Rachel Corrie and the fight against Israeli injustice

Rachel Corrie and the fight against Israeli injustice
Feature: The US activist was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer sent to level a Palestinian home. For more than a decade her family has fought for justice.
6 min read
13 February, 2015
Rachel Corrie devoted the final months of her life to the Palestinian cause [Getty]
On 16 March, 2003, US activist Rachel Corrie stood in the path of an Israeli armoured Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer sent to raze a home in Gaza.

Her noble action resulted in her death, aged 23 - "murder" in the words of eyewitnesses. A recent decision by Israel's High Court that absolved the driver of blame put an end to a decade of struggle by Corrie's family through the Israeli justice system.

Corrie's death, and the High Court's decision, is another of the inherent daily injustices of the Israeli occupation, and the fact that her inquest was left to the miltary - the culprits in the murder - rather than an independent body, indicates a definite, deliberate weight being applied to the scales of justice. 

The young activist came to Gaza to fight the occupation, peacefully, through the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The activist group is dedicated to preventing the punitive actions of Israel - including the demolition of Palestinian homes, and killing of protesters by sniper fire.

Passport as deterrent

Protesting and activism in the occupied Palestinian territories is a frightening and difficult task. Members of the ISM have the advantage of being international, often Western, so less likely to be targeted by Israeli troops, worried by a potential international backlash.

However, Corrie's death highlights shows that the military do not always abide by this rationale when faced with dissent and opposition.
     I think her motivation is only solidified and expanded by living the reality in Palestine.
- Adam Shapiro, ISM

"Corrie was the first international who was with ISM to be killed, and in part by the way it happened. Part of the rationale of international solidarity, and its value to the Palestinian resistance, was that Israel would be careful not to kill a person who had a government to stand behind them," says Adam Shapiro, co-founder of ISM.

During her short life, Rachel Corrie helped others who had been ignored by Western society. In the United States, she volunteered at a hospital for the mentally ill, and organised various campaigns to highlight the conditions Palestinians are subjected to under occupation. At the same time, she promoted peace.


Throughout her life, she was devoted to non-violent direct action, and decided to volunteer with ISM after university.

"It is clear from her writing, and what her family have said, that Rachel was motivated to go to Palestine by what she had learned about the place, the people, and the kind of injustice being perpetrated," says Shapiro.

"I think her motivation, as with most ISM volunteers, is only solidified and expanded by living the reality in Palestine."

Months later, and Corrie became another victim of the occupation when she was fatally injured.

There have been many reports of residents being crushed under the rubble of the homes destroyed by the Israeli bulldozers. Seeing that children were inside the Gaza home, Corrie risked her own life to save them - and paid the ultimate price. 

"When the US completely failed to hold Israel accountable, or insist that an independent investigation take place, the US failed its responsibilities and signalled to Israel that it could get away with murder," said Shapiro.

Israel responds

Although Tel Aviv claims her death was an accident, the facts speak for themselves.
Corrie was not foolhardy, or on a death wish. She was an experienced activist and had taken part in a number of ISM activities during the months she spent in the occupied territories. ISM training taught her that her safety was paramount.

She took the necessary precautions, wearing a high-visibility jacket to stand out in the crowd, along with her shoulder-length blonde hair, and made her presence known to the military by using a loudspeaker. Corrie carefully studied safety precautions alongside direct action tactics.

Taken from Activist Videos - Interview with Corrie
days before her death [MEBC]

This week, her family were given a final insulting blow by the Israeli Supreme Court, who ruled that her death was accidental.

It follows a 12-year hunt for justice by Corrie's family, and the latest judgement all but ends their fight to have Israel acknowledge her wrongful death.

The ruling corresponds with the lower court's decision to invoke the "combat activities exception", a clause that absolves Israel from blame for deaths, or murders, in areas of combat. This clause is frequently abused by Israel, as appears to be the case with Corrie.

"It's disappointing but unsurprising that Israel's Supreme Court has dismissed the wrongful killing suit brought by Rachel's parents," said Tom Dale, a member of Corrie's ISM group in Rafah at the time of her death.

"It reflects the culture of impunity which I saw in Gaza in early 2003, a culture whose victims were - and continue to be - overwhelmingly Palestinian civilians. The ISM group in Rafah at that time saw young lives and civilian lives systematically destroyed, and that is what Rachel was there to stand against.

"My memories of Rachel's killing are clear today as they were when I told the Israeli court, clearly, that there was no way the bulldozer driver could not have seen Rachel as he drove towards her.

"I remember Rachel as a kind, intelligent person with a passion for justice that encompassed the Palestinian cause and many others. I wish I could have known her for longer."


At the heart of the family's campaign is not just justice for their daughter.

The case is indicative of the more than 9,000 Palestinians who have been killed by Israel since September 2000, the vast majority of the victims being civilians.

Testament to this is a decision by Corrie's family to sue the Israeli government for the symbolic amount of one dollar. Although Corrie's case is relatively high-profile, almost none of the names of the Palestinians killed have ever made it into Western media.

"The struggle of Rachel's parents to seek truth and justice not only in her case but also, insofar as they are able, for Palestinians as a whole is as fitting tribute to her memory as they could ever be," added Dale.

Mustafa Barghouti, president of the Palestinian National Initiative and founder of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, said the Israeli courts are "racist", and are covering up for the crimes of the Israeli army.

"There couldn't be a worse crime than this one," he said. "There was no military operation in the area, as Israel claims. Rachel saw children who were going to be killed by the bulldozer and so she tried to save them," he said.

Barghouti says that the recent ruling ends all hope for justice in the Israeli courts, but that there is a hope that it will be taken to the International Criminal Court.

"There couldn't be a worse crime than this one," Barghouti repeated. "And it shows Israel feels itself immune to international law, even if Rachel Corrie was an American.

"Rachel Corrie meant a lot to us, and her death shows that people who show solidarity with Palestinians are subject to the same form of oppression as we are."