Skip to comments.Making of a martyr
Posted on 03/23/2003 5:33:54 AM PST by Oldeconomybuyer
|As always, Rachel Corrie went last Sunday to the falafel stall where she usually had lunch and bantered with the Palestinian proprietors. Carrying a loudspeaker and wearing an orange fluorescent vest, the young American peace campaigner was heading for a protest against the Israeli army's demolition of Palestinian houses in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah.
Later that afternoon Corrie, 23, died under the blade of an Israeli bulldozer and now, according to a growing legend, she is a new heroine for Palestine. There are graffiti in Gaza in her honour - one slogan reads: 'Rachel was a US citizen with Palestinian blood' - there is a picture of her on the website of the terrorist group, an honour usually reserved for suicide bombers. Yasser Arafat has pledged to name a street after her.
In the United States there have been tearful candlelit vigils in her home town, her letters home have been published on the internet, there have been glowing tributes from her friends and teachers, anger from politicians, a march to condemn Israel's actions and calls for an investigation.
And, of course, there is interest from Hollywood in the story, with film-makers already approaching people who knew Corrie and her comfortable middle-class, middle-American family.
Her Western friends are witnessing the making of a martyr. They have seen the extraordinary transformation of Corrie, a blonde Evergreen College student from the safe town of Olympia in Washington state, a girl-next-door who played soccer, liked gardening and loved the poetry of Pablo Neruda, into a symbol of the Palestinian resistance.
It's an unlikely legacy for the dreamer Corrie, youngest daughter of Craig, an insurance executive, and Cindy, a volunteer in schools. Their child was an accomplished flautist who recently moved from Olympia to the gentle countryside of North Carolina
A peace activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), Corrie knelt in the path of the Israeli machine to prevent it demolishing a house near the Egyptian border in the southern Gaza Strip. She had got away with this tactic on other occasions, but this time the bulldozer didn't stop. She struggled to climb the mountain of earth it was pushing in front of its blade, but as the machine got higher she slipped and was buried. The driver slowly advanced and ran her over twice.
'A regrettable accident,' said the Israeli army; a war crime, claims the ISM.
Corrie knew the risks, but unlike the other Palestinian shahids she was born into the US milk-and-cookies culture, not the refugee camps of a society that celebrates the cult of martyrdom.
'Her death serves me more than it served her,' said one activist at a Hamas funeral yesterday. 'Going in front of the tanks was heroic. Her death will bring more attention than the other 2,000 martyrs.'
Corrie's courage is in no doubt. Simply being in Rafah is terrifying. There are daily gun battles and Israeli tank incursions and air bombardments. The city is overlooked by grim Israeli watch towers known as the 'towers of death'. It is squalid and oppressed.
Corrie and her fellow ISM activists chose to live there to bring attention to the misery of the Palestinians and show solidarity with people perceived as terrorists by most Americans. They are respected and welcomed by the Palestinians, and often act as human shields to protect children from Israeli gunfire by accompanying them as they walk to school. Rachel had become politically conscious only since 11 September, 2001. She was no Hamas or Islamic Jihad militant, groomed for martyrdom and soothed by the promise of a privileged place in heaven.
In Rafah, Arafat's political party Fatah held a wake for 'Retchell Corie', attended by representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade, among others. These are the militant Islamic fronts condemned by Rachel's government as terrorists. Their people mingled with secular organisations and droves of ordinary Palestinians who came to pay their respects, including children carrying a sign: 'Rachel, we love you as an angel.' A little boy pointed to a picture of her and said: 'She died defending this holy and blessed land.'
It is the first time an American has been adopted as a Palestinian martyr. The posters of Corrie that began to appear on buildings and lampposts look incongruous beside pictures of the hundreds of Arab men, women and babies killed since the intifada began. The homage is particularly ironic because it began as US troops were preparing for the invasion of Iraq, seen here by many as a crusade against the Arab world.
Rafah is a besieged town, the 'hottest' in the Occupied Territories. Corrie came here in January to record human rights abuses and help local charities. She came as a human shield, but she didn't think she would die.
Her British friend and fellow activist, Tom Dale, 18, from Lichfield in Staffordshire, said he saw her die. First, he said, there was fear on her face as she realised that her defiant gesture was going wrong. Joe Smith, 21, who went to college with Corrie, said that, although they acknowledged the danger, they saw death as a 'small, unlikely, potential risk'.
