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Rachel Corrie
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Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003) was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who traveled to Rafah in the Gaza Strip during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. While protesting the Israeli occupation, she was fatally wounded when she tried to block an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Caterpillar D9 bulldozer.

Her death sparked controversy, with various advocates scrambling to blame it on the IDF, the ISM, Palestinian terror, and on Corrie herself.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Arrival in Gaza
3 Fatal incident in Rafah
4 Reactions to Corrie's death
5 External links and references

Background

Raised in Olympia, Washington, she was the daughter of Craig Corrie, an insurance executive, and Cindy Corrie, a school volunteer and flutist. After graduating from Capitol High School, she went on to Evergreen State College, where she studied the arts and international relations, became known in the local peace movement and worked as an active member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace. In her senior year, she took a leave of absence to participate in resistance against the IDF as a member of the Palestinian-led ISM in her home town.

Arrival in Gaza

On January 18, 2003, Corrie left the United States for the Gaza Strip. Once there, she received two days of training in non-violent resistance techniques and philosophy before joining other ISM activists to participate in direct action. Through February and March she participated in a variety of actions including:

As well as participating in direct action, Corrie described herself as a "human rights observer" of the actions of Israeli troops in the area. She documented the destruction of 25 greenhouses and the digging up of the road to Gaza City. She also documented shots fired at Rafah Municipal Water Authority workers attempting to rebuild the Canada Well and El Iskan Well, which were bulldozed by the Israeli military on January 30. During her stay, she communicated by e-mail with "Danny," a reserve first sergeant in the IDF, who urged her to "document as much as you can and do not embellish anything with creative writing."

She also spent time in the region speaking with local Palestinians. She spent several "home stays" sleeping with various families in Rafah. In e-mails to her mother, she mentioned activities such as watching Gummi Bears dubbed in Arabic and helping a Palestinian boy with his English homework. She was also involved in a children's pen pal program between Gaza Strip and United States. She wanted Olympia to become a sister city of Rafah.

Corrie wrote about the smuggling tunnels being used in Gaza in her report: "Events Surrounding the Deaths of 2 Men in Tunnels beneath the Block O area". (Source: The ISM press release, March 3, 2003. Includes Corrie's own report, item 4.)

Fatal incident in Rafah

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was one of a group of seven ISM activists (consisting of three British and four Americans) who were attempting to disrupt IDF demolition operations where armoured bulldozers were being used to level buildings and vegetation along the security road near the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt at Rafah. According to the IDF, the demolitions are designed to uncover explosive devices and destroy smuggling tunnels. Palestinians are sometimes killed in demolition operations and they are perceived by some as a form of collective punishment.

On this particular day, two bulldozers, supported by a Nagmachon combat engineering vehicle (CEV), were either ripping up shrubbery (according to Israeli officials) or demolishing homes (according to the protestors). Corrie was wearing a red reflective jacket. Although she had been using a megaphone earlier in the day (see photo, right), she was not using it at the time she was struck. Corrie was standing in front of a house owned by her friend Samir Masri (some reports have his name as Samir Nasrallah), a Palestinian physician.

For about two hours, the group had been attempting to disrupt the bulldozers. These attempts consisted of physical obstruction and shouting at the bulldozer operators through a megaphone. Roughly an hour before the fatal incident, the IDF used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the ISM protesters, who then later regrouped.

As the bulldozers move slowly forward they push up a pile of soil and rubble in front of them. A standard technique of ISM disruption was for an ISM protester to climb on top of this pile, raising themselves above the bulldozer blade, and making themselves visible to the driver. Sometimes the driver would stop or change direction, and sometimes the protester would dive out of the way.

Eyewitness accounts suggest that Corrie followed this technique, initially sitting or kneeling, and then standing to clamber up on the pile of debris in front of the bulldozer. For a while she was on top of this pile, looking at the driver. At some point, Corrie fell off the pile of rubble, possibly having lost her footing. This may have obscured her from sight of the driver. Corrie may have tried to scrabble out of the way at this point, but if she did so she was unsuccessful.

The driver continued forwards. The blade of the bulldozer passed over Corrie's body (the tracks of the bulldozer did not) and the bulldozer stopped. The bulldozer then reversed clear of Corrie's body, causing the blade to pass over her a second time. Corrie suffered massive injuries. She may have been injured by contact with the blade of the bulldozer. She may also have been injured by the debris. In particular, the Israeli report claims that a concrete slab in the debris struck her head and upper torso and was the primary cause of her death.

