On March 16, 2004, people will hold vigils and ralles in different parts of the world to remember Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, part of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was murdered in the Gaza Strip by a bulldozer on the same day last year.
Many other Palestinians, and some internationals, including the ISMâ€™s Tom Hurndall, have been murdered in the Gaza Strip since. Using figures from Btselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Israeli security forces and armed settlers have killed 540 Palestinians since March 2003, 4 of whom were killed inside Israelâ€™s borders, 109 of whom were children under 18. At the same time, 132 Israeli civilians, including 20 children, were killed by Palestinians.
Btselemâ€™s figures were last updated on March 5. The recent killings in Jenin and Rafah, as well as the suicide bombings in Ashdod over the past weekend, were not included.
Rachel was trying to prevent one of Israelâ€™s military bulldozers from destroying a house in Rafah, a city that has been virtually razed to the ground by such bulldozers in the year since she was killed. Btselem reports that Israel demolished 223 houses in 2003 and 30 so far in 2004, to March 7, and that these demolitions are conducted as punishment, â€œagainst families of persons â€˜wantedâ€™ by the security forces or who have been killed.â€
UNRWA reported before October 2003 that Israel had demolished 655 houses in Gaza since September 2000, rendering 5,124 homeless, along with large tracts of agricultural land. In operations in October, Israel destroyed another 200 homes and made 2,000 more people homeless. Btselem emphasizes that the persons who actually suffer from the demolitions are not people even suspected of having committed any offense. In other words, the demolitions are collective punishment, a violation of international law.
In 2003, the UN Special Rapporteur for food reported that over 22% of Palestinian children under 5 are suffering from malnutrition and 15.6% from acute anemia, which brings permanent negative effects on development. This malnutrition is a direct result of Israelâ€™s â€˜closuresâ€™ policy, which has effectively shut down the Palestinian economy and frequently prevents emergency food aid from entering the territories.
There is much more to this conflict, as Rachel herself well understood, than the figures on innocents killed or children starving, or houses and fields demolished. In a letter to friends and family in the US, she described her difficulty in trying to convey the larger picture without using â€˜charged wordsâ€™: â€œThe assassinations, rocket attacks and shooting of children are atrocities – but in focusing on them I’m terrified of missing their context. The vast majority of people here – even if they had the economic means to escape, even if they actually wanted to give up resisting on their land and just leave (which appears to be maybe the less nefarious of Sharon’s possible goals), can’t leave. Because they can’t even get into Israel to apply for visas, and because their destination countries won’t let them in (both our country and Arab countries). So I think when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which people can’t get out of, I think that qualifies as genocideâ€¦ I don’t like to use those charged words. I think you know this about me.â€
After March 2003, Israel denied responsibility for Rachelâ€™s murder and took the opportunity to attack the young womanâ€™s organization, the ISM, for acting â€œirresponsiblyâ€. The Israeli Army investigated and acquitted itself of any wrongdoing.
The ISM is an organization based on an alliance between Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who are trying to resist the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip using nonviolent tactics. As they have in years before, in the year since Rachelâ€™s death Palestinians and their friends in ISM and other groups have mobilized against the massive wall Israel is building in the West Bank, against house demolitions in places like Rafah, and against the hundreds of military checkpoints that dot the landscape of the Occupied Territories, choking the Palestinian society and economy.
Palestinians and Israelis who want the occupation and violence to end agree that international support and international pressure is needed. For that reason, ISM members work in their own countries as well.
The helicopters and warplanes that have killed Palestinian civilians in bombing raids in Gaza are made in the United States. The bulldozers that demolish houses for collective punishment are made by Caterpillar Corporation. In Toronto, the March 16 actions will include a stop at Caterpillar Corporationâ€™s offices.
Rachel Corrie was well aware that the destruction in Israel/Palestine is an international issue in which everyone plays a role. In some sense, this was her last will. â€œWhen I come back from Palestine,â€ she said, â€œI probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more workâ€¦ 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 a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.â€
To try to channel the nightmares into more work for justice and peace for everyone involved: that is the way to honour Rachelâ€™s memory.
Justin Podur is a member of the International Solidarity Movement. He can be reached at [email protected]