A Mother’s Day Talk

Remarks delivered at Sylvester Park, Olympia, Washington, May 11, 2003

To all moms here, happy Mothers’ Day. This is a day some of us wait for in order to have a little reward for all the time we have spent in our lives reminding and making sure that all of the family birthdays, Fathers’ Day, and important days in our families’ lives are properly acknowledged. We deserve this day! We have earned it!

I have had lovely Mothers’ Days in my life. When my children were younger, I had to remain in bed until they could serve me breakfast there-French toast (sometimes a little crispier than usual) and orange juice-always lovingly, sometimes messily, most often safely prepared. There were gifts– handmade cards, poems, drawings, and coupon books. The latter promised hours of house cleanings, meals to be prepared on one of my busier days, and sometimes an unlimited number of hugs. I think I always collected on the hugs. I probably didn’t redeem all of the other coupons offered; but I knew on those mothers’ days that my childrens’ hearts and minds were filled with finding creative, tangible (and inexpensive) ways to say “I love you, Mom.” I am not sure that even now they completely, consciously understand that their greatest gift to me has always been simply in their being.

This Mothers’ Day, of course, is a unique one for me. As my kids grew into adulthood and as we spread out across the country, on Mothers’ Day I could count on a phone call from each of them-three kid calls in one day. ( For AT&T and Sprint, Mothers’Day is winning the lottery.) This year, I hear from Chris and Sarah by phone and in person. Not from Rachel, who on March 16 was killed by a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip, while trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition. Rachel is, though, powerfully with me-in the same way, I am sure, that other mothers have their lost children powerfully with them on this day.

The possibility of Mothers’ Day 2003 having more than the usual significance was sparked for me before Rachel died-a week before, when I was in Washington DC with other women gathered to challenge the pending war with Iraq. I spent a day in workshops and came across mothers planning to take Mothers Day back to its roots in this country, to Julia Ward Howe and her Declaration calling for a Mothers Day of Peace, and her model of challenging injustice and violence wherever it might be.

There have been, since Rachel’s death, others who have urged me to consider the power of mothers. On a radio call-in show out of Washington DC-the only call-in we have done– I was nervous but quickly heartened when two of the first calls came from mothers of Evergreen students who had learned of Rachel through their children. Then came one from a kind man who told me that I was talking to the wrong people in Washington DC-that instead of trying to communicate with the President, I needed to get in touch with Laura and Barbara Bush-with the mothers of the world. I told the gentleman that I have a great deal of confidence in mothers. And I do. I am bonded to mothers. I feel something deep in our core, something that happens when a child comes into our lives that keeps us grounded in our awareness of the sanctity of that being and by transference keeps us grounded in our awareness of the sanctity of all human beings. I believe that the policies of this country and the money that follows them in the world, should reflect values that most mothers here hold–the sanctity of each life, the equal value of each human being, and a commitment to justice applied equally through adherence to law.

My attention, of course, has been drawn to injustices in the U.S./ Israeli/ Palestinian conflict. I meant today to talk with you about other mothers-brave Palestinian and Israeli mothers– but I have just learned of things that concern me greatly and that I must share with you. The International Solidarity Movement, the group with which Rachel worked, “was founded to provide the Palestinian people with a resource, international protection and a voice with which to resist nonviolently, an overwhelming military occupation force. In the last couple days the Israeli military has increased pressure on foreigners in the West Bank and particularly in the Gaza Strip and appears to be specifically targeting the ISM. Two British members, Nick and Alice, were held at a checkpoint for twenty-eight hours, with no arrest and no charges and are now being held at a settlement apparently for deportation. I believe Alice, is the woman who comforted Rachel as she was dying. Alice is Jewish and has cousins in Israel whom she fears for when she hears of a suicide bombing.

Friday, approximately twenty military vehicles surrounded the ISM media office, seized ISM computers and video equipment, pillaged files and photos, broke equipment and damaged office space. Three females in the office (one from Human Rights Watch, a Palestinian volunteer, and an American volunteer) were taken away. The Palestinian has been released. The internationals are apparently still being held-most likely for deportation. It is reported that these incidents are part of an overall plan to remove ISM from the West Bank and Gaza. The Associated Press states, “Under Israel’s new rules, foreigners entering Gaza must sign a document in which they agree not to enter military areas along the Israeli-Egyptian border and ‘other areas of combat’ and in which they absolve Israel of all responsibility in the case of their injury or death.” While the new regulations appear aimed at the ISM, the Associated Press states, “the regulations appear also to give the military considerable discretion in keeping away other foreign nationals–journalists, aid workers, and those trying to monitor the fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians.” Amnesty International has issued a statement saying it is concerned that “one aim of these new and drastic restrictions is to prevent outside monitoring and scrutiny of the conduct of the Israeli army.” Our family does not know what reason the Israeli military is using for its actions against ISM. We do know that they said our daughter was in the Occupied Territories illegally. When we questioned our own State Department about this, they said they knew of absolutely no law that Rachel broke.

I want to point out that the “the areas of combat” that the Israeli military speaks of are the residential streets of Gaza and the West Bank- on land that belongs to the Palestinian people.

I want to point out that it is to these densely populated neighborhoods that the tanks and bulldozers come to carry out their military operations–operations that include destroying homes, greenhouses, olive tree orchards, and wells. These are the neighborhoods over which American made and financed Apache helicopters fly and where the snipers in the Israeli watchtowers that surround the area direct their ammunition.

