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No Attempt to Kidnap Rachel Corrie’s Parents

From The Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project

January 4, 2006

News reports stating that the parents of slain American human rights activist Rachel Corrie were the intended targets of an attempted kidnapping Wednesday in Gaza are incorrect. According to Craig and Cindy Corrie, contrary to news reports, the Corries were never threatened with kidnapping, nor did gunmen burst into the house where the Corries were staying.

In the early morning of January 4, two Palestinian men visited three American members of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project (ORSCP) at the home where the Americans were staying in Rafah, a city on Gazas border with Egypt. The two men reportedly wanted to hold the three foreigners in exchange for the release of a family member who was arrested by Palestinian security forces for an earlier kidnapping. The Corries were staying in a nearby home and helped to talk the men out of going through with the plan.

Cindy and Craig Corrie, who are close friends with the ORSCP participants, were visiting Rafah after attending a Palestinian conference on nonviolence held last week in Bethlehem.

The Corries were visiting the Nasrallah family in Rafah. The Nasrallahs had lived in the house that Rachel died defending. Rachel was killed when she was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in front of the Nasrallahs home in Rafah on March 16, 2003. Rachel, who grew up in Olympia, Washington, envisioned a sister city project between Olympia and Rafah to promote cultural understanding. Five people from Olympia, friends of Rachel, arrived two months ago in Rafah to work toward that goal. Three of them Rochelle Gause, Will Hewitt and Serena Becker were in the apartment when the men arrived at 1:30 am. One of the two men was carrying a weapon. The men arrived in two cars with other passengers who remained inside the vehicles.

ORSCP members had been asked by their Palestinian Rafah sister city counterparts not to travel without Palestinian escorts. Kidnappings have increased in Gaza in the run-up to the January 25 elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), the first PLC elections that Palestinians in Gaza have been able to plan since 1996 due to the Israeli occupation. The three Americans in the apartment remained inside when the two men knocked on their door at 1:30 am, and called Dr. Nasrallah to tell him what was happening.

Dr. Nasrallah came and talked to the men and invited them to come down to his apartment. He learned that they, and the others in the two vehicles outside, were members of the family of a man from Rafah who had been arrested by the Palestinian police that evening on charges of involvement in a previous kidnapping.

The Corries, who were staying at Dr. Nasrallah’s home, got up and met the two men in the living room where they all drank tea together and discussed what they and the group of ORSCP participants were doing in Rafah. A neighbor, a Palestinian Authority security officer, also came over and joined the group. After a brief conversation with the security officer, the two men shook Craig and Cindy Corrie’s hands, and, according to Cindy Corrie, told the Corries that they had “great respect for our daughter and for us” and then left.

Over the next few hours, ORSCP members from Olympia met with their Rafah partners to discuss the situation. “We weren’t just concerned for our own safety,” the ORSCP group said. “We were also concerned about being a burden on the people here who have put so much work into this project.”

“There is a feeling that things will be calmer after the election,” Cindy Corrie said. “People in the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project say they plan on continuing their work in Rafah and will organize more people return to Rafah. We plan to visit again as well.”

Palestinian authority vehicles and cars driven by ORSCP’s Palestinian participants escorted the Corries and the five Olympia participants to Erez Checkpoint without incident Wednesday morning. “All the Palestinians that we worked with were going out of their way to make sure we all remained safe,” Serena Becker said. “We heard today and yesterday how embarrassed they were that these kinds of things were going on.”

“We will continue to support the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights, the ORSCP participants said in a group statement. “The Israeli occupation has led to the militarization of a portion of Palestinian society and the continued Israeli occupation undermines the ability of Palestinians to have a free society.”

Cindy Corrie pointed to the upcoming Palestinian Legislative Council elections as a positive sign. “We need to pay attention to these positive things when they happen,” she said.

“The recent abductions of foreigners in Gaza have nothing to do with any political grievance with them or Western countries more generally, unlike the situation in Iraq,” said Steve Niva, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at The Evergreen State College. “These kidnappings are almost all carried out by disgruntled members of the secular ruling Fatah party or its ‘security apparatus’ who use the hostages as leverage to pressure the Palestinian Authority for higher salaries, jobs, higher ranks, or the release from prisons for their relatives suspected of crimes. The kidnappings are best understood as a crude form of political bargaining in a context shaped by the desparate poverty, unemployment and destruction of the basic infrastructure and institutions of Palestinian life that resulted from 40 years of Israel’s military occupation of the Gaza Strip. They are likely to increase in intensity as Palestinians move towards elections in late January, which will threaten the existing patronage and employment networks within the Palestinian Authority that many Palestinians have come to rely upon in order to meet their basic needs.”