Rachel Aliene Corrie American Peace Activist and Palestine
A window on the maturation of a young woman seeking to make the world a better place
My Name is Rachel Corrie from Neworld Theatre on Vimeo.
Rachel Aliene Corrie (April 10, 1979 – March 16, 2003) was an American peace activist and member of International Solidarity Movement (ISM) from Olympia, Washington, who was crushed to death by an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) armored bulldozer in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip
She had come to Gaza during the height of the second Palestinian intifada as part of her senior-year college assignment to connect her home town with Rafah in a sister cities project. While there she had engaged with other ISM activists in efforts to non-violently prevent the Israeli army’s demolition of the homes of Palestinian people.
Less than two months after her arrival, on March 16, 2003, Corrie was killed after a three hour confrontation between two bulldozers and eight ISM activists. Wearing a bright orange fluorescent jacket and, until shortly before her death, using a megaphone, she was killed while standing in the path of a bulldozer that she believed was about to demolish the house of local pharmacist Samir Nasralla’s family whom she had befriended. She was run over twice by the bulldozer resulting in a fractured skull, shattered ribs and punctured lungs.
The exact nature of her death and the culpability of the bulldozer operator are disputed, with eyewitnesses saying that the Israeli soldier operating the bulldozer deliberately ran over Corrie, and the Israeli government saying that it was an accident since the bulldozer operator could not see her.
Let Me Stand Alone – The Journals of Rachel Corrie
‘I will dance and play basketball and I’ll have real stories to tell. I won’t just be a sack of words …’
Rachel Corrie’s diaries
1990, aged 11
I want to be a lawyer, a dancer, an actress, a mother, a wife, a children’s author, a distance runner, a poet, a pianist, a pet store owner, an astronaut, an environmental and humanitarian activist, a psychiatrist, a ballet teacher, and the first woman president.
When I am an old woman, I will stop trying to look beautiful. I will quit wearing make-up and buying uncomfortable clothes because they look good. Maybe I will take up nudism. I will dance and play basketball and replenish my stock of Crayolas. I will write stories and they will be good, because by that time I will have real stories to tell, and I won’t be just a sack of words.
When I am an old woman I will leave my clothes on the floor (if I wear any) and make someone else do the laundry. I will put plants everywhere and plant flowers in my yard. I will take up karate and learn to flamenco-dance.
I will never, ever, ever cook. I will race my grandchildren and beat them and I will actually run when we play baseball.
I will get a cow and put it in my back yard and I will get a motorcycle and some leather pants.
I started writing the other day in McDonald’s, but the idea of being this weird beatnik chick composing prose between French fries didn’t appeal to me so I stopped. I’ve decided that I’m going to spend the rest of my life travelling the US as a prospective student at small liberal arts colleges. Either that or, like Courtney Love, I’m going to write some silly songs about how much it sucks to go to high school in Olympia, dye my hair the colour of a skinned chicken, show my crotch a lot, and hopefully make big money.
I decided that I only like new people. New people are better than old people. New people can’t reject you. And if they do it’s their fault for not giving you a chance. New people are curious about who you are, and they don’t stop being curious until they turn into old people. You can be honest with new people because you have nothing invested. That’s why I’m never going to get married or have children or stay in one place for more than five years.
Had a dream about falling, falling to my death off of something dusty and smooth and crumbling like the cliffs in Utah, but I kept holding on, and when each new foothold or handle of rock broke, I reached out as I fell and grabbed a new one. I didn’t have time to think about anything – just react as if I was playing an adrenaline-filled video game. And I heard I can’t die. I can’t die again and again in my head.
And I felt guilty.
Seems somehow positive compared to the dreams I used to have of tumbling, thinking, This is it, I’m going to die.
Morning Sweet Morning.
On the bus after graveyard shift, I have my snacks from last night in a paper bag. I can feel how pale I am. I make eye contact with a cute boy in the back who looks back balefully.
I become enraptured. Everyone on the bus is chatty today. Two women with sculpted hair and lipstick talk across the aisle to each other about their plans for getting healthy: ‘And I’m going to walk more, to work on the weight problem.’
‘And diet. Diet is really important.’
I begin to grin as we pass the auto-glass shop. I can see what the guy across from me is reading and try to guess if he is an old man or an old woman. Behind the ladies, a black man with longish hair tells the woman next to him, ‘People here don’t know what poor is. They’re making $70,000 a year and they think they’re poor.’
‘Because money makes you spend more money. You get stuff and then you have to take care of your stuff,’ the woman agrees.
She’s young. Maybe my age. In the back of the bus someone is talking about some band and they’re trading headphones around.
All these people are awake and chatty and I’m tired from my graveyard shift. I really do love them. I love us, riding the bus together. I know it’s a privilege to love riding the bus after having a car, but you know – I don’t really care. Fuck that car. Fuck all of that. I love us, riding the bus together. I love the transit center.
We are all born and someday we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. Our aloneness in this world is, maybe not any more, a thing to mourn. Maybe it has to do with freedom.
What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? Tragic passing of love affairs and causes and communities and peer groups. What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure – to experience the world as a dynamic presence – as a changeable, interactive thing?
