x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Corrie's legacy deserves to live long in the memory

Rachel Corrie is a hero to Palestinians. But why is she almost unknown in her own country, the US?

If you've never heard of Rachel Corrie, two YouTube clips should sum up this remarkable American woman.

In the first, a fresh-faced 10-year-old fifth-grader talks about her dreams of eradicating hunger for children around the world. "I'm here because I care."

The second, an interview by Middle East Broadcasting 13 years later, reveals a distraught 23-year-old peace activist talking of the desperation engulfing the lives of Palestinians in Gaza under Israeli occupation. "I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive," she says.

Two days later, on March 16, 2003, Corrie made herself a human shield, attempting to stop an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) bulldozer from demolishing the home of Palestinian pharmacist Samir Nasrallah. She was wearing a fluorescent jacket and speaking through a megaphone when she lost her balance and fell. Seconds later she was crushed by the advancing IDF vehicle. Her last words were: "My back is broken, my back is broken."

Nine years on, Corrie's family are still awaiting official acknowledgement of this injustice. Not surprisingly, an investigation by the state of Israel absolved the driver of any wrongdoing, despite testimony of four eyewitnesses, Corrie's co-workers with the International Solidarity Movement, who said she had been clearly visible. The IDF blamed her death on falling debris.

A civil lawsuit, filed in 2005 on behalf of Rachel's parents Craig and Cindy Corrie and her sister Sarah Corrie Simpson, concluded last month. The suit charges the state of Israel with responsibility for Rachel's killing and failure to conduct a fair investigation. Next Tuesday, August 28, the Haifa District Court 's decision will finally be announced.

The case has already made a difference. CAT D9 bulldozers, like the one involved in Rachel's death, have come under increasing scrutiny for the part they play in destroying Palestinian homes. And no one has done more than the Corries, and The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, to raise awareness of the continuing demolitions.

Small victories have followed. In 2010, the Jerusalem Post reported that Caterpillar Inc, a US-based company, was withholding delivery of bulldozers to Israel for the duration of the case. And last year, at Caterpillar's annual shareholders' meeting in Little Rock, Arkansas, the firm's directors were questioned, mainly by the rights group Jewish Voice for Peace, about sales to Israel and the company's human rights practices.

Today, Caterpillar has become one of the main targets of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), an international economic campaign against Israel that began in 2005. Indeed, the BDS campaign was in part responsible for the downgrading of Caterpillar Inc's financial rating in June by MSCI, a company that analyses companies and stocks, and the subsequent decision by investment firm TIAA-CREF to drop the firm from its Social Choice Funds Portfolio.

But demolitions continue, as do settlement expansions in the West Bank. Sadly, even victory for the Corries next week is unlikely to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes, roads, farms and olive trees. The intentions of those who use the bulldozers remain a long way from being altered.

And yet awareness of Rachel Corrie's actions, and her family's tireless campaigning, have been priceless for Palestinians.

What is harder to comprehend is the lack of support for the Corries in the US, where the media in particular has been shamefully quiet on Rachel's death. Some outlets even accused her of protecting terrorists. Today, few in the US have a true understanding of her case.

Whatever the decision next week, Rachel Corrie's legacy deserves wider acknowledgement. Above all, she should be remembered as a hero by Americans, as she is by Palestinians.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AliKhaled_