Write us!

April 2003 • Vol 3, No. 4 •

Rachel Corrie: Murdered in Cold Blood

By Rasha Saad

Rachel Corrie confronts an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003, Rafah, Gaza. Photo by Joe Smith.

The death of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, was clearly not an accident. That is the conviction held by people who saw the 23-year-old American crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on Sunday as she was trying to stop it from demolishing a Palestinian house in Rafah, Gaza.

Corrie was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led group that uses non-violent methods to challenge Israeli occupation. Among the group’s strategies to defend Palestinian rights is standing in front of the bulldozers Israel sends into the area nearly every day to destroy Palestinian homes. Contesting Israeli allegations that Corrie’s death was an accident, Thomas Dale, an ISM activist who was standing just to her right when she was killed, believes that “the terrible way in which the bulldozer driver ran at Rachel could not be an accident.”

Israeli military spokesman, Jacob Dallal, said that the bulldozer driver could not see Corrie because the vehicle’s windows were very small. However, Dale challenges the Israeli account. “The bulldozer driver had plenty of time and a full and clear view of Rachel. It was daylight and, in any case, she was wearing a high-visibility orange vest with reflective stripes.

We [peace activists] had been in the area for [about] three hours and they [the Israeli army] were well aware of our presence and what we were doing there,” a distressed Dale told Al-Ahram Weekly in a telephone interview. Dale explained that the bulldozer has an elevated driver’s seat from which the operator can clearly see the area immediately in front of the vehicle. Dale recounted that the bulldozer driver was in regular communication with a tank that was able to provide him with information about what was going on in the area. “Rachel was standing in the middle of a barren wasteland and she was the only thing there. He had all the time in the world to see her, but the bulldozer kept on coming.”

According to Dale, Corrie was murdered twice: “After Rachel was murdered the first time, the bulldozer driver who must have been aware of what was happening—there was no way that the person could not have been aware—but he reversed, running her over a second time,” he said. A tearful Dale remembers Corrie as an inspiring person. “She was such a big person that I and everyone here can’t really understand that she is gone. It seems like too much of a loss. We all remember her very fondly as a brave and incredible person.”

Friends try to aid Rachel Corrie after she was run over by an Israeli army bulldozer. Photo by Joe Smith.

According to Dale, members of Corrie’s group are committed “to stay in Rafah and continue the work which Rachel believed in so much.” Corrie’s suffering, however, did not end with her death. The Israeli army on Monday reportedly held up an ambulance carrying her body to Tel Aviv. Activists said that they had struck a deal with the army for three of them to accompany the body by ambulance, but were turned back by the soldiers manning the Sufa checkpoint between Gaza and Israel.

Corrie’s parents, who were not able to fly from Washington DC to attend the funeral owing to travel restrictions in anticipation of a war on Iraq, had asked that the body be cremated in Tel Aviv and the ashes flown back to the U.S., but declined to allow their daughter’s remains to be transferred by the Israeli army or the U.S. Embassy, said ISM activists.

In Rafah, hundreds of Palestinians expressed their gratitude for Corrie’s attempts to help them by marching in a symbolic funeral on Monday, bearing a stretcher draped with the American flag. In Gaza City, dozens of Palestinian and foreign activists held a vigil for Corrie, holding banners saying “Sharon is a war criminal.” Palestinian President Yasser Arafat phoned Corrie’s family to express his condolences. According to Al-Hayat, a London-based Arabic-language daily, Arafat bestowed upon Corrie the “Bethlehem 2000” medal, which is usually given to heads of states and high-ranking officials.

In a statement by the ISM issued on Sunday, the group called upon the international community to break the silence around Israel’s human rights abuses. “International civilians are in the occupied Palestinian territories attempting to protect Palestinian human rights and lives precisely because formal international bodies have refused to take action to do so.”

The ISM also demanded that the murder, along with Israel’s continued destruction of Palestinian homes “be strongly condemned by the United States and the UN and they must insist that Israel abide by international law and UN resolutions.” The ISM charged that the Israeli army is attempting to dishonor Corrie’s memory by claiming that she was killed accidentally.

Consequently, the group called upon the U.S. government to conduct an independent investigation into the incident. They also demanded that the U.S. take responsibility for the manner in which the Israeli government is using the $2.2 billion in military aid granted it annually. “This money, and U.S.-made weaponry, is daily being used by the Israeli military to harm innocent civilians. The bulldozer that killed Rachel Corrie was an American-made Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer,” the statement read.

However, the ISM’s appeal seems to have fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. response was mild, merely describing the attack as “tragic” without condemning it. The U.S. State Department said it had made it clear to “Israel that it expected a thorough probe” and that it had “called on the government of Israel and Israeli Defense Forces to conduct an immediate and full investigation into the circumstances of this death,” said Louis Fintor, a department spokesman. Meanwhile, the bulldozer driver has not been arrested and investigations have not been yet begun.

Being the first international peace activist to be killed during 29 months of the Palestinian Intifada, Corrie’s death is an alarming precedent. Western peace activists seemed to have taken it for granted that Israel would be reluctant to harass them—in contrast with [its treatment of] Arabs.

Corrie herself, ironically, underlined that view in an e-mail message that she sent to her parents last month when she compared her privileged status as a U.S. citizen with that of a Palestinian. Corrie believed that it would be unlikely that she would ever be held for months or years on end without trial. “This is because I am a white U.S. citizen.” Little did Corrie know when she wrote about “the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen.”

Answering a question about whether Corrie’s group now feels in greater danger, Dale said that his sense of safety depends entirely on the response of the international community, both in the media and politically. “If the condemnation of this act is strong, then I suspect that my life will become safer, because it will establish a precedent to be wary of. If the response is weak, it will show them that they [the Israeli army] can get away with it and my life will be in significant danger,” he said.

Al-Ahram Weekly (Issue No. 630), March 20-26, 2003





Write us