I want to point out that this past week, 19 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed by the Israeli military. The dead include five children, an old man, and a handicapped male. Thirteen of these deaths occurred in Gaza City’s al-Shojaeya neighborhood where additionally forty Palestinians were wounded. Access to ambulances and medical staff was obstructed. Walls of some homes were destroyed. One thirty-six year old and his family were forced out of their house, ordered to take off their clothes and were then used as human shields to protect the Israeli soldiers from Palestinian resistance men confronting the forces. This use of civilians as human shields is illegal under international law.

This week, in other Palestinian areas, other children were killed and injured when Israeli forces opened fire damaging houses and hitting a hospital and school. One child was killed when forces opened fire on stone throwers.

A British journalist, James Miller, making an HBO documentary on the lives of Palestinian children in Rafah, was killed by Israeli forces though he and others had come out of a house waving a white flag and wearing vests marked “TV.”

Eighteen houses were destroyed in Rafah this week, leaving more than 100 more Palestinian civilians homeless. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Regugees, since the beginning of the current strife in 2000, 12,737 Palestinians have seen their homes demolished. A great many demolitions have occurred near Gaza’s border with Egypt where Israel is building what they call a security fence.

On May 2 Israeli military with heavy vehicles and bulldozers moved into a Gazan village and razed fifteen pieces of Palestinian land planted with wheat, onions, wild figs, and olives. Iron-roofed rooms and irrigation networks were also destroyed.

These occurrences of the past week are not unique. They happen day after day in Palestine.

I do not need to point out, because you all know, that there are suicide bombings in Israel. These are horrible, indiscriminate, illegal acts of violence. Though there is no balance of power between the Israeli and Palestinian people, the fear is very real on both sides. The violence, however, inside Israel is a direct result of the 36 year occupation of Palestine and of the ongoing abuse of Palestinian human rights. There are no home demolitions in Israel, no gardens and orchards destroyed there, no wells and cisterns damaged and water taken away, no land taken away to create settlements, roads, and apartheid walls.

We in America see the horror of the suicide bombings. We seem to see much less the ongoing, violence against the Palestinian people. Our blindness is an enormous contributing factor to this problem. We need to remember that as we have watched the deaths of some of the 773 Israelis who have died since September 2000, that there have also been 2298 Palestinian deaths. In this booklet now dedicated to Rachel-are the names and some of faces of the children who have died since September 2000– Israeli, Palestinian. We need to remember them all.

The news of the past couple days has left me no choice but to come to you with the hope that some of you will be moved to action this Mothers’ Day. I urge you to take your voices to members of Congress, to the White House, to the State Department, to the Israeli Embassy. Tell them that the International Solidarity Movement and other international human rights activists in Palestine need their support. Tell them that, of course, the Israeli military does not want these activists watching and interfering as it commits one human rights violation after another. Tell them that the United States, which funds the out-of-control military activity in Palestine, should insist that international human rights observers be in the area but that until they do, it is imperative to support the non-violent activists who are there now. Tell them that the timid response from the U.S. and British governments to Rachel’s death and that of journalist James Miller, and to the shootings of Brian Avery and Tom Hurndall gives Israel the green light to establish these new, harsh tactics to further intimidate the non-violent activists. It has been pointed out to me that the response to date by the U.S. and British governments to these incidents is sending a chilling message to human rights activists round the world. Our government must take a much stronger stand.

There have been times when I have been quiet because I felt there were others who knew more. There are some who would like to quiet me now and who would like to quiet the power of Rachel’s message, too. I am no longer intimidated by experts and critics and certainly not by the name-callers. After all, my daughter stood in front of a bulldozer in order to protect the Palestinian home of a family with three young children. I believe that I can speak out and that I have a responsibility as a mother to speak out and to demand that the experts, the policymakers, Congress, and the White House reflect our values-our beliefs in the sanctity of each life, in the equality of each human being, and in justice and the rule of law.

I want to close with a few short excerpts from a few of the letters we have received from around the world::

From the Director Emeritus of a Jewish Studies Program at a major U.S. University where these words were spoken at a Memorium for Rachel: “Our Jewish Scripture says in Deuteronomy, Chapter 16, verse 20) “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” The obverse of this biblical injunction is “Injustice, injustice you shall oppose!” And Rachel Corrie opposed injustice. For that we will honor her. For that we will remember her. But more importantly, for her sacrifice, for her premature death to have the greatest meaning, we must, as best we can, continue the struggle she so ardently undertook. May her example, and her life be a blessing to us all and may her dream of a better world come about speedily and in our time.”

From a woman in Israel who wrote to her friend here in Olympia, “We need all our young people, ours and theirs.”

From a woman in New York state: “My grandparents fled the pogroms of Russia a hundred years ago and spent decades working for the creation of a Jewish homeland. I’m certain that if they were alive, they would weep for all that is happening there now, as I do.”

From a group of thirty-five in North Carolina: “We mourn Rachel’s death, as we mourn the death of every Palestinian and Israeli man, woman, and child. We are a group of Jews who believe that the Occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is unjust, immoral, and completely contradictory to the best interests not only of the Palestinian people but of Israel and the Jewish people. We work to help people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to find their voice, to speak up and speak out, to understand that criticism of the Israeli government and its inhumane policies is not only important, but absolutely critical to our future.”

And from a Muslim in the Middle East: ” I write to you as a parent myself and also as a Muslim who believes passionately in the freedom and dignity of every individual on our earth. It seems to me that we too carelessly forget or disbelieve our shared identity across all times and cultures, when in fact we are one human family desperately in need of peacemakers.”

CINDY CORRIE can be reached at: corrie@counterpunch.org.