By Aijaz Zaka – Dubai
I thought people like Rachel Corrie only existed in books and movies; people who can stare death in the face and put their own lives on line to save someone else’s life. Corrie just did that.
The 23-year-old student activist traveled thousands of miles from her Ivy League university in the United States to form a human shield protecting Palestinian families. This happened in March 2003 when all of us were obsessing over Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction. Full of idealism and dreams about creating a better and just world, Corrie was too young to die. At a time when most of her friends and fellow students were having a good time, Corrie joined the International Solidarity Movement, a peace movement against Israeli occupation, to travel all the way to occupied Palestinian territories.
She wanted to help and make a difference to the long tormented Palestinians. She was so passionate about her cause that she spent many months learning Arabic and educating herself and her family and friends about the Middle East and appalling humanitarian situation in Palestinian territories. Corrie first went to the West Bank for training with the ISM. And then she volunteered to go to Gaza, to Rafah in particular, as she felt it was the most forsaken part of Palestinian territories and needed her attention.
There were many international activists like her on the ground trying to help Palestinians by providing aid, teaching their children and, more important, protecting them from the murderous Israeli forces. Corrie enthusiastically joined these valiant efforts. She would visit Palestinian homes offering whatever help she could extend to the besieged families. One such family was that of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, a pharmacist, and his brother and their five children. Rachel helped the children with their homework and even spent night in their room, sleeping at their feet in their parents’ bed when they were too terrified to sleep what with the constant gunfire and patrolling by Israeli forces.
In a poignant e-mail to her parents on Feb. 7, 2003, she wrote: “I have been in Palestine for two weeks, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. I don’t know if the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly. Even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An 8-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me, Ali. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, “Kaif Sharon?” “Kaif Bush?” and they laugh when I say “Bush Majnoon,” “Sharon Majnoon” back in my limited Arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.)
“Nevertheless, I think about the fact that no amount of reading, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it, and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality. I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world’s fourth largest military — backed by the world’s only superpower — in its attempt to erase you from your home.”
Corrie arrived in Gaza in January 2003 and she was killed in cold blood seven weeks later on March 16, 2003. And she died protecting the home and family of Dr. Samir Nasrallah. An Israeli armored bulldozer ran over her, literally, when she refused to move out of its way so it could demolish the home of the Nasrallahs and their young children Reem, Iman and Kareem.
Her fellow-activists from ISM and other eyewitnesses recounted in a Haifa court this week how the Israelis drove over her even as she pleaded with the bulldozer operator to stop the demolition of the house. She wore a fluorescent orange jacket and stood on a mound excavated by the bulldozer shouting over a bullhorn. The operator of the killing machine couldn’t have missed her. It was a cold-blooded, deliberate killing. It was nothing but murder.
This week, Richard Purssell, a British activist and eyewitness, recalled how he watched in horror as Corrie was dragged four meters by the 56-ton D9 Caterpillar bulldozer moving forward at a “fast pace.” She disappeared under the rubble and lethal blades of Caterpillar and then the bulldozer reversed, trampling Corrie, or what remained of her, once again. When her horrified fellow-activists rushed to her, she was still breathing. “I think my back is broken,” she said before she breathed her last.
My eyes watered reading this related in a gut-wrenching interview Corrie’s gracious parents Cindy and Craig Corrie have done with the US journalist Amy Goodman. Corrie’s parents have been fighting an endless legal battle in a court in Israeli town Haifa to get justice for their heroic daughter. The Israeli authorities have tried everything to undermine this quest for justice and are treating it as a “civil case” only after pressure from the US authorities.
In a civil case, there’s not going to be any action against those responsible for her killing. The best Corrie’s family could hope is “damages” or compensation. But that is not what the Corries are looking for. They want the world to know the truth about their daughter’s killing and why she died.
Why did Corrie die? She was guilty of standing in the way of the mighty State of Israel and its mission to build Greater Israel, from the river to the sea, on Palestinian homes and bodies. By giving her life to save Palestinian homes and families, Corrie has put her killers in the dock and the State of Israel on trial. An unarmed, vulnerable student has put the world’s most ruthless, diabolic regime on the mat.
Corrie’s killing is only one example of the evil nature of the folk who claim ownership of the Much Promised Land. This is what Palestinians have endured over the past seven decades or so, on a daily basis. Living with death and destruction in their own land, day after bloody day.
If they can do this to a young, peaceful citizen of the most powerful nation on earth and their biggest supporter, financer and protector, it’s not too hard to imagine what Israelis could do to a helpless people totally at their mercy. And they have repeatedly demonstrated this with deadly effect.
How can we ever forget the iconic images of the 12-year-old Mohammad Al-Dorai, crouching in a fetal position behind his father, under attack from a fusillade of Israeli bullets, even as his desperate father tried to shield him with his own body? In the end, neither father nor son survived even as the whole world watched in morbid fascination just before 9/11. In the long history of occupation, Palestinians have lost the count of children like Mohammad Al-Dora they have buried over the years. As Stalin put it, a single death is a tragedy, a million a statistic.
The Palestinians have become a mere statistic for the world. For all its hallowed peace-making institutions and high-sounding hollow rhetoric of its leaders, it doesn’t give a damn about Palestinians — or people like them. The sacrifices of blessed and generous spirits like Rachel Corrie will not go in vain though. They never do. Innocent blood never remains dormant. What relation did Rachel have with the Palestinians? She had nothing in common with them — faith, language, culture or color. The only bond she shared with them was that of humanity. Yet she died for them. Will the Maker of this world allow this ultimate, sublime sacrifice squandered? I don’t thinks so. This long night of oppression cannot last forever and hope will dawn out of this river of blood. God bless you Rachel Corrie and may your tribe forever grow!
– Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Dubai based commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.