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Aching Rafah: Gaza, 21 Years After the Killing of Rachel Corrie

ColumnMarch 21, 2024
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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

“oh rafah. aching rafah. aching of refugees aching of tumbled houses bicycles severed from tank-warped tires and aching of bullet riddled homes…”

So begins a poem written by Rachel Corrie, in Gaza in 2003, just weeks before she was crushed to death by a US-made Israeli military bulldozer, while she and others from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) nonviolently resisted the demolition of yet another Palestinian home.

Now, as Israel plans a land invasion of Rafah, where an estimated 1.4 million refugees from across Gaza have fled Israel’s unrelenting bombardment that has killed over 32,000 people, and as Israel’s strategically-imposed starvation stalks and kills the children of Gaza, her words are strikingly relevant.

Rachel Corrie died on March 16th, 2003, three days before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. She was 23 years old, soon to graduate from Evergreen State College in her hometown of Olympia, Washington. She went to Gaza to commit her idealism to action, in solidarity with Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. What she saw transformed her.

“I’ve been here for about a month and a half now, and this is definitely the most difficult situation that I have ever seen,” Rachel said on camera, later released in “Death of an Idealist,” a 2005 documentary. “In the time that I’ve been here, children have been shot and killed. On the 30th of January, the Israeli military bulldozed the two largest water wells, destroying over half of Rafah’s water supply. Every few days, if not every day, houses are demolished here.”

Tom Dale, a fellow activist, was with Rachel when she was killed.

“A bulldozer turned toward the home of Dr. Samir Nasrallah. Dr. Samir and his young family were friends of Rachel,” Dale recalled on the Democracy Now! news hour this week, 21 years after Rachel was killed. “She placed herself between the bulldozer and the home, as we had done so many times before and, indeed, as we had done earlier in that day. The bulldozer driver just kept on going…ultimately, she lost her footing, and she was sucked down into the earth and terribly, horrifically died.”

Devastated by the loss of their daughter, Rachel’s parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, committed themselves to the cause that cost Rachel her life. They formed the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, to support peacebuilding in Gaza and elsewhere. They also sought justice, unsuccessfully, through the courts in both Israel and the US, suing the Israeli military and Caterpillar, the bulldozer manufacturer.

Speaking this week on Democracy Now!, the Corries reflected on the ongoing occupation, siege, and now war on Gaza, a place they have visited multiple times, never without personal risk. Cindy recalled their September, 2003 visit to Rafah:

“We sat on the floor in the Nasrallah family’s home and ate a wonderful lunch,” she said. “We were taken to the spot…exactly where Rachel had been when she was killed.”

Craig Corrie described how Dr. Samir Nasrallah, a pharmacist, and his family are now trying to escape Gaza into Egypt:

“That family did everything they could to hold onto that house. They were eventually forced out, and some of them went through seven other houses. Now we hear that they want out of Gaza. After 21 years of trying to hold onto their homes and their lives and their futures and their pasts in Gaza, like so many people, they want to survive, and they want out,” Craig said.

He added, “At this point we have to be looking directly at the Palestinians and hearing their voices…as long as Israel is coveting the lands and the homes of Palestinian people, there will not be peace in Israel and Palestine, and neither the Israeli people nor the Palestinian people will be safe.”

Rachel Corrie was a talented writer. On February 27th, 2003, just over two weeks before she was killed, she wrote her mother, “I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared…This has to stop.” Rachel went on, “Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.”

Streets in Palestine are named after Rachel, as is a children’s center in Rafah. Palestinian poet Mohammed Abu Lebda, who as a child lived not far from where Rachel was killed, said on Democracy Now!, “Every single person here in Gaza…and especially Rafah, knows Rachel Corrie – because she was trying to deliver a very important message, the most important message in the world, which is peace.”

Related Story

StoryMar 18, 2024Rachel Corrie: Parents & Friend Remember U.S. Activist Crushed by Israeli Bulldozer in Rafah in 2003
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