Sunday, June 6, 2010
Who's Rachel Corrie?
Rachel Aliene Corrie (April 10, 1979 – March 16, 2003) was an American member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She was crushed to death in the Gaza Strip by an Israel Defence Forces (IDF) bulldozer when she was kneeling in front of a local Palestinian's home, thus acting as a human shield, attempting to prevent IDF forces from demolishing the home. The IDF has claimed that the death was due to the restricted angle of view of the IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer driver, while ISM eyewitnesses said "there was nothing to obscure the driver's view." A student at the Evergreen State College, she had taken a year off and traveled to the Gaza Strip during the Second Intifada.
Corrie was born on April 10, 1979, and raised in Olympia, Washington, United States. She was the youngest of the three children of Craig Corrie, an insurance executive, and Cindy Corrie, an amateur flautist. Cindy Corrie describes their family as "average Americans — politically liberal, economically conservative, middle class".
After graduating from Capital High School, Corrie went on to attend The Evergreen State College (TESC), also located in Olympia, where she took a number of arts courses. She took one year off from her studies to work as a volunteer in the Washington State Conservation Corps; other volunteer work included making weekly visits to patients with mental disorders for three years. In her senior year, she proposed an independent-study program in which she would travel to Gaza, join protesters from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and initiate a "sister city" project between Olympia and Rafah. Before leaving, she also organized a pen-pal program between kids in Olympia and Rafah.
Activities in the West Bank and Gaza
After flying to Israel on January 22, 2003, Corrie underwent a two-day training course at ISM West Bank headquarters, before heading to Rafah to participate in ISM demonstrations. During her training, Corrie studied tactics of direct action. Basic rules about avoiding harm were given, which a featured article on the Corrie incident summarized as: "Wear fluorescent jackets. Don't run. Don't frighten the army. Try to communicate by megaphone. Make your presence known." On January 27, 2003, Corrie and William Hewitt (also from Olympia), traveled to the Erez checkpoint and entered the Gaza Strip.
While in Rafah, Corrie acted as a human shield in an attempt to impede house demolitions carried out by the IDF using armored bulldozers. On Corrie's first night there, she and two other ISM members set up camp inside Block J, often a target for Israeli gunfire. Israeli troops fired bullets over their tent and at the ground a few feet away. Deciding that their presence was provoking the Israeli soldiers, not deterring them, Corrie and her colleagues hurriedly dismantled their tent and left the area.
Qishta, a Palestinian who worked as an interpreter, noted that: "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 confrontations were not without harm to the activists; a British participant was wounded by shrapnel.
Palestinian militants expressed concern that the "internationals" staying in tents between the Israeli watchtowers and the residential neighborhoods would get caught in crossfire, while other residents were concerned that the young activists might be spies. Corrie worked hard to overcome this suspicion, learning a few words of Arabic, participating in a mock trial denouncing the "crimes of the Bush Administration." With time, the ISM members were taken into Palestinian family homes, and provided with meals and beds. Even so, in the days before Corrie's death, a letter gained wide circulation in Rafah, casting suspicion again on the ISM members. "Who are they? Why are they here? Who asked them to come here?" it asked. The letter caused the activists to be preoccupied and frustrated, and on the morning of Corrie's death they planned ways to counteract its effects. According to one activist, "We all had a feeling that our role was too passive. We talked about how to engage the Israeli military."
On March 14, 2003, during an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting network, Corrie said:
"I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive ... Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with."
Water well human shielding efforts
According to a January 2003 article by Gordon Murray, in the last month of her life Rachel "spent a lot of time at the Canada Well helping protect Rafah municipal workers," who were trying to repair damages to the well incurred by Israeli bulldozers. Built in 1999 with CIDA funding, Canada Well, together with El Iskan Well, had supplied more than 50% of Rafah's water before being damaged, and the city had been under "strict rationing (only a few hours of running water on alternate days)" since. Murray writes that ISM activists were maintaining a presence there since "Israeli snipers and tanks routinely shot at civilian workers trying to repair the wells." In one of her reports, Corrie relates that despite having received permission from Israeli District Command Office, and carrying "banners and megaphones the activists and workers were fired upon several times over a period of about one hour. One of the bullets came within two metres of three internationals and a municipal water worker close enough to spray bits of debris in their faces as it landed at their feet." According to Murray, the Canadian government refused to "officially protest or denounce the Israeli army actions", yet "quietly agreed to help fund the estimated $450,000 repair costs".
Friends described her as "attractive in a plain-spoken way, the opposite of flashy, not working to call attention to herself. She was reserved in large crowds but intimate one-on-one". Colin Reese, Corrie's roommate, said she had wanted to become a writer and artist. Reese also said she was "not the most punctual or tidy person in the world," but that when it came to peace work, she "would work harder and longer than anybody else".
Corrie's death and subsequent controversy
On March 16, 2003, an IDF operation in the land between the Rafah refugee camp and the border with Egypt was engaged in house demolition, which the IDF says is necessary to destroy guerrilla hideouts and smuggling tunnels. Corrie was part of a group of seven ISM activists (three British and four US) attempting to disrupt the actions of Israeli bulldozers. Corrie, who had positioned herself in the path of a Caterpillar D9R armored bulldozer, was fatally injured. She was transported to a Palestinian hospital. Accounts vary as to whether she died at the scene, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, or at the hospital.
