JUST ahead of the United States-led war on Iraq, the peace movement had its first American martyr. Rachel Corrie, a young American working among downtrodden Palestinians, was killed in the third week of March, run over by an Israeli bulldozer. Rachel, along with seven other Americans and Britons, was acting as a human shield to try and prevent the demolition of Palestinian houses in Rafah, a small town on the Gaza Strip.
Rachel was part of the International Solidarity Movement, a group of activists in their twenties and thirties who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Most of its members are from the U.S. and the U.K. The group came into prominence when some of them rushed into the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in May 2002, right under the noses of Israeli soldiers, to show solidarity with a group of Palestinians who were under siege inside for more than a month. Their activism probably saved the lives of the Palestinians, for the stand-off ended soon afterwards and many of the Palestinians were granted safe passage.
Rachel, who was to graduate from college in the United States later this year, had come to Palestine two months earlier. She and her friends lived with poor Palestinian families in areas where Israeli bulldozers were routinely demolishing Palestinian houses. Rachel Corrie and her comrades had on several occasions tried to prevent such demolitions. In an e-mail message she sent her parents shortly before she was killed, Rachel had described one such incident in which members of her group stood in the path of bulldozers and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house. The message went on to say that the bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house while the protesters were still inside. The incident that claimed the young Americans life was eerily similar to the one she had described in her own message. Rachel was kneeling before an Israeli army bulldozer to prevent it from destroying a home. Kneeling before bulldozers on a demolition job was a standard practice adopted by the group. The army driver did not stop, although Rachels friends used a megaphone to ask the driver to do so. The army later described it as a very regrettable incident, although eyewitnesses said nothing obscured the drivers vision. Rachel died of a fractured skull and other injuries. Ironically, Rachel had said in her e-mail that the Israeli army would not dare shoot at an unarmed American civilian.
According to one of her teachers at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, Rachel was very active in opposing the U.S. war against terror and American militarism in general. Justice for the Palestinian people was a cause that was close to Rachels heart. She decided to go to the Gaza Strip mainly because she felt that the presence of international observers was essential in the occupied territories at a time when American troops were invading Iraq.