Rachel Aliene Corrie (April 10, 1979 – March 16, 2003) was an American activist and diarist.
In contested circumstances during the height of the second Palestinian intifada, she was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armoured bulldozer belonging to the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
She had gone to Gaza as part of her college senior-year independent-study proposal to connect her hometown and Rafah as sister cities. While there, she had joined other ISM activists in efforts to prevent the Israeli army’s demolition of Palestinian houses. According to the Israeli authorities, the demolitions were carried out to eliminate weapons-smuggling tunnels. According to human rights groups, the demolitions were used as collective punishment.
The exact nature of her death and the culpability of the bulldozer operator are disputed, with fellow ISM protestors saying that the Israeli soldier operating the bulldozer deliberately ran over Corrie, and Israeli eyewitnesses saying that it was an accident since the bulldozer operator could not see her. The Israeli army conducted an investigation, which concluded that the death was an accident and that the driver of the bulldozer could not see Corrie due to limited visibility from his cab. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as B’Tselem and Yesh Din criticized the military investigation.
In 2005, Corrie’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel. The lawsuit charged Israel with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case and with responsibility for her death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect. They sued for a symbolic one US dollar in damages. An Israeli court rejected their suit in August 2012 and upheld the results of the 2003 military investigation, ruling that the Israeli government was not responsible for Corrie’s death. The ruling was met with criticism by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and by activists. An appeal against this ruling was heard on May 21, 2014. On February 14, 2015, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the appeal.
“The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly. People without privilege will be doing this work no matter what, because they are working for their lives. We can work with them, and they know that we work with them, or we can leave them to do this work themselves and curse us for our complicity in killing them.“
Rachel Corrie was a young activist whose life, at 23, ended abruptly on March 16, 2003, while she was working as a protester in the Gaza Strip. She grew up in Olympia, Washington, attended Capital High School and then The Evergreen State College. While in college, Corrie joined the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace, and later, the International Solidarity Movement, or ISM.
After graduating from Capital High School, Corrie went on to attend The Evergreen State College, also in Olympia, where she took a number of arts courses. She took a year off from her studies to work as a volunteer in the Washington State Conservation Corps. According to the ISM, she spent three years making weekly visits to mental patients.
While at Evergreen State College she became a “committed peace activist” arranging peace events through a local pro-ISM group called “Olympians for Peace and Solidarity”. She later joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) organisation in order to protest the policies of the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In her senior year, she “proposed an independent-study program in which she would travel to Gaza, join the ISM team, and initiate a ‘sister city’ project between Olympia and Rafah”. Before leaving, she also organized a pen-pal program between children in Olympia and Rafah.
Rachel Corrie’s efforts to help the resistance movement cost her her life on March 16, 2003. She had placed herself between a Caterpillar bulldozer and a local home, trying to prevent the IDF from demolishing it. She was run over twice by the vehicle and killed.
After her death, The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice was founded to “support programs that foster connections between people, that build understanding, respect, and appreciation for differences, and that promote cooperation within and between local and global communities.” Actor Alan Rickman and writer Katherine Viner put together a play based on Corrie’s letters, journals, and emails called “My Name is Rachel Corrie.” It played in London in 2005, and after an initial postponement in the US, had a limited run Off-Broadway in New York.
Activities in the Palestinian territories
While in Rafah, Corrie stood in front of armored bulldozers, in an alleged attempt to impede house demolitions that were being carried out. Demolitions were a common tactic employed along the security road near the border between Israel and Egypt at Rafah to uncover explosive devices and destroy tunnels used by terrorists to smuggle weapons from Egypt to Gaza. These military operations were criticized as “collective punishment” by some human rights groups. Israel authorities said that demolitions were necessary because “Palestinian gunmen used the structures as cover to shoot at their troops patrolling in the area, or to conceal arms-smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.”Corrie was a member of a group of about eight activists from outside of the Palestinian territories who tried to prevent the Israeli army’s activities by acting as human shields.
On Corrie’s first night there, she and two other ISM members set up camp inside Block J, which the ISM described as “a densely populated neighborhood along the Pink Line and frequent target of gunfire from an Israeli watchtower”. By situating themselves visibly between the Palestinians and the Israeli snipers manning the watchtowers they hoped to discourage shooting by displaying banners stating that they were “internationals”. When Israeli soldiers fired warning shots, Corrie and her colleagues dismantled their tent and left the area.
Qishta, a Palestinian who worked as an interpreter, noted: “Late January and February was a very crazy time. There were house demolitions taking place all over the border strip and the activists had no time to do anything else.”Qishta also stated of the ISM activists: “They were not only brave; they were crazy.”The safety of the protestors was frequently jeopardized by these confrontations— a British participant was wounded by shrapnel while retrieving the body of a Palestinian man killed by a sniper, and an Irish ISM activist had a close encounter with an armored bulldozer.
Palestinian militants expressed concern that the “internationals” staying in tents between the Israeli watchtowers and the residential neighborhoods would get caught in the crossfire. In contrast, other residents were concerned that the activists might be spies. To overcome this suspicion Corrie learned a few words of Arabic and participated in a mock trial denouncing the “crimes of the Bush Administration”. While the ISM members were eventually provided with food and housing, a letter was circulated in Rafah that cast suspicion on them. “Who are they? Why are they here? Who asked them to come here?” On the morning of Corrie’s death, they planned to counteract the letter’s effects. According to one of them, “We all had a feeling that our role was too passive. We talked about how to engage the Israeli military.”
Corrie’s parent’s reaction
Corrie’s father, Craig Corrie has said “I know there’s stuff you can’t see out of the double glass windows.” But he has denied that as a valid excuse, saying “you’re responsible for knowing what’s in front of your blade… It’s a no brainer that this was gross negligence”. He added that “they had three months to figure out how to deal with the activists there.”
The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice
The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice continues the work that Rachel Corrie began and hoped to accomplish and carries out that work with her vision, spirit, and creative energy in mind. We conduct and support programs that foster connections between people, build understanding, respect, and appreciation for differences, and promote cooperation within and between local and global communities. The foundation encourages and supports grassroots efforts to pursue human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice, which we view as pre-requisites for world peace.
My Name Is Rachel Corrie
My Name Is Rachel Corrie is a play based on the diaries and emails of activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed by an Israeli soldier when she was age 23. It was jointly edited by journalist Katharine Viner and actor Alan Rickman who also directed it.
Since then, the name Rachel Corrie has become a byword for solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It was chosen as the name for an Irish aid ship that set out for Gaza in 2010 and her story has been told in a number of documentary films portraying Palestinian suffering.
Her family later filed a civil lawsuit against the Israeli authorities for their daughter’s death. But an Israeli court acquitted the bulldozer driver in a controversial 2013 verdict — a decision denounced by a number of rights groups.
“No amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word-of-mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here,” she wrote. “You just can’t imagine it unless you see it.”