The events surrounding Corrie's death are disputed. ISM eyewitnesses assert that the Israeli soldier driving the bulldozer deliberately ran Corrie over while she was acting as a human shield to prevent the demolition of the home of local pharmacist Samir Nasrallah. The ISM said she was interposed between the bulldozer and a wall near Nasrallah's home, in which ISM activists had several times spent the night. The Israeli Government and the IDF denied that version of events and described Corrie's death as an accident. The official Israeli response stated that Corrie was killed by debris pushed over by the bulldozer, that the driver did not see her, and that the bulldozer was clearing brush and not engaged in a demolition when Corrie blocked its path. This was the conclusion reached in June 2003 by a military investigation by the Israel Defense Forces Judge Advocate’s Office. “The driver at no point saw or heard Corrie,” an army source told the Jerusalem Post. “She was standing behind debris which obstructed the view of the driver and the driver had a very limited field of vision due to the protective cage he was working in.” Other reports say the Israeli government alleged that the house being demolished contained a tunnel used for smuggling weapons from Egypt.
The major points of dispute are whether the bulldozer driver saw Corrie, and whether her injuries were caused by being crushed under the blade or by the mound of debris the bulldozer was pushing. An IDF spokesman has acknowledged that Israeli army regulations normally require that the drivers of the armored personnel carriers (APCs) that accompany bulldozers are responsible for directing the drivers towards their targets, because the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers have a restricted field of vision with several blind spots. However, the Israeli army commander of the Gaza Strip said in an interview broadcast on Israeli television that on the day of Corrie's death, soldiers had to stay in their armored vehicles and were not able to direct the bulldozer or arrest the protesters, because of the threat of Palestinian sniper fire. He also said that Israeli soldiers may have been handling other ISM activists instead of watching over the bulldozer. In a statement issued the day after Corrie's death, the ISM said that, "When the bulldozer refused to stop or turn aside she climbed up onto the mound of dirt and rubble being gathered in front of it... to look directly at the driver who kept on advancing."
The IDF produced a video about Corrie's death that includes footage taken from inside the cockpit of a D9. It makes a "credible case", Joshua Hammer wrote of this video in Mother Jones, that "the operators, peering out through narrow, double-glazed, bulletproof windows, their view obscured behind pistons and the giant scooper, might not have seen Corrie kneeling in front of them."
ISM and other eyewitness accounts
Joe Carr, an American ISM activist who used the assumed name of Joseph Smith during his time in Gaza, gave the following account in an affidavit recorded and published by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR):
Still wearing her fluorescent jacket, she knelt down at least 15 meters in front of the bulldozer, and began waving her arms and shouting, just as activists had successfully done dozens of times that day... When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer... Her head and upper torso were above the bulldozer’s blade, and the bulldozer driver and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the driver continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the diver. [sic] He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer. We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted; one activist with the megaphone. But the bulldozer driver continued forward, until Rachel was all the way underneath the central section of the bulldozer.
On March 18, 2003, only two days after Corrie's death, Joe (Smith) Carr was interviewed by British Channel 4 and The Observer reporter Sandra Jordan for a documentary that was aired June 2003 on Channel 4 titled The Killing Zone.
"It was either a really gross mistake or a really brutal murder"
According to the Seattle Times, "Smith, who witnessed Sunday's incident, said it began when Corrie sat down in front of the bulldozer. He said the driver scooped her up with a pile of earth, dumped her on the ground and ran over her twice."
Smith also observed:
"We were horribly surprised. They had been careful not to hurt us. They'd always stopped before."
British ISM activist Tom Dale, who was standing yards away from Corrie, told journalist Joshua Hammer, Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek:
The bulldozer built up earth in front of it... She tried to climb on top of the earth, to avoid being overwhelmed. She climbed to the point where her shoulders were above the top lip of the blade. She was standing on this pile of earth. As the bulldozer continued, she lost her footing, and she turned and fell down this pile of earth. Then it seemed like she got her foot caught under the blade. She was helpless, pushed prostrate, and looked absolutely panicked, with her arms out, and the earth was piling itself over her. The bulldozer continued so that the place where she fell down was directly beneath the cockpit... The whole [incident] took place in about six or seven seconds.
An individual giving the name Richard, who stated that he witnessed Corrie's death, as recorded by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz:
There's no way he didn't see her, since she was practically looking into the cabin. At one stage, he turned around toward the building. The bulldozer kept moving, and she slipped and fell off the plow. But the bulldozer kept moving, the shovel above her. I guess it was about 10 or 15 meters that it dragged her and for some reason didn't stop. We shouted like crazy to the driver through loudspeakers that he should stop, but he just kept going and didn't lift the shovel. Then it stopped and backed up. We ran to Rachel. She was still breathing.
British ISM activist Richard Purssell gave the following account, in an affidavit made in a manner similar to Carr's:
As the bulldozer reached the place where Rachel was standing, she began as many of us did on the day to climb the pile of earth. She reached the top and at this point she must have been clearly visible to the driver, especially as she was still wearing the high visibility jacket ["orange fluorescent... with reflective strips"]. She turned and faced in my direction and began to come back down the pile. The bulldozer continued to move forward at [5-6 mph]. As her feet hit the ground I saw a panicked expression on her face... The pile of earth engulfed her and she was hidden from my view.
Some eyewitness accounts indicate that when Corrie slipped and fell, the driver may have been looking behind him.
The bulldozer driver, a Russian immigrant to Israel, was interviewed on Israeli TV and insisted he had no idea she was in front of him:
You can't hear, you can't see well. You can go over something and you'll never know. I scooped up some earth, I couldn't see anything. I pushed
the earth, and I didn't see her at all. Maybe she was hiding in there.
Article from Wikipedia
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Posted by ummu ijlal at 9:36 AM