What happened in Gaza
Parents of deceased activist Rachel Corrie to keynote Israeli Apartheid Week
Rebecca Medel / firstname.lastname@example.org
Cindy Corrie says she’ll always remember the first night her daughter Rachel called home from Gaza, where she was protesting Israeli occupation of Palestinian land with the International Solidarity Movement.
“Her voice trembled when she asked if we could hear the shelling outside. And she was staying in the same house when she made that call; that was the house that she stood in front of when she was killed,” Cindy says. “But then during the weeks that followed she connected with the Palestinians and became so connected to the people and the children and the families that she was working with. We saw her confidence grow and I think ours did, too.”
Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003, less than two months after her arrival in Rafah, when she stood in front of a Palestinian home that was to be demolished. An Israeli bulldozer scooped her up in a pile of dirt and then ran her over, fracturing her body and skull. Fellow activists dug her out of the dirt and held her head straight as they waited for an ambulance, but Rachel died in the hospital half an hour later.
The Corries had been concerned for Rachel’s safety before she left for Gaza, but knew their daughter was passionate about taking a stand for human rights in Palestine. Her letters and emails home were lengthy and descriptive of what she saw.
“Rachel brought us to this issue. We were concerned, of course, when we learned that this was what she was thinking about doing, where she was thinking about going,” Cindy recalls.
“I’m a Vietnam War veteran,” adds Rachel’s father, Craig. “I was concerned when she went over there, but thought, ‘Was she going to be arrested if she got in somebody’s way?’ And of course she could have been, but it was when she got there and started to report what she saw: the bullet holes in houses that had children in them, and then I thought to myself, ‘This military is out of control.’ And so I felt like it was different, at least than the soldiers I was around—I know the US did some really awful things in Vietnam in simply being there; it was probably pretty awful from a Vietnamese point of view—but it wasn’t my squad. So I got a very different feeling once she went there and once she started reporting things.”
The Corries will be the keynote speakers at the fifth annual Israeli Apartheid Week in Edmonton from March 4 – 8. Scott Harris from the Palestinian Solidarity Movement is helping to organize the week and says, as this year is the 10th anniversary of Rachel’s death, they chose to ask the Corries to speak on how that event transformed their lives.
“One of the things we also try to do with Israeli Apartheid Week is talk to people about the importance of international solidarity with Palestinians,” Harris says. “And the Corries are just a really fantastic example of people becoming aware of the situation and then getting involved and becoming very active and very passionate about it.”
Along with fighting for justice for Rachel by taking the Israeli Defense Forces and Defense Ministry to court for Rachel’s death—last August the Israeli judge’s verdict was that Rachel’s death was an act of war, so Israel was not responsible; the family has filed an appeal—the Corries have been leading the Rachel Corrie Foundation to fight for human rights in Palestine and other parts of the world. Harris says three of the main components of the Israeli Apartheid Week are talking about the role of people internationally in supporting the Palestinians in their struggle, as the Corries do; explaining the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that 175 Palestinian-supporting organizations began in 2005 of Israeli goods and services; and drawing parallels between indigenous sovereignty in Canada and the Palestinian movement in Israel and Palestine. And, of course, there will be discussions about apartheid.
“The apartheid analogy is an interesting one. Obviously a lot of people instantly think of South Africa because that’s where the term emerged,” Harris says. “They’re not identical cases, but there are some very interesting parallels between the two systems. Apartheid actually has a legal definition in international fora and many commentators including Israeli politicians like Ehud Barak, including people who fought the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have made the analogy that elements of Israeli policies against the Palestinians meet the legal definition of apartheid. So it’s really that context that Palestinian solidarity activists such as PSN use the apartheid analogy.”
Shortly after Rachel was killed, the Corries were speaking at the University of Washington.
“A man came in and just ranted about, ‘Why does this blonde-haired American get all this attention and a dark-haired Palestinian girl would not?’ And then he stormed out,” Craig recalls. “And I remember feeling—and I think I said—Rachel would agree with you.”
Craig says he didn’t take the comment as a personal attack on his daughter, but a sad comment of the Western perspective of who we think the “other” is.
“I have lost my concept of other person. We’ve travelled a fair amount and we had not before Rachel was killed. And wherever you go it’s more of us, it’s not some other sort of people. The differences between people are so small and so much more worth treasuring than being worried about that I’ve lost a lot of that,” Craig says. “But of course it is true that because she was American she’s gotten a lot more press in the West than all those Palestinian children that are killed every day.”
Rachel was almost 24 years old when she was killed, and Craig notes the difference in age between his daughter and the young Israeli soldiers drafted out of high school makes a big difference: “You’re talking about four years of college, that’s a lot older.”
In fact, the young age of the soldiers impacted Cindy when they first arrived in Israel after Rachel’s death.
“I was just stunned by the number of guns and these very young people carrying their weapons around and that’s still the case in Haifa,” she recalls. “It was so appalling to me because you’d get on a train or you’d get on a bus and there they are. Eighteen- and 19-, 20-year-old kids carrying them around. The militarization of the place is very, very visible. And the fact that it’s a lot of young people doing a lot of the work is also very visible.”
The nine months the Corries spent in Haifa for the trial and the numerous other trips to Israel and Palestine over the past 10 years have only enforced to them why their daughter went there and that they international community needs to get involved.
“Every step of the way we recognized immediately why Rachel was there. It wasn’t about her, it was about being in solidarity with the Palestinians and particularly because of the responsibility that we in the US—we all have responsibility for this all over the world, but in the US because of the funding and so forth we have particular responsibility because we’re enabling it,” Cindy adds. “What I see from Palestinians who come to us all the time and who we have such remarkable relationships with is their understanding that Rachel’s story has really propelled their story forward and that that’s what she intended.”
All events during Israeli Apartheid Week are free to attend and more information can be found at edmonton.apartheidweek.org/.