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The non-violent way to justice

The non-violent way to justice

Issue 87 December 2011

Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16th 2003. Her mother recollects her daughter’s passion for justice.

 

My daughter Rachel Corrie brought me to the Palestinian/Israeli issue. Ours was a family and community that generally thought about the world and its inhabitants in a loving, curious way. We connected, as comfortable Americans do, through following and discussing the news, attending events, and making donations to support those in third world countries—but there was never any intention of sacrifice. In 2003, Rachel travelled to Gaza to join the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of Palestinian and international activists who use non-violent, direct-action methods to confront the Israeli occupation. Why did she go? Rachel was motivated by her family and community experiences, by her questions about US foreign policy that arose after 9/11 shattering our nation’s sense of security and self-satisfaction, and simply by whom she was as a human being.  


Once in Gaza, Rachel documented when the Israeli military destroyed Palestinian olive orchards, gardens, and greenhouses and harassed Palestinians at checkpoints. She worked with women and children and planned for a sister-city project to connect people in Rafah with those in Olympia, her hometown. Through phone calls and e-mails, she introduced family and friends to life in Occupied Palestine: “I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank shell holes in their walls, and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me —Ali—or point at the posters of him on the walls.”

 

Rachel stayed with civilian Gazan families whose homes were threatened by widespread military clearing demolitions. On 16th March 2003, while working with seven international activists, she was crushed by a military Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer as she stood to protect a threatened Palestinian home.  The family who owned it watched from inside their garden wall, as the bulldozer approached.

 

The horror of learning what happened that day is etched in my memory—a searing pain like nothing I had experienced before, and hope never to experience again. The loss is encompassing and forever—and from a parent’s perspective, the price too dear. But there is another cost too much to bear—that of discouraging a child from being all they can be. We are sometimes asked why we did not stop Rachel from going to Gaza. Her father’s response is, “Why weren’t we all there?”


I have connected with families of others lost to the non-violent struggle in Palestine, and to those injured—Palestinians, Israelis and others. Despite the pain, I am struck by their continued conviction about the rightness of the cause, and the methods of resisting. In 2005, Gene Sharp, an expert on non-violent resistance, stated at a Bethlehem conference, “None of this is safe. None of this is easy. But these are the tools for those struggling for liberation and for those of us who work with them.”


With her writings from Gaza, Rachel charted our path: “This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benetar, and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop.” In the eight years since Rachel was killed, I have witnessed the injustice in the West Bank and Gaza but, also, the imagination and determination of Palestinian activists—and the resilience of all Palestinians who, despite occupation, act with dignity, and with determination not to be silenced. They continue to ask us to visit, and to stand in solidarity with them in Palestine and back home. Israeli Jewish and Palestinian activists challenge their country’s policies and actions, but tell me they cannot succeed alone. They need the rest of us.  

 

International solidarity can take many forms. We can make the journey to Israel/Palestine in person, through the internet, or by connecting to efforts in our own communities. Whatever the path, we must follow the news, share the stories, be visible, and strategically challenge policies that allow the injustice to continue. Rachel was compelled to live meaningfully. She made the journey to Palestine because (as an American) she felt implicated in Israel’s actions and felt a responsibility to challenge them.


Books of Mahatma Gandhi were on Rachel’s shelves. She knew that suffering and sacrifice in some form is one element of non-violent resistance. She also knew from Gandhi that “a small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.” Our actions are cumulative; our numbers are increasing; and our struggle is for our own universal human rights. To achieve and maintain those for everyone, we must continue to stand with the Palestinians.


Cindy Corrie, guest comment writer, is the President of the Rachel Corrie Foundation.




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