'We knew there was a risk,' Smith said, 'but we also knew it never happened in the two years that we (the ISM) have been working here. I knew we take lots of precautions so that it doesn't happen, that if it did happen it would have to be an intentional act by a soldier, in which case it would bring a lot of publicity and significance to the cause.'
The activists have compelling photographic evidence to support eyewitness claims that Corrie's death was a deliberate, murderous mowing down of a unarmed protester. Dale watched as she knelt down in front of the bulldozer, perhaps 20 metres away, something the activists had done repeatedly that day as they had in the past. 'The bulldozer went towards her, very slowly, she was fully in clear view, straight in front of them.'
As the bulldozer got closer, it pushed a mound of earth in front of its blade. The heap began to overtake Corrie so she stood up to climb up the mounting soil. 'Unfortunately, she couldn't keep her grip there and she started to slip down. You could see that she was in serious trouble, there was panic on her face as she was turning around,' said Dale. 'All the activists there were screaming, running towards the bulldozer, trying to get them to stop. But they just kept on going. '
The activists said the driver saw Corrie. 'As the mound grew higher she climbed up, getting to eye level with the driver. He saw her in her fluorescent orange jacket. But he kept on going,' Smith said.
A traumatised Smith raised his camera and took photographs: Rachel standing in front of the bulldozer; then her bloodied body being pulled from the freshly turned soil; being cradled in the arms of her friends.
'If only they'd had a video camera,' one Palestinian journalist lamented. 'A film of the Israelis killing an American in cold blood would have ended the intifada.'
The weight of the heavy-duty, US-made military earthmover, its blade down, dragged over her body, crushing the American student deep into the soil. Once. Twice. She was still alive when the driver, an Israeli soldier, reversed over her, but she died soon after being taken in a Red Crescent ambulance to Rafah hospital, where she regained consciousness for a moment. Her last words were: 'My back is broken.'
The hospital report says Corrie died from suffocation. Her ribs and left clavicle were broken. Her upper lip was lacerated. The doctors stitched up her face for the journey home to her grieving family on the other side of the world.
The Israeli Defence Force has opened an investigation into Corrie's death. An IDF official confirmed that a military police investigation has also been launched, which will last between a week and a month. The spokesman could not confirm whether the US government had requested the investigation, though her parents have asked for one. He criticised the student and the other activists for putting themselves in harm's way by entering a combat zone. 'They were highly irresponsible,' he told The Observer .
For now, the official Israeli line is that the driver did not see Rachel through the bulldozer's thick bullet-proof glass. However, the spokesman acknowledged that the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) that accompany bulldozers are responsible for directing the drivers towards their targets. So why didn't the APC drivers get the bulldozer to stop? The IDF declined to comment.
There was a storm in Rafah last Wednesday. Strong, gusting winds blew desert sand across the roads, lodging in puddles on the bitumen. At 2.30pm it began to rain. Water bonded with the sand and fell as droplets of mud on the mourners who had gathered to commemorate Corrie at the spot where she was fatally injured. The desolate sandy stretch is now strewn with the rubble from the demolition of houses which she could not prevent. It faces towards the Egyptian border where Israeli troops are on patrol.
As the memorial service got under way, the Israeli army sent its own representative. A tank pulled up beside the mourners and sprayed them with tear gas. A bizarre game of cat-and-mouse began as the peace activists chased the tank around to throw flowers on it, and the Israeli soldiers inside threatened, in return, to run them down.
The game ended when the Israeli bulldozers came out, accompanied by more APCs, firing guns and percussion bombs. The insult was as clear as the danger of the situation and the people went home, the service halted.
There are those who dismiss Western activists as just well-intentioned 'political tourists', naive and ineffectual do-gooders. On the night of Corrie's death, nine Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, among them a four-year-old girl and a man aged 90. A total of 220 people have died in Rafah since the beginning of the intifada.
Palestinians know the death of one American receives more attention than the killing of hundreds of Muslims. 'It is a fact,' agrees Richard Purcell, who shared a messy, run-down flat with Rachel Corrie in Rafah. 'That's the way things are in this world. I wish it wasn't.'
a dead American
She was a moron. A do-gooder moron with a backpack and a megaphone who thought the Israelis would treat her with the kid gloves she would get back here.
Too bad. She loses. Darwin rules. NEXT!