The Israeli bulldozer driver who killed Evergreen State University student Rachel Corrie in Rafah, Gaza was probably not a public relations expert. Still he could not have picked a better time to commit a war crime when the US media as well as peace movement have geared up to focus all their attention on a war two countries away from Palestine. Perhaps it is with callous words that I must cope with the death of someone I did not know who made me cry when I saw her picture.
As I think of everything we must do to make Rachel’s tragedy provoke a positive, permanent change in the shape of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict forever, I am haunted by the realization that she did not go to Palestine to be a martyr. Consider these words from her March 3rd International Solidarity Movement report:
“Internationals here can walk in front of tanks on Palestinian land without being killed. We can only imagine what it is like for Palestinians living here for whom this is not a nightmare, but a continuous reality from which international privilege cannot protect them.”
Rachel took it as self-evident that no Israeli soldier or bulldozer driver would dare kill the citizen of a country from whom Israel was requesting a $11 billion aid package. She did not relish her ‘international privilege’–she tried her best to share it. Her duty as she saw it was not to become a poster child but to fulfill the obligations of international peacekeepers under Articles 140, 142, and 143 of the Geneva Convention to gather information about military attacks against civilians in war zones as well as protect civilians from these attacks. She followed in the footsteps of thousands of US citizens who have gone abroad to prevent civilian loss of life with their bodies since the time of the Reagan years in Central America and even before then.
Rachel’s two primary pursuits as an International Solidarity Movement volunteer in Rafah, Gaza were to prevent unlawful housing demolitions and protect Rafah’s water supply. On several occasions, she and other ISM volunteers successfully prevented Israeli tanks from killing Rafah water officials as they repaired the Tel e-Sultan wells which the Israeli military has repeatedly tried to destroy. On March 4th, she was actually able to convince the US military attach? to stop Israeli gunfire within minutes against a house where she slept in a rare showing of support for US citizens by the Tel Aviv Embassy.
Rachel saved many lives and many houses in the month and a half she got to spend alive in Rafah. Still she has died and the precedent a lukewarm response by the United States government would set could have enormous repercussions for all future US peacekeepers as well as the future of Palestine and Israel.
What should the peace movement do to honor Rachel Corrie? First, we must not let our government fork over the $11 billion Israel has requested in supplemental aid without fundamental changes in Israeli policy. Second, we must ensure that our State Department makes definitive changes in its policy towards US peacekeepers who put their lives on the line just as courageously and for more noble reasons than the troops flag-waving patriots scream for us to support. Third, we must work to root out the racism in our own communities which require the death of a white girl to notice the thousands of dark-skinned Palestinians who have died in similar circumstances. Fourth, we absolutely cannot get washed away in protesting the war with Iraq to the point of abandoning the tragedy faced by the immigrant people of Israel and the indigenous people of Palestine and caused by the cowboy sheiks who use Christian and Islamic fundamentalism and tragically misguided gladiators to distract their populations from domestic problems and whet their own Apocalyptic fantasies.
Those of us who call ourselves nonviolent will lose political credibility if we hesitate to take action in Rachel’s honor for the justice of Palestine. If we do rise up and compel permanent change to take place in US and Israeli policy, then Rachel Corrie will be remembered as a witness to the world for the triumph of nonviolence over tragedy.
MORGAN GUYTON works with Tri-City Action for Peace in Saginaw, Michigan. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org