The bulldozers and CEV withdrew, and Corrie was rushed by a Red Crescent ambulance to the local Al-Najar hospital where she died of suffocation due to her injuries (some reports have her dying in the ambulance). She became the first ISM volunteer to die in the conflict in over two years of ISM activities in the Palestinian territories, including many other attempts to obstruct Israeli operations.

Reporting errors

A photo taken on the day by an ISM member and published by the Associated Press was mistakenly titled. This gave the impression that it was taken immediately prior to the incident, whereas in fact it was taken between one and four hours earlier.

Did the driver see Corrie?

The bulldozers had been in the area for two hours, and were certainly aware of the protesters and their activities. What is less clear is whether the bulldozer operator saw Corrie immediately prior to killing her.

Witness statements by fellow ISM protesters indicate that Corrie would have been clearly visible to the driver while she was standing on top of the pile of rubble in front of the driver. She was wearing a red reflective jacket at this time.

According to those who have been permitted to read it, the unpublished IDF report and the unpublished report by a branch of the Israeli judiciary both state that the driver never saw or heard Corrie. It is not clear what timeframe these statement might refer to.

A further complication is that, according to regulations, the bulldozer driver should have been directed in part by other IDF soldiers at the scene. Caterpillar D9s have a restricted field of vision, limited by the small armored windows, with a number of blind spots. In theory the other soldiers should have covered these spots.

The IDF commander of Gaza Strip, in an interview to Israeli Channel 2 actualia research broadcast Uvda with Ilana Dayan told that soldiers were bound to stay in their armoured vehicles and could not get out to direct the bulldozer or to arrest the protesters due to the threat of Palestinian snipers. He also added that Corrie was facing the bulldozer alone, while the rest of her friends were away, probably forcing the APC to handle them instead of watching over the bulldozer.

Autopsy

An initial autopsy was performed at the National Center of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv. The Olympian reported that the National Center concluded on March 20 that her "death was caused by pressure on the chest from a mechanical apparatus".

The Jerusalem Post issue of June 26, 2003 reported that "An autopsy found that the cause of Corrie’s death was falling debris".

Reactions to Corrie's death

Capt. Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the Israeli army, called the incident a "regrettable accident," but said Corrie and the other ISM activists were "a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger - the Palestinians, themselves and our forces - by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone."

On March 17, Amnesty International USA condemned the death and called for an independent inquiry. Christine Bustany, their Advocacy Director for the Middle East, said that "US-made bulldozers have been 'weaponized' and their transfer to Israel must be suspended".

Her death has been condemned as the murder of a US civilian by many of Corrie's supporters who have contrasted US government silence over Corrie's death to condemnation of the killing of three US diplomats, allegedly by The Popular Resistance Committees, a Palestinian militant faction, in 2003.

On March 18, there was a memorial service at the place where Corrie died, attended by between 40 and 100 people, including Samir Masri. The service was interrupted by an Israeli APC which fired tear gas and stun grenades. A Palestinian couple (Salah and Rania Noureddine) named their newborn child Rachel Corrie saying that their daughter would be "a symbol for them and all honest people in the Arab world."

On April 25, 15 people, including British citizens Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, met at an ISM apartment in Rafah, Gaza and then proceeded to the site of Corrie's death, where they placed a flower. Five days later Hanif and Sharif carried out a suicide bombing of the Mike's Place restaurant in Tel Aviv, killing three civilians. The Israeli government then imposed new restrictions on ISM activities based upon the presence of the two bombers at the Corrie memorial.

In Rafah and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories, portrait posters of Corrie were plastered to walls, with accompanying slogans such as "Rachel did not die. She lives in our hearts." She is one of the few non-Arabs to be treated in this way. On 15 July 2003, the Chicago Tribune reported that "to the people of Rafah, Rachel Corrie will always remain a very special martyr, their American martyr". The death of Rachel Corrie became heavily politicized and frequently is being used to discredit Israel's image.

An official investigation of the event by IDF in mid April found that Corrie and other ISM members had engaged in "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous" behavior, and that Israeli forces were not at fault. The IDF said that it intends to implement changes to avoid future accidents, including arresting activists or forcing them to disperse, and installing video cameras on bulldozers to cover blindspots. This report has not been made public. Corrie's parents were permitted to read it, but not to receive a copy. The description of the conclusions of the report in this article are therefore based on secondary sources.

External links and references

Israeli reports

Here are some reports with quotes from the various Israeli reports into Corrie's death (the reports themselves have not been made public):

Commentary and link lists