Letter From a Blessed College Student

The Israeli Haifa Court,

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is ancient, complex and deeply rooted in perception. These many different versions of historical perception have caused the repetitious power struggle to amplify into a full-blown political conflict.

I urge you to try and look past this political conflict. I hope you can identify with me as a human being for the remainder of my letter.

Rachel Corrie got caught in the midst of this conflict. Rachel was an average American with extraordinary compassion. She was a student at the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in January 2003 to pursue nonviolent resistance in Israel. Her passion for peace led her to the war-torn town of Rafah, near the Israeli-Egyptian border. She exemplified non-violent direct action.

The controversial political conflict in Israel has given people an “us versus them” mentality. The conflict has been so extreme as to erupt into violence, wars and death. Lost lives are tallied. Casualties are overlooked. Human beings forget that every single person who dies because of a political conflict has a mother, maybe even a daughter and a family who can’t merely just forget about their death. It affects their everyday life. Death isn’t something they just hear about on morning reports. It is their unfortunate reality. The value of life has ultimately been diminished. I value human life, personal safety and the right to prosperity.

Above all else, I value justice. I do not take this lightly.

This is why I choose to address your Israeli Haifa District Court. I believe you committed an act of injustice. The worst crime one can commit against humanity.

Rachel Corrie believed in humanity. She lived her life for the benefit of others. She lived, until the end of her life, in the pursuit of justice. On March 16th 2003, Rachel was killed in the town of Rafah. While acting as a human shield in an effort to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza, an Israeli Defense Force bulldozer crushed her to death. She was just 23 years old.

Rachel Corrie

Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a lawsuit accusing your Israeli military of either unlawfully or intentionally killing Rachel, or of gross negligence. Her family claimed a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses.

This lawsuit isn’t about revenge. It isn’t about money. It is simply about accountability. This lawsuit is about ensuring justice.  In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (Letter From a Birmingham Jail). Justice has no bias. Crime deserves punishment. Regardless if the one committing the crime is Israeli or Palestinian.

Your respective court dismissed the civil law suit on August 28, 2012.

I believe passionately and whole-heartedly that the ruling was under investigated and purposefully dismissed in order to protect a guilty soldier from exposing systematic corruption and illegal occupation.

Your respective court ruled that the state bore no responsibility for the death of Rachel Corrie. Judge Oded Gershon of your Haifa District Court said that the death of Rachel was a “regrettable accident” for which the state of Israel was not responsible. She “put herself in a dangerous situation” and her death was not caused by negligence of the Israeli state or army. The 62-page ruling claimed no responsibility for the Israeli military investigation, completely clearing the driver of the bulldozer that crushed Corrie to death (the Haifa court would not release the driver’s identity). Judge Gershon further said that the driver could not have seen Rachel from the cab of the bulldozer and that Rachel “could have simply saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger as any reasonable person would have done.” He said that the area was a combat zone, and the United States government had warned its citizens not to go there. These international activists were set on obstructing actions of the Israeli military and acting as human shields “to protect terrorists.” Ultimately, the judge ruled that no compensation would be paid and the family would not have to pay the costs of the case.

There is much controversy surrounding Rachel’s death, however, I strongly believe that the evidence of intentionality is overwhelming. The driver of the bulldozer ran Rachel over for vile reasons that Rachel’s loved ones, nor I, will ever be able to comprehend.

Judge Oded Gershon and your respective Haifa Court have reduced Rachel’s life to become a mere product of political conflict. Rachel is too valuable to be so overtly dismissed.

Rachel’s death was not a “regrettable accident.” It was an intentional political attack. On the day she died, the Electronic Intifada released a photo of Rachel from that same day wearing a bright orange vest and holding a bullhorn to amplify her voice.

This is a picture taken the same day Rachel was killed. You can clearly see her fluorescent attire.

The same website also published sworn declarations taken within days of the deadly incident by three other international activists present when Rachel was killed.

Among the witnesses was a Briton named Tom Dale, who now works in Cairo, Egypt as a journalist. He released the following statement: “On 16 March 2003, Rachel could not have been more visible: standing, on a clear day, in the open ground, wearing a high visibility vest.  On that day, she had been in the presence of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers used by the Israeli army for some hours… Even going by the visibility charts provided by the Israeli state during the case, in my judgment, the bulldozer driver must at some point have been able to see Rachel, during the period in which his vehicle approached her… I do not find it plausible that he did not see her.” The driver of the bulldozer wanted to ensure that he taught these peace activists a lesson. If they intervened in the Israeli military’s actions, even peacefully, they would suffer consequences.

In Rachel’s case, her consequence was death.