What you might not realise is that for me, this is the end of life as we know it. Life has always been based here, in Olympia. There has never been a me that did not live here. I have never had a home that was not here.
What does this mean about leaving? And what does it mean about going to a place where there are people who have never seen their homes?
25 January 2003
Very little problem at the airport. My tight jeans and cropped bunny-hair sweater seem to have made all the difference – and of course the use of my Israeli friend’s address. The only question was, ‘Where did you meet her?’ The woman behind the glass appeared not to notice my shaking hands. Took a sherut into Jerusalem. Noticed that the Holy Land is full of rocks and it seems like driving, you could fall off these hills. Just before we leave the airport, I read in the Let’s Go Israel book that more Israelis have been killed in car accidents than in all of Israel’s wars combined. I am still trying to decide what to make of this tidbit of information a day later.
27 January 2003
Travel to Rafah. Pass soldiers at bus stations – bombed market in Gaza City. Jehan greets cab. Children grab my ass, throw garbage at my head, scream ‘What’s your name?’ Sleep in tent. Gunshot through tent. Start smoking.
29 January 2003
I don’t have time to write, but we need more people here. This is a jail that the jailkeepers decided was too big, so now they are squeezing it smaller. The people here live within smell of the ocean but they can’t go see it any more.
‘What is there beautiful? We could go see the ocean. One thing beautiful. Now I cannot see the ocean. What is for the children that is beautiful?’
An eight-year-old named Ali died the day before I came.
‘He just wanted to look at the tank – see the tank – and they explode his head.’
The surreal thing is that we are safe. White-skinned people stand up in front of the tanks and they open their weird tank lids and wave at us. Children play behind us and we yell, ‘La! La!’ when they try to wander out into the rubble to play with us – because somehow even though you are born in a cage and you have never lived without shooting all night, you are still able to play.
I couldn’t even believe that a place like this existed. But even more – can you believe there are children here? Forget the fear. They tell me that at night. Forget the fear. I am ashamed that I am scared for my own body and dying anonymously inside a house in one of the most populous places on earth, where children die as martyrs of the occupation, which we pay for quietly without ever knowing their names. We need more people.
28 February 2003
Thanks, Mom, for the response to my email… [I’ve just spent] ten hours with a family on the front line in Hi Salaam – who fixed me dinner – and have cable TV. The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole family – three kids and two parents – sleep in the parents’ bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all share blankets. I helped the son with his English homework a little, and we all watched Pet Sematary, which is a horrifying movie. They all thought it was pretty funny how much trouble I had watching it. Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching Gummy Bears dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons. Then I walked some way to Brazil, which is where Nidal and Mansur and Grandmother and Rafat and all the rest of the big family that has really wholeheartedly adopted me, live. The other day, by the way, Grandmother gave me a pantomimed lecture in Arabic that involved a lot of blowing and pointing to her black shawl. I got Nidal to tell her that my mother would appreciate knowing someone here was giving me a lecture about smoking turning my lungs black. Nidal’s English gets better every day. He’s the one who calls me ‘my sister’ after we did human-shield work with water workers in his neighbourhood. He started teaching Grandmother how to say, ‘Hello. How are you?’ in English.
You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me. When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resister. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them (and may ultimately get them) on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity – laughter, generosity, family time – against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will.
12 March 2003, Rachel’s final email home. She was killed four days later
Thank you for your email. I feel like sometimes I spend all my time propagandising Mom, and assuming she’ll pass stuff on to you, so you get neglected. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately, maybe because the military is preoccupied with incursions in the north. Still shooting and house demolitions, one death this week that I know of, but not any larger incursions. I can’t say how this will change if and when war with Iraq comes.
Thanks also for stepping up your anti-war work. I know it is not easy to do, and probably much more difficult where you are than where I am… I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I leave here, and when I’m going to leave. Right now I think I could stay until June, financially. I really don’t want to move back to Olympia, but do need to go back there to clean my stuff out of the garage and talk about my experiences here. On the other hand, now that I’ve crossed the ocean I’m feeling a strong desire to try to stay across the ocean for some time. Considering trying to get English teaching jobs. Would like to really buckle down and learn Arabic. Also got an invitation to visit Sweden on my way back which I think I could do very cheaply.
I really don’t want to live with a lot of guilt about this place, being able to come and go so easily, and not going back. I think it is valuable to make commitments to places, so I would like to be able to plan on coming back here within a year or so. Of all of these possibilities, I think it’s most likely that I will at least go to Sweden for a few weeks on my way back. I can change tickets and get a plane from Paris to Sweden and back for a total of 150 bucks or so. I know I should try to link up with the family in France, but I think that I’m not going to do that. I would just be angry the whole time and not much fun to be around. It seems like a transition into too much opulence right now. I would feel a lot of class guilt the whole time.
Let me know if you have any ideas about what I should do with the rest of my life. I love you very much. If you want, you can write to me as if I was on vacation at a camp on the
big island of Hawaii learning to weave. One thing I do to make things easier here is to utterly retreat into fantasies that I am in a Hollywood movie or a sitcom starring Michael J Fox. So feel free to make something up and I’ll be happy to play along. Much love, Poppy.
Carlos Latuff’s reply to the court decision to reject the Rachel Corrie case: