The Death of Rachel Corrie


The Israeli bulldozer that ran over and killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie, 23, in the Gaza Strip today had killed before. A few weeks ago, on March 3, an Israeli bulldozer killed a nine-month pregnant Palestinian woman, Nuha Sweidan, while destroying the house next door in a dilapidated Gaza refugee camp. Palestinian witnesses said that Mrs. Sweidan, 33, bled to death under the rubble as she cradled her 18-month-old daughter. Her unborn baby also died.

Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan probably never met, but they will forever be linked as victims of Israel’s 35-year occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They are both victims of Israeli war crimes. The Geneva Conventions expressly prohibits attacks on civilian populations regardless of the motivation, even if in retaliation for attacks on its own civilians. To attack civilian populations intentionally is a war crime. Both Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan were killed during military actions against a civilian population, in this case, during a house demolition.

Since June 2002, the Israeli army has destroyed more than 150 houses belonging to Palestinians allegedly involved in attacks, a policy human rights groups describe as collective punishment and which has drawn US criticism in the past.

This past month, Israel nearly set a record for killing Palestinians, mostly civilians, in a single month. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, Israeli assaults killed 82 Palestinians, of them 50 in the Gaza Strip and 32 in the West Bank, wounding an additional 616 persons. Israeli soldiers also killed several Palestinian children and 3 medical staff as they sought to attend to wounded. Now, they have killed an American peace activist. In this same period, only six Israeli’s were killed, all of them soldiers.

Why so many civilian casualties?

These killings are the product of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s escalation of Israeli Army assaults on Palestinian population centers following his re-election on January 28. Since that time, Israeli forces have largely focused their wrath on Gaza. They have conducted unprecedented armored military operations in Gaza city centers, pursued suspected militants deep into refugee camps and deployed bulldozers to destroy dozens of building and homes. This latter type of operation led to Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan’s deaths.

Israeli sympathizers may object that these assaults and civilians killings are justified in response to Palestinian suicide bombings but international law is clear that attacks on civilians are prohibited under any circumstance.

Palestinian suicide bombings are clearly war crimes, even though some Palestinians claim they are justified in response to Israeli massacres and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. However, Israeli military assaults that systematically result in civilian deaths are also war crimes, regardless of their justification. Both are reprehensible and must be condemned.

Moreover, few independent observers accept that Israel’s assaults on Palestinian civilian centers in the past two months correlate as responses to suicide bombs. These operations began nearly a month after the January 5 suicide bomb that killed over 20 Israeli’s in Tel Aviv. The only other suicide bomb this year came on March 5, well after the Israeli campaign in Gaza was underway. Furthermore, in both cases the suicide bombers came from the West Bank, not Gaza.

The reality is that Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan will also be forever linked as victims of the extremist Israeli leader Ariel Sharon’s relentless war on Palestinians on behalf of Israeli settlements and his vision of a Greater Israel that seeks total control of all of historic Palestine.

The escalating assaults on Gaza over the past month indicate that Ariel Sharon is preparing the way for an invasion and reconquest of the Gaza Strip to complement his reconquest of the West Bank last April. With the West Bank now firmly under Israeli control, Gaza has become the sole remaining area of armed Palestinian resistance to Israel. It stands in the way of Sharon imposing a settlement on the Palestinians that will assign them small, disconnected Bantustans surrounded by hundreds of Israeli settlements. Ariel Sharon was the original architect of the massive expansion of settlements after 1978 and continues to be their main patron.

Sharon is well known for his cold, calculating, tactical acumen, both as a General and as a politician. He is also known as a ruthless fighter and has been accused of crimes against humanity for his role in the massacre of nearly a thousand Palestinian women, children and elderly people in Beirut in 1982.

He is well aware of the sympathy Israel has received in response to the brutal suicide bomb attacks over the past few years. He knows that the world is focused on the impending war in Iraq. Thus, he has calculated that the time is right to set in motion the reoccupation of Gaza, even if it provokes further suicide bombings because he can use them as a pretext for even larger actions.

Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, outlined the logic of Sharon’s actions in a recent Christian Science Monitor article (13 Mar 2003).

"These raids can be a kind of rehearsal, with the idea to arrest someone, but also to see how to get in and out, what tactics to use. A rehearsal on live people. And the thinking is that if the world gets used to these short-term reoccupations, it will digest the long-term one."

Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan, over a hundred Palestinians and scores of Israeli civilians are the victims of this live rehearsal.

It is true that Palestinian suicide bombers have helped contribute to this cycle of violence through their own vicious acts. Indeed they have murdered women, children and innocent civilians as well.

However, this is not a symmetrical conflict. Israel dominates the lives and land of over 3 million Palestinians through massive military assaults, imprisonment of thousands, torture and systematic starvation policies that have lead to a major humanitarian crisis in many areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, Rachel had been working with other members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to defend a newly dug water well from Israeli attempts to destroy it before she was killed.

