In loving memory of Rachel Corrie: Palestine's American hero

In loving memory of Rachel Corrie: Palestine's American hero
Comment: Corrie paid the ultimate price in solidarity with Palestinians, but her sacrifice has inspired millions, writes Usaid Saddiqui.
5 min read
18 Apr, 2016
Corrie would have celebrated her 37th birthday on April 10 [Getty]

Yasser Arafat, the late Palestinian leader, once met with Craig Corrie, father of the late American activist Rachel.

"She is your daughter, but she is also the daughter of all Palestinians. She is ours too now," Arafat told the grieving father.

Corrie, who would have celebrated her 37th birthday on April 10, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes by Israeli troops in Gaza more than 14 years ago.

While Corrie is hailed as a martyr of the pro-Palestinian movement, her story remains largely hidden from the American people, mainly a result of her government's unwavering support for Israel.

With more than a decade of appeals and court hearings, no one has yet been prosecuted for her wrongful death - an ordeal best understood by the Palestinians themselves, for whom justice is nothing short of a luxury.

Starting out as an activist

Corrie had arrived in Gaza in January 2003, as part of the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent group whose stated goal is to resist Israeli occupation.

She simultaneously hoped to establish a sister city project between her hometown, Olympia in Washington, and Rafah in Gaza where she was located.

In emails written to her family, at the tender age of 23, Corrie showed great depth in her understanding of the conflict, correctly implicating the policies of her own government in bolstering Israel's brutality in Gaza - to which she herself was a witness.

Corrie's death attracted widespread condemnation and denunciation of the Israeli government

Corrie hoped to bring Palestinian voices directly to the US population - presenting their own narrative without the "filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself".

Just weeks later, on March 13, Corrie drew her last breath as she stood between an Israeli armoured military bulldozer and a Palestinian home moments away from being demolished.

Death of a 'martyr'

Corrie's death attracted widespread condemnation and denunciation of the Israeli government. Then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised then US President George W Bush a full, independent investigation.

Unsurprisingly, this never happened. While an abundance of evidence and testimony provided a strong case for an indictment, within a month an Israeli military investigation relieved the army - and the Caterpillar D9 driver who struck the fatal blow - of any wrongdoing.

In 2012, an Israeli district court ruled that there was no wrongdoing in Corrie's death except her own. The US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, stated that Israel's investigation "was not satisfactory, and wasn't as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been".

Former President Jimmy Carter also condemned the lack of follow-up on Corrie's case. He said the response of the courts was reflective of "the climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory".

The wrong type of hero

Back in the US, the response from the political establishment was largely subdued.

Corrie's congressman, Brian Baird, authored a resolution to fully investigate the circumstances of her death. Only a handful of congress members signed the bill - including famed civil rights activist John Lewis. A victim of state violence himself during the civil rights movement, the issue resonated with Lewis.

Predictably, the resolution did not make it on to the floor and no investigation was sanctioned by the House of Representatives. The scarce attention paid to the Corrie incident by US politicians is indicative of the unmitigated support of the American government to its Israeli counterparts.

The case of Corporal Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas fighters in 2006, is a case in point.

Across the US political spectrum there was unadulterated consensus for the release of Shalit. A bill sponsored by former Senator Kirsten Gillibrand demanding Shalit's release while condemning Hamas and committing to Israel's security, passed unanimously with no amendments required.

Following Operation Cast Lead - a war that devastated the infrastructure of the Hamas-controlled territory, killing around 1,000 civilians - several members of the US Congress protested to make $900 million in aid to Gaza conditional on the release of Cpl Shalit.

Upon his release, President Obama personally congratulated the efforts of the Israeli government and the Shalit family.

Several municipalities in the US, including Miami and Baltimore, honoured the former prisoner by making him an honorary citizen.

Conversely, the Corries have, to this day, not been granted as much as an independent investigation by the US government.

Since Corrie's death, Israel has launched three wars in Gaza, killing thousands of civilians

Routine injustice in Palestine

The denial of justice to the Corrie family is a scenario no one comprehends better than the Palestinians themselves, as routine shooting of unarmed Palestinians and house demolitions continue unabated.

Since Corrie's death, Israel has launched three wars in Gaza, killing thousands of civilians - including hundreds of children, including the tragic deaths of four children on a beach in 2014, for which, predictably, no Israeli soldier was reprimanded. 

In 2016, Israel has already demolished more than 400 homes compared with just over 500 total destroyed in 2015.

Most of these demolitions have been a result of "unlicensed construction projects" in occupied territory. Israel claims Palestinians must have Israeli permission for building projects, doesn't give it, then knocks down anything that Palestinians build anyway.

Corrie brilliantly captured the phenomenon of Palestinian suffering when she wrote:

"Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home… it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this because I am a white US citizen, as opposed to so many others). When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting… at a checkpoint."

This display of empathy, and the comprehension of her own privilege as a white American, mixed with her unwavering physical and moral courage, has sealed Corrie's legacy as an icon of the Palestinian struggle.

She has inspired millions, including fellow Americans, who hope to one day emulate her commitment to justice for oppressed people everywhere; even when her own government hesitates to acknowledge her sacrifice in full.

Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.