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Remembering Rachel Corrie

by Adam Shapiro
Originally published in The Nation

On March 7, 2004, an Associated Press photographer in the West Bank village of Beit Dukou captured an image of a Palestinian woman during a protest against the wall Israel is constructing in her village. The image is simple, but it evokes a power beyond words.

This woman, dressed in a headscarf, long peasant dress and sweater, stands with her arms folded in front of her as if she is slightly cold or perhaps waiting for a tardy child. Her head is tilted slightly downward but her presence dominates the scene. What is particularly striking about this woman is that she is standing between the two treads, and directly in front of the cab, of an Israeli army D-9 bulldozer–the kind that has destroyed homes, uprooted trees and even killed an American woman. After a moment of disbelief over the image of a “covered” woman confronting this huge machine, you might then look again and realize that she stands there in defiance with her back to the machine, as if to say, “I will remain here on my land and will not acknowledge your brute force.”

The image of this woman immediately reminded me of Rachel Corrie. Rachel is the American woman who was crushed to death by an Israeli D-9 bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on March 16, 2003. The bulldozer, like all the bulldozers used by the Israeli army, is manufactured by Caterpillar–an American company–and sold to the Israeli government as part of its military aid package. Rachel was defending the home of a Palestinian physician, with just her body and her defiance, when the driver put the lever into gear and drove forward and then backward, crushing Rachel beneath the blade not once, but twice. Immediately, allegations of tunnels under the home were used to malign Rachel’s extraordinary courage. However, no tunnels were ever located. These facts did not stop the Israeli army from demolishing this house two months ago, along with dozens of other homes in Rafah, in the latest wave of home demolitions carried out by US-built Caterpillar bulldozers.

Following Rachel’s death, many of us expected the US government to investigate what happened and to work to bring those responsible to justice. After all, just a day after Daniel Pearl’s kidnapping in Pakistan, FBI agents were dispatched to Karachi to help with that investigation. But the US government remains silent, as neither the FBI nor the State Department nor Congress has mandated an independent investigation. This despite the more recent deaths of three American security agents in another part of Gaza when their car ran over a roadside bomb, prompting the State Department to threaten to withhold money from the Palestinian Authority until those responsible are brought to justice.

In the case of Tom Hurndall, the British civilian shot by an Israeli sniper in Gaza a couple weeks after Rachel was killed, the British government has pushed for an investigation and a soldier is already being prepared for trial. The initial story about Tom’s killing by the Israeli army was that he was an armed terrorist. The soldier who shot him has now admitted to lying about the incident. British pressure undoubtedly has played a part in generating this mea culpa and reversal of narrative. Why have there not been similar efforts by the US government, upon which Israel is dependent for more than $6 billion per year in total aid? Why has Rachel’s killing gone unchallenged? Why has such a tremendous act of courage and defiance been ignored by much of the media in the United States?

Like Rachel’s family and friends, we at the International Solidarity Movement wonder about the answers to these questions. And we have to wonder what lessons are learned from allowing the Israeli army to bulldoze and kill a young woman without reprisal.

However, I do know that acts of courage like this Palestinian woman in the village of Beit Dukou and the brutal toll the occupation takes on Palestinians every day are what inspired and outraged Rachel to refuse to be intimidated on that fateful day last March.

Adam Shapiro is an organizer with the International Solidarity Movement.