Moreover, since his return to power two years ago, Ariel Sharon has systematically escalated Israeli military assaults and assassinations in search of a military solution, despite the waves of suicide bombings, in order to achieve a very clear set of political objectives. At the top of the list has been the destruction of any base of Palestinian political and military resistance to Israeli settlements and permanent control of the land Israel occupied in 1967. Gaza is his last objective.

There is no "balance" in this conflict. It is time to call Israel into account for its war crimes and time to stop Ariel Sharon from imposing his violent dream of Greater Israel on Palestinians. It is time to stop the needless deaths of Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan and others, whether Palestinian or Israeli, or now, American.

STEVE NIVA is a Member of the Faculty at The Evergreen State College. He teaches international politics and Middle East studies. He met with Rachel Corrie before she left for Gaza in January and is deeply saddened by her tragic and unnecessary death. He can be reached at: niva@counterpunch.org

Editors’ note: an excellent story in the Electronic Intifada on the murder of Rachel Corrie is accompanied by a series of photographs of Rachel confronting the bulldozer. The disturbing photos clearly show that she was within plain view of the driver. She was wearing a bright red coat and holding a megaphone that she was using to warn the IDF man at the wheel of the dozer.

October 06, 2015
Vijay Prashad
Afghanistan, the Terrible War: Money for Nothing
Mike Whitney
How Putin will Win in Syria
Paul Street
Yes, There is an Imperialist Ruling Class
Paul Craig Roberts
American Vice
Kathy Kelly
Bombing Hospitals: 22 People Killed by US Airstrike on Doctors Without Borders Hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan
Ron Jacobs
Patti Smith and the Beauty of Memory
David Macaray
Coal Executive Finally Brought Up on Criminal Charges
Norman Pollack
Cold War Rhetoric: The Kept Intelligentsia
Cecil Brown
The Firing This Time: School Shootings and James Baldwin’s Final Message
Roger Annis
The Canadian Election and the Global Climate Crisis
W. T. Whitney
Why is the US Government Persecuting IFCO/Pastors for Peace Humanitarian Organization?
Jesse Jackson
Alabama’s New Jim Crow Far From Subtle
Joe Ramsey
After Umpqua: Does America Have a Gun Problem….or a Dying Capitalist Empire Problem?
Murray Dobbin
Rise Up, Precariat! Cheap Labour is Over
October 05, 2015
Michael Hudson
Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism
Patrick Cockburn
Why We Should Welcome Russia’s Entry Into Syrian War
Kristine Mattis
GMO Propaganda and the Sociology of Science
Heidi Morrison
Well-Intentioned Islamophobia
Ralph Nader
Monsanto and Its Promoters vs. Freedom of Information
Arturo Desimone
Retro-Colonialism: the Exportation of Austerity as War By Other Means
Robert M. Nelson
Noted Argentine Chemist Warns of Climate Disaster
Matt Peppe
Misrepresentation of the Colombian Conflict
Barbara Dorris
Pope Sympathizes More with Bishops, Less with Victims
Clancy Sigal
I’m Not a Scientologist, But I Wish TV Shrinks Would Just Shut Up
Chris Zinda
Get Outta’ Dodge: the State of the Constitution Down in Dixie
Eileen Applebaum
Family and Medical Leave Insurance, Not Tax Credits, Will Help Families
Pierre-Damien Mvuyekure
“Boxing on Paper” for the Nation of Islam, Black Nationalism, and the Black Athlete: a Review of “The Complete Muhammad Ali” by Ishmael Reed
Lawrence Ware
Michael Vick and the Hypocrisy of NFL Fans
Gary Corseri - Charles Orloski
Poets’ Talk: Pope Francis, Masilo, Marc Beaudin, et. al.
Weekend Edition
October 2-4, 2015
Henry Giroux
Murder, USA: Why Politicians Have Blood on Their Hands
Mike Whitney
Putin’s Lightning War in Syria
Jennifer Loewenstein
Heading Toward a Collision: Syria, Saudi Arabia and Regional Proxy Wars
John Pilger
Wikileaks vs. the Empire: the Revolutionary Act of Telling the Truth
Gary Leupp
A Useful Prep-Sheet on Syria for Media Propagandists
Jeffrey St. Clair
Pesticides, Neoliberalism and the Politics of Acceptable Death
Lawrence Ware – Paul Buhle
Insurrectional Black Power: CLR James on Race and Class
Joshua Frank
The Need to Oppose All Foreign Intervention in Syria
Oliver Tickell
Jeremy Corbyn’s Heroic Refusal to be a Nuclear Mass Murderer
Helen Yaffe
Che’s Economist: Remembering Jorge Risquet
Mark Hand
‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts
Michael Welton
Junior Partner of Empire: Why Canada’s Foreign Policy Isn’t What You Think
Yves Engler
War Crimes in the Dark: Inside Canada’s Special Forces
Arno J. Mayer
Israel: the Wages of Hubris and Violence
W. T. Whitney
Cuban Government Describes Devastating Effects of U. S. Economic Blockade
Brian Cloughley
The US-NATO Alliance Destroyed Libya, Where Next?