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Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie
At Burning Man (info)
In Gaza (info)

Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003) was an American member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and an activist against the Israeli occupation of the "Palestinian territories", who was crushed to death during the Al-Aqsa Intifada in a Gaza Strip refugee camp[?] while trying to block an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozer[?]. The blame for her death was seen by some as being with the IDF, by some as being with Corrie herself, and by some as being with the ISM.

Corrie grew up in Olympia, Washington, and graduated from Capital High School[?]. She had been a senior at the Evergreen State College[?] in Olympia, where she studied the arts and international relations. 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, she was known in the local peace movement and was an active member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace. She was survived by her father, Craig Corrie, and mother, Cindy Corrie.

Table of contents

Arrival in Gaza

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Corrie burning mock flag at protest (see text)

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:

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At a well

As well as direct action, Corrie was a human rights observer, attempting to document the actions of Israeli troops in the area, such as the destruction of 25 greenhouses, and the digging up of the road to Gaza City. She also documented shots being 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 email 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".

Her third role was simply talking to the local Palestinians - she spent several "home stays" sleeping with various families in Rafah. In emails to her mother, she mentions such comparatively mundane pursuits 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.

Fatal incident in Rafah

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Corrie hours before incident
Alternate (info)

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was one of a group of seven ISM activists (made of three British and four Americans) who were attempting to disrupt IDF demolition operations where armored bulldozers are used to level buildings and vegetation. These operations are part of a larger Israeli project to prevent smuggling between Egypt and the Gaza Strip by constructing a wall and clearing tunnels. This project is opposed by Palestinians.

On this particular day, two bulldozers, supported by a tank, 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 run over. Corrie was standing in front of a house owned by her friend Samir Masri (some reports have his name as Samir Nasrallah), who is a Palestinian physician. There have been unsubstantiated allegations that Masri is a collaborator with Palestinian suicide bombers.

Corrie immediately after incident

Most eyewitness accounts of Corrie's death have come from her fellow ISM activists, while a couple came from Palestinian witnesses. These accounts have changed over time and continue to differ on key details.

According to these accounts, the group had been attempting to obstruct the bulldozers for roughly two hours. These attempts consisted primarily of kneeling or standing in front of the bulldozers, and shouting at the bulldozer operators through a megaphone. The protesters report that the bulldozers had generally ignored their presence and that only by diving out of the paths of the bulldozers at the last minute had they avoided being crushed. Roughly an hour before the fatal incident the IDF used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the ISM protesters, who later regrouped.

A fellow ISM activist stated that she was "kneeling in front of the bulldozer and tried to scramble out of its way , said Tom Dale, 18, a British protester who said he was standing several yards away. "She thought they'd stop, but they kept going," Dale said. "She tried to stand up and fell over backwards. The bulldozer dragged her under its blade. About four of the internationals [protesters] gestured to the driver . . . but it kept going, and she was under the main body of the bulldozer."

Crushed beneath the debris and the bulldozer, Corrie suffered massive internal injuries. The bulldozers and tank 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.

Corrie's death was foreshadowed by an email she had sent a month earlier where she wrote "[We] stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house. The bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house with [us] inside."

Reactions to Corrie's death

Peace vigil in Olympia
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Palestinian memorial

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 killing of Rachel Corrie 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".

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".

An official investigation of the event by IDF 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 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.

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