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The Struggle for Rachel Corrie’s Legacy



Two weeks ago, an Israeli court ruled that the death of Rachel Corrie, a Palestinian solidarity activist crushed by an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) armored bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, was her own fault and not the result of military negligence. Brendan O’Neill, blogging for The Telegraph, wrote a scathing critique of Rachel Corrie, her posthumous supporters, and the broader Palestinian solidarity movement.

According to O’Neill, Corrie’s “cheerleaders,” as he smugly describes them, have engaged in her “secular beatification” and “turned [her] into Saint Rachel of the Put-Upon Palestinians” which “captures everything that is wrong with the modern day solidarity with Palestine.”

O’Neill does not spare Corrie herself either, launching a full on assault on her character as well as her legacy—he is, after all, a self-proclaimed warrior, battling “misanthropy, priggishness, prejudice, luddism, illiberalism and irrationalism in all their ancient and modern forms.”

He dismisses her motivations for joining the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and suggests that she was nothing more than a present day Rudyard Kipling, solemnly carrying out what she perceived as her moral duty to protect an oppressed people which she felt were incapable of surviving on their own.  “The transformation of Corrie’s life and death into a black-and-white morality tale…sums up the boneheadedness of modern-day Palestinian solidarity,” he concludes.

Throughout his exaggerated and nauseatingly self-righteous polemic, O’Neill never once addresses the actual issues surrounding Corrie’s death: was she truly invisible to the soldier behind the wheel of the bulldozer, who proceeded to back up over her lifeless cadaver? Did the Israeli military conduct a satisfactory investigation, as it assured the US government it would? Should the international community stand with folded arms as Israel demolishes civilian homes in the occupied territories?

In other words, Israel’s ostensibly endless policy of ethnic cleansing is exempt from criticism. The 23-year-old American activist who felt a moral obligation to protest the crimes in which her government was complicit, however, is the truly guilty party.

Rather than attacking Palestinians, the strategy employed by Israel’s advocates within the corporate media establishment is to launch a thorough smear campaign against those who support Palestinian rights, whoever they may be: journalists, academics, politicians, intellectuals, activists. In order to do so, they consciously ignore the possibility of Israeli injustice or Western complicity.

These supporters tout the country’s Supreme Court as a bulwark of its democratic institutions. Yet, it is the exception and not the rule that the Supreme Court condemns state violence—in any case, the IDF has a long history of noncompliance with court rulings that the military elite deemed unfavorable. Indeed, the old trope originally applied to Algeria—rather than a state with a military, it was a military with a state—paints a stunningly accurate portrait of Israel today.

The besieged Gaza Strip, a regular target of Israel’s lengthy carpet bombing campaigns and frequent land incursions, is now an open air prison, a place from which news of dozens of civilian casualties alights each week. In the West Bank, settler violence has soared over the last few years, and the daily theft of private Palestinian property is rendering a two-state solution closer and closer to impossibility. The Palestinian economy, a market shackled by asymmetrical agreements to its Western benefactors and its much larger Israeli counterpart, is in ruins.

According to O’Neill, it is the late Rachel Corrie and those who demand justice for her death, however, who deserve condemnation. When she died, she was acting as a human shield to prevent the demolition of homes and water wells in the Rafah refugee camp—O’Neill dismisses this as a brand of Western racism akin to Christian missionaries in Africa; Judge Oded Gershon, who rejected  the Corrie family’s lawsuit, describes this as “de-facto violence.”

The IDF, on the other hand, justifies the ongoing expansion of West Bank settlements on security grounds, arguing that they serve as barriers between Palestinians and the state of Israel.  Settlers, in other words, are Israel’s frontline human shields. As they decry the ISM’s strategy of using international activists to prevent home demolitions and settler violence, neither O’Neill nor Judge Gershon mention the IDF’s use of over 350,000 Israeli citizens as human shields.

“We will continue,” said Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, addressing a crowd of Palestinians and internationals last week at the Alternative Information Center in Beit Sahour.  “The judge accepted the testimony that the bulldozer had a blind spot. The real blind spot is Israel’s towards humanity.”

It appears that Brendan O’Neill, along with likeminded pundits, also lacks 20/20 vision. His longwinded assault on Rachel Corrie’s legacy “sums up the boneheadness” of Israel’s modern-day allies in the corporate media establishment.

Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance journalist living and traveling on both sides of the Green Line in Israel and Palestine. He is a weekly Israel-Palestine correspondent for Bikya Masr.
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