March 16: A Sad Anniversary--On Rachel Corrie's Death

March 16.  The hills are green and the fruit trees are in bloom.  Seven years ago today, the hills around Nablus were studded with pink cyclamen, red poppies, and scarlet anemones.  I had gone with a group of volunteers from the International Solidarity Movement to check out a report that soldiers were harassing a village.  When we arrived, the soldiers were gone and the villagers feasted us.  We were returning to the city when we got a call that a young woman volunteer named Rachel Corrie had been crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer down in Gaza as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.

I wasn’t with Rachel when she died, but I went down to Gaza a few days later to support the team that was with her.  I heard their debrief by Doctors Without Borders—the eyewitness descriptions of what happened.  Rachel had been talking to the bulldozer operator just a few moments before her death.  She was standing in front of him, clearly visible in an orange fluorescent vest.  He proceeded forward—she went down.  The Israeli military conducted a perfunctory investigation, and exonerated him, as they have done in all but a very few cases of civilian deaths, whether of international activists or of Palestinians.

Today, Rachel Corrie’s  parents are in Israel and Palestine pursuing a civil suit against the Israeli government, to hold them accountable for Rachel’s unlawful death.

Another suit is being waged by the parents of Tristan Anderson, another ISM activist and a long time friend of mine who is still recovering from severe brain damage suffered when an Israeli soldier shot him at close range with a tear gas canister.

These deaths are a window into the larger culture of impunity that pervades the Israeli military.  According to figures provided to the Israeli Human Rights organization Yesh Din, during the years of the second intifada, between September 2000 and June 2007,  90% of investigations of criminal offenses in which Israeli Defense Forces harmed or killed Palestinians ended with the files being closed and without indictments being filed.  And out of the 239 investigations on killing and injury of Palestinian civilians, less than 7% resulted in convictions—only 16 cases.

Impunity compounds injustice.  When the powerful are not held accountable for their crimes, two standards are created.  There’s Good Violence—which is what the state and the more powerful do to the less powerful, and Bad Violence, which is what the less powerful do to resist.  Good Violence is heroic while Bad Violence is vile, cowardly terrorism.  When the Hammas in Gaza fires rockets and kill three Israeli civilians—that’s Bad Violence (and it is bad, a war crime.)   But when Israel in retaliation invades Gaza and kills fourteen hundred Palestinians and destroys four thousand homes, that’s Good Violence, and anyone who opposes it or asks for accountability is most likely Bad and Violent themselves.  Even nonviolence is Bad Violence when it opposes the Good Violence of the state.  So Israel continues to imprison the organizers of the nonviolent civil resistance that continues to grow in the West Bank. the original link has gone

Critics of Israel are always taken to task for singling out Israel when other countries also commit injustices.  So it is only fair to say that Israel is not alone in its culture of impunity.  Britain, for example, has recently cracked down with draconian sentences for the Muslim and non-white protestors who participated in a march for Gaza during the Israeli invasion:

And, of course, Israel could not continue its policies without the blanket support of the United States.  We fund and support the violence, and until we withdraw that support, it will not cease.

But why should we hold Israel accountable when we have let Bush, Cheney and the other authors of our own human rights crimes go free?    While the young people who organized meeting spaces and housing for the protests against the Republican National Convention in 2008 are still facing trial for ‘terrorism’.

The moral would seem to be—if you want to kill, maim and torture—do it on a big scale.  The larger the scale, the more likely you are to get away with it.

But if you stand against violence, if you believe that every human being is sacred and precious and deserves dignity and respect, if you champion the weak against the strong, the powerless against the overwhelmingly powerful, watch out!

Nonetheless, something in us continues to cry out for a better world.  Seven years ago, Rachel Corrie took a big risk, and paid with her life.  Today, do a small thing in her memory.  Call the White House and urge Obama to send Middle East envoy George Mitchell to Gaza, and to end the siege that prevents food, humanitarian aid and rebuilding supplies to enter.  A warning—it will take you a long time to get through—there’s a lot of us raising our voices today.  And more tomorrow, and tomorrow—until the justice is done!  Here’s the number: 202-456-1111.

Jewish Voice for Peace:

Amnesty International report on Gaza:

International Solidarity Movement:

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