destroyed mosque, crumpled bodies and hands turned to heaven; a young girl on the beach screaming into the blackness that her world has just entered, her father and family lying shattered around her. Gaza: our responsibility; their right and tragedy.

Rachel went to Gaza at the beginning of 2003. In her own words she explained that "no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth reports could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it". This young American witnessed Israel's strangulation of and violent oppression against the people of Gaza and made a conscious decision that the fight for justice for the Palestinian people was not a struggle they should face alone. "This has to stop," she wrote to her mother in February 2003, "I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don't think it's an extremist thing to do anymore..."

The struggle for survival is the Palestinian struggle; the struggle for truth is the struggle of the westerner who willingly chooses to stand side by side with the Palestinians. Rachel wrote on another occasion, "I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it."

Because the Internationals who leave their privileged lives behind do so knowing that they, as citizens of countries which support Israel, are party to the military machine that is destroying Palestine systematically. Rachel paid the ultimate price for her dedication and conviction to this principle when, on March 16th 2003 she was crushed to death by a military bulldozer while it prepared to destroy a Palestinian family's home. From the moment that she was killed, Rachel's action was being scrutinized by a world which feels guilty for leaving the fight for truth to a 23 year old girl.

Why was Rachel in Gaza anyway? This question becomes crucial when telling the story of the Palestinian struggle for justice to a world that is outside and beyond it. Generally speaking, this is a world that has not seen the Wall imprisoning the ever-diminishing lands of Palestine on the western shores of the Dead Sea; a world that has not seen Palestinians humiliated at Israeli army checkpoints and the brutality of nightly raids, which has not witnessed assassinations and the crying of the mothers left behind; this is a world that asks incredulously what made Rachel Corrie go to Gaza in the first place and what made her stand in defiance of an armoured bulldozer. Perhaps the question is asked in an attempt to brush off responsibility for Rachel's death and, on a wider scale, collusion in the situation across Palestine.

The problem is not that the world does not get an answer; the problem is that the world does not want to listen to that answer, even though it is staring everyone in the face. It is in the humane words of Rachel herself; it is given by the actions of international activists shot at, wounded and abused, who return to the land of Palestine and its people time and time again.

Rachel wrote to her mother a few weeks before her death, "So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of genocide."

Can anyone with a sense of morality keep quiet and stand aside when witnessing this? If only people listened to Rachel's reason for going to Gaza, listened to the reasons why international solidarity volunteers still go to Gaza and the West Bank, then perhaps they would be less ready to support Israel's claim that its army's violence and brutality are essential for "national security". Perhaps individuals of conscience would then stand up and protest to their own governments about Israel's grip on the international media and its manipulation of world politics.

It is now seven years since Rachel was killed in the most brutal fashion. Her action and bravery sent a message around the world, but the killing in Gaza and the West Bank has not stopped. Gaza is now into the fourth year of a deadly siege. There have been massive Israeli incursions and mass killings. The children of Gaza have been forgotten; despite Rachel's plea that their stories be heard, we do not hear them.

On every anniversary of Rachel's murder it is incumbent upon us to turn our eyes to Gaza; to search out those children and listen to their stories; to recognise that until Gaza is free and the people of Palestine share the same human rights as the rest of us, we have not done enough. And once we acknowledge that we have not done enough we need to be brave enough to do more. We need to know that we too would be willing to stand in front of a military bulldozer to protect the dignity of the human race as Rachel did; a courageous act that cost that young woman her life.