Rachel did not merely “put herself in a dangerous situation.” Nothing worthwhile was ever achieved without dedication. Rachel was implementing her American values into proactive and peaceful direct-action. At the time of her protesting, hundreds of homes had already been bulldozed in the area. Her bravery took her to the origin of the problem. She wanted to be on the forefront of the protesting—that is admirable, not reckless. The beauty of freedom is etched in every line of our constitution. She was merely emphasizing that the quality of human life is ensured through one’s right to personal safety, to the protection of their home and through the application of justice. Rachel fought for equality. She personified her American beliefs. As a citizen of the United States, she sought to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty” for the Palestinian people of Gaza (Constitution of the United States).

Rachel did not intend to commit suicide. She did not plan to remain rigid and face the blades of a menacing bulldozer. She tried to move “as any reasonable person would have done.” But by the time she realized the driver would indeed crush her, Rachel was unable to escape. Tom Dale recalled, “As I told the court, just before she was crushed, Rachel briefly stood on top of the rolling mound of earth which had gathered in front of the bulldozer: her head was above the level of the blade, and just a few meters from the driver.” Rachel was unable to catch her balance and escape the situation.

Joe Carr, another American activist (who used the name of Joseph Smith during his time in Gaza) released the following record in an affidavit to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR): “Still wearing her fluorescent jacket, she knelt down at least 15 meters in front of the bulldozer, and began waving her arms and shouting, just as activists had successfully done dozens of times that day…. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer…. Her head and upper torso were above the bulldozer’s blade, and the bulldozer operator and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the operator continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the driver. He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer. We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted; one activist with the megaphone. But the bulldozer operator continued forward, until Corrie was all the way underneath the central section of the bulldozer.”

Rachel did not intend to “protect terrorists.” Tom Dale explained, “She stood in front of the home of a young family which was under threat of demolition by a bulldozer. Rachel was seeking to protect her friends, with whom she had lived.”

Despite the Israeli Haifa Court verdict, Rachel’s story has not been dismissed. It will not be dismissed until justice has prevailed. If anything, the lawsuit has revealed your corruption. This type of injustice perpetuates. This single tragedy, deemed accidental, is symbolic of an entire nation of Palestinian people who are denied basic human rights daily. Because they are the other. Because they are the non-jew. These indigenous Palestinian people are often disregarded because their country is no longer listed on a map.

But Rachel did not disregard these people.

Rachel discusses the atrocities she saw in Rafah, Israel.

Rachel is the reason I became interested in human rights. She is the reason I am addressing your respective court. I was ten years old when I met her parents at an event held by the Muslim Public Affairs Council honoring Rachel and her parents’ activism. Her story corrupted my innocence. It shattered the crystal ball of perfection associated with my childhood world. Initially, Rachel’s death merely made me aware of the injustice in Israel. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized the amount of media attention her death generated, and still generates today— nine years later. She proved to me that one lost American life is valued more than thousands of Palestinians’ lives.

On the night of Corrie’s death, nine Palestinians were also killed.

We never heard their stories.

Deaths in Israel have become normalized. These people suffer in silence. This is why Rachel’s family founded a non-violent direct-action organization, The Rachel Corrie Foundation. Rachel’s parents ensured that her death would not become a forgotten tragedy. They continue the work she “began and hoped to accomplish, and carry out that work with her vision, spirit, and creative energy in mind” (rachelcorriefoundation.org).

Albert Einstein said, “It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists (Jews) do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews.” Rachel fought for the nation of Israel through her desire to implement justice in the region. Israel will only seek to strengthen itself by allowing Palestinians to live freely within their defined national boundaries. They will earn international respect through abiding by international laws and ending the forceful occupation of the region. Oppressive tactics are not ideal for the maintenance of stability.

Even more than international awareness, Rachel’s story has become personal. Rachel’s bravery through her work for the ISM has given my life purpose. As an American, I was taught that freedom is an unalienable right. The United States boasts of these principles, yet unconditionally supports your nation of Israel. A nation that allowed this injustice to occur. A nation that dismissed a lost life in an effort to maintain a respectable reputation. A nation that has rejected justice.

That is the true tragedy.

I refuse to accept your Haifa Court ruling as conclusive. Rachel Corrie is my hero. She inspired me to live my life for others. The end of Rachel’s life marked the beginning of mine. I didn’t begin to truly live until I found something to live for.

I am committed to fight for justice in Israel. Rachel’s case will never die. Rachel’s cause will not be forgotten.

Even more than The Rachel Corrie Foundation, Rachel lives through me every day. I write with the emails she wrote to her family in mind. I exist with the understanding that I am blessed to live in a free nation. I prosper in the tranquility of my consistent safety. She reminds me that there are wonderful people in this world. I pursue a future of activism through her example. As I approach my 20th birthday this Monday, I realize just how young Rachel was at the time of her death. She was too young. Her life cannot go to waste. We must ensure that the work she started is finished.

I write this in loving memory of an extraordinary human being. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live simple, so others may simply live.” Rachel did that.

Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, stated at a press conference after your ruling, “I believe [that] was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”

Don’t let a political conflict become so extreme that your Haifa Court forgets the value of a human life.

With all due respect,

A Blessed College Student

A 5th Grade Speech Rachel made. She was always an activist.

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