On March 16, 2003, after months of being a human rights observer and activist with the International Solidarity Movement in Palestine, Rachel Corrie was run over by an American-made Israeli bulldozer while standing outside a home of a Palestinian family where she had spent many nights. She was wearing a bright yellow vest, had a bullhorn, and was in plain sight of the Israeli military drivers, and yet they ran over and killed her to continue demolishing homes in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli military demolished the homes of 16,000 Palestinians in this area, most of them refugees, many of who lost their homes for a second or third time. This is a letter to Rachel from a friend on the anniversary of her death.
These days it’s hard to believe I didn’t have a cell phone in 2003. I was visiting my dad and heard the news of your murder at the hands of the Israeli military from NPR as he dropped me off at the airport. I frantically, in full sobs, bought one of each newspaper and saw the smears already attempting to frame you, a kind, creative, incredibly empathetic 23-year-old woman as a hater to try and justify your murder. Losing you this way shook me to the bone and began the, still ongoing, lifting of the false veil of white-washed American history and understanding of the world my education and life had provided.
You also showed me how pervasive that veil is in this country and how it makes possible so much harm done by our government at home and globally. I am talking about the small subset of humans that you and I were born into, those of us with the privilege to have the veil in the first place, born into families shielded from deportation, racist police, gendered violence, incarceration, and war by white supremacy. It’s also us, as you knew so well, with so much power and access to resources to create systemic change.
You found the path to lift your veil by always striving to get to the heart of things. From working with folks struggling with mental health to studying the indigenous history of our home to learning from the victims of war and militarism. These days you would be pleased how many more people are waking up. The Black Lives Matter uprising combined with the pandemic and Trump’s policies have made more visible the blatant racist and imperialism of this country. And yet the media and the right continue to share false narratives, as they did with your death, reinforcing veils for many who have found ways to blame the victims of state violence for their own suffering instead of the government policies causing it.
You, my dear, 18 years later are still waking people up with your memory. I wish the daily lives stolen by the Israeli military, by racial capitalism, by US imperialism would also lift veils as quickly. If only more white privileged people would honor your memory by breaking out of their bubble and taking one of the many paths right in front of them, lined with compassion, and traveled by choosing to deeply listen to what others are experiencing, be it the child in Gaza, the child living on the street under the nearest highway, the child who is a refugee or whose father is in jail. How do we encourage those with veils to wantonly lift them, even in the discomfort of recognizing what must be let go of for us all to be free?
We see systems of violence that are set up to maintain the status quo intensifying as more awaken. But on the other side there is a world of collective care and basic needs met for all that does feel closer some days. A world where we acknowledge that safety can never come from harming others. A world you always knew was possible.
Thank you Rachel for the earth-shaking, veil-shattering awareness you left in your wake. The hardest part about this day is wondering who you would have become, of what it would be like to navigate this world alongside your brilliance, out-of-box thinking, and unwavering heart. Rest in Power dear one. We will continue the work in your name.
– Rochelle Watson is a mother, Director of Organizing for FOSNA, and a collective member of the Catalyst Project. She lives on unceded Ohlone territory in so-called Berkeley, California. She contributed this letter to The Palestine Chronicle.