Her body against a bulldozer, she stood up on a mound of dirt to look the driver in the eye.
Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent the eviction of a home in Palestine.
“The image of Rachel, clearly visible in her fluorescent orange coat, should have been burned in everyone’s mind as an image of defiance and courage in the face of injustice,” said her cousin Elizabeth Corrie. But three days after March 16, 2003, the day Rachel was killed, her story was buried as the United States began bombing Iraq.
In a lecture she gave at Concordia’s DeSeve Cinema last Saturday, Elizabeth explained the importance in continuing to tell Rachel’s story. The lecture was part of various events organized for Monday’s International Women’s Day and was sponsored in part by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.
From reports, her cousin’s e-mails and remembering her cousin’s death, Elizabeth was brought into the social justice movement working to inform people of what happened to Rachel and what is happening in the Occupied Territories.
Elizabeth sees her cousin’s tragedy as an opportunity to reach out to “the average uninformed or the misinformed” person and believes that gaining sympathy for people like Rachel is an attainable goal.
It “opens up to the world a larger context of their deaths and the need for justice for the Palestinians,” she said.
When Rachel was in Rafah, Gaza, she often wrote about her experience. “I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers but I also want this to stop,” Rachel writes in an e-mail to her cousin.
Elizabeth explained although Rachel yearned for normalcy, she felt that she could not leave, clearly identifying the links between the U.S. and its influence on the occupation. In an e-mail to her parents, the young activist wrote, “I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we in fact participate in it.”
Elizabeth emphasized the U.S. connection to the Israeli occupation and the passive response by the governments of both countries. The same day the “four tonne caterpillar bulldozer, manufactured in the U.S. and paid for by US tax dollars” crushed Rachel, her parents called to the U.S. government for an independent investigation of their daughter’s death. Resolution 111, which requested a “full and fair expeditious investigation,” did not even get enough support to leave the legislative committee.
The Israeli government declared a military police investigation completed on May 23, 2003. No charges were laid.
“Rachel’s death reveals the incredible short-sightedness and hypocrisy of the U.S. government,” said Elizabeth, referring to ample sociological studies done in the Arab world trying to explain the anti-American sentiment.
But the day Rachel died, people in Rafah honoured the American flag. They spray-painted stars and stripes draped over her coffin as the Palestinians paraded in the streets. “For the first time in the history of that region, an American came over to stand in solidarity with them…to witness their suffering and their right to freedom…and for this an American died,” said Elizabeth.
She explained Rachel’s ongoing struggle against the bias in American media, which does not want to expose the people who want peace in the Middle East.
Maybe the U.S. government “has been too busy making up a legend about another young women,” said Dr. Lillian Robinson, of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, while introducing Elizabeth.
“Making up a story about something that didn’t happen to Jessica Lynch, to be concerned about what did happen to Rachel Corrie.”
“The photo of Rachel standing in front of the bulldozer bullhorn in hand,” Elizabeth said, should be found “alongside the photograph of the Chinese student standing in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square…alongside of civil rights protestors being attacked by dogs and thrown down by water hoses,” so that society can see.
Robinson said the things witnessed by peacemakers like Rachel need to be watched by the whole world. “Not helplessly ringing its hands,” she said, “but watching in order to make changes.”