October 19, 2014

GUEST ROOM: Remembering Rachel Corrie

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Today, actress Ashley Malloy will perform the stage play My Name is Rachel Corrie in the Memorial Room of Willard Straight Hall. As people across the world continue to stand in solidarity with Palestinians, especially after the relentless two-month-long pummeling of Gaza this summer, Cornellians would do well to remember the life of Rachel Corrie.

Rachel Corrie was an American college student who went to Gaza in 2003 as part of a senior-year assignment to connect her hometown — Olympia, Washington — with Rafah in the Gaza strip in a sister cities project. While in Gaza, she was an active part of the International Solidarity Movement and engaged in nonviolent resistance against the Israeli military. On March 16, 2003, as she stood in the way of a Palestinian home being demolished, Rachel was crushed to death by an IDF Bulldozer.

In many ways, the story of Rachel Corrie’s death symbolizes every story of Israeli aggression. The facts, as always, were simple: The Israeli army killed Rachel Corrie. To this day, Israel continues to try and weave a story that somehow makes it look ‘better’ than it was, with excuses such as “The operator didn’t see her,” or she “put herself in a dangerous situation” and so on. None of these statements, however, can mask the fact that her death was a cold-blooded murder committed with impunity.

This impunity has been the hallmark of Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian people across decades. These past few months saw a brutal campaign that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians; children were ultimately the targets of attacks on the beach and in playgrounds, the wounded were targeted in ambulances and inside hospitals, families were obliterated in the safety of their homes. And, yet, the IDF found ways to sell even this story to the media, claiming that the massive operation was somehow an expression of Israel’s “right to defend itself”. Many in Israel lauded the use of warning missiles that would ‘knock on the roof’ of homes before the more deadly strike, as proof of their commitment to ‘humane’ methods of war. Flyers asking residents to leave were dropped over neighborhoods before they were bombed, conveniently criminalizing entire communities already living under one of the harshest blockades in recent times.

But even if words like ‘occupation,’ ‘blockade’ and ‘open-air prison’ mean nothing to you, the comparative death toll (2,104 Palestinian, 72 Israeli) speaks for itself. When you defend acts like Operation Protective Edge, you defend mass murder.

Rachel Corrie’s parents sued the state of Israel for a symbolic one U.S. Dollar. After almost ten years, an Israeli civilian court upheld the military investigation in 2003 which had concluded that the Israeli government was not responsible for her death. Indeed, one soldier even said later, “Maybe she was hiding in there,” implying that Rachel had been responsible for her own death. In what moral logic can the victim of a murder be responsible for her own death? Yet the chilling fact is not that this happened once, but that Palestinians continue to be blamed for their own deaths every day. For example, once a house has been hit by a ‘warning’ missile, the IDF treats those inside as combatants for refusing to leave their homes. A writer in the Wall Street Journal goes as far as to make the ludicrous claim that “to qualify as a civilian, one has to do more than simply look the part.” According to this logic, all Palestinians are by definition combatants unless they abjectly submit their lives and dignity to Israel and somehow ‘qualify as civilian,’ whatever that means.

Israel committed an act of aggression, with the (no doubt profitable) complicity of a multi-national corporation. (Caterpillar, by the way, continues to provide Israel with military bulldozers whose very purpose is to demolish homes. It also provides construction machines used on Cornell’s campus). The United States looked the other way. And instead of getting justice, the victim was blamed for it. A massive public relations campaign from the Israeli government then did its best to cover up for these crimes. This pattern — as played out with the death of Rachel Corrie or Operation Protective Edge — is not the exception but the rule.

Meanwhile, the conditions under which Rachel died — the virtual inability of Palestinians to build homes on their own land — have only gotten worse. The “only democracy in the Middle East” has demolished more than 27,000 Palestinian homes, businesses, livestock facilities and other structures in the Occupied Palestinian Territories since 1967. A third of the structures in East Jerusalem are awaiting demolition orders, even as Jewish-only settlements continue to be added to the municipality’s limits. This number is in addition to the hundreds of entire villages and neighborhoods which were emptied of their residents in the more overt form of ethnic cleansing carried out in 1948. According to the Israeli Committee on House Demolitions, more than 94 percent of Palestinian permit applications in recent years for East Jerusalem or ‘Area C’ (60 percent) of the West Bank have been denied by Israel.

What is most inspiring about Rachel Corrie is that she took the leap from awareness to action. Many of us know exactly what is going on in Israel-Palestine and yet fail to act. The Palestinian people have suffered far too long for mere words or abstract ‘dialogue’ to make any difference. Instead, we must work in solidarity with the people living under occupation and apartheid — just as Rachel Corrie did — in order to support indigenous resistance to modern colonialism. For a start, we as consumers in American society or as members of the Cornell community can begin by honoring the call from Palestinian civil society to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel until it complies with human rights and international law.

Emad Masroor is a sophomore in the College of Engineering and a staff designer for The Sun. He may be reached at [email protected]. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.