OUR hearts go out to the family of Rachel Corrie, the 24-year-old woman from Olympia who died when an Israeli bulldozer ran over her in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003. Words simply cannot convey the enormity of this tragedy.
The question of responsibility, however, remains controversial. As an innocent victim of an Israeli bulldozer, Rachel became an emotional symbol for opponents of Israel around the world, in numerous articles and op-eds, documentary films. Even the play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” made what happened to her a metaphor for Israeli treatment of Palestinian s.
When an Israeli military inquiry cleared the Israel Defense Forces of blame, the Corrie family launched a civil suit charging that the soldier driving the bulldozer intentionally ran her over, and that the state of Israel should therefore pay compensation and punitive damages.
On Aug. 28, the Haifa district court in Israel rendered its verdict. [For the Corrie family reaction, read “The disturbing court ruling on Rachel Corrie,” by Cindy Corrie, Opinion, Sept. 30.] After hearing extensive evidence from everyone who witnessed the incident — Rachel’s peace-activist colleagues as well as Israeli army personnel stationed in the area — the court concluded unequivocally that it was an accident: The driver could not possibly have seen her lying in front of the bulldozer.
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The driver, relating his story to an Israeli television interviewer, explained that sitting in the cab of the bulldozer, “You can’t hear, you can’t see well. You can go over something and you’ll never know.” Immediately upon becoming aware of what happened, the Israelis rushed Rachel to the hospital, where she died some 20 minutes later.
The tragedy of this accident is all the more poignant when we examine why Rachel was on the ground as the bulldozer neared. She lay in harm’s way in the noble belief that she was preventing the destruction of someone’s home. It turns out, however, that her innocence and good intentions were being cynically exploited by others.
Rachel was there as part of an International Solidarity Movementdemonstration. The International Solidarity Movement describes itself as a Palestinian-led organization seeking “to support and strengthen the Palestinian popular resistance” through nonviolent means. That is, it rejects the view championed by the United States and the European Union that favors Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as the path toward two states, one Jewish and the other Palestinian, living side-by-side in peace.
Instead, the International Solidarity Movement, which has a long history of interfering with Israeli efforts to combat terrorism, promotes confrontation and rejects the legitimacy of the state of Israel. It is also deeply anti-American, and Rachel Corrie, in her innocence, allowed herself to be photographed burning a mock American flag in the company of laughing Palestinian children.
On that fateful day, the International Solidarity Movement told Rachel and other activists that the Israeli bulldozers were there to raze Palestinian houses. In fact, this particular area, the Philadelphi corridor of the Rafah area, was a war zone. Palestinian terrorists were using it to launch multiple attacks — including a live hand grenade thrown at Israeli forces less than an hour before Rachel was run over. The bulldozers were leveling the ground to make such attacks more difficult and easier to spot.
Thus, deliberate International Solidarity Movement disinformation about fictitious home demolitions led this well-meaning young woman to her death.
The Israeli court decision is surely not the end of the story. The family is determining their next steps. Unfortunately, this family, like their late daughter, is allowing itself to be used by the Israel-haters. The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice that her parents set up belies its name by advocating a boycott of Israel and Israeli products.
However misguided her action, Rachel Corrie was clearly deeply committed to peace. Ironically, then, her most appropriate memorial would not be the glorification of confrontation, but the achievement of a negotiated two-state solution.
Wendy Rosen is director of the American Jewish Committee’s Seattle Region.