Saturday, March 17, 2012

‘No amount of reading and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality’— Remembering Rachel Corrie


Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, the peace activist whose life was cruelly cut short in 2003 by the Israeli military when the IDF crushed her with a bulldozer. Corrie was just 23 years old when killed while volunteering with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in Gaza, but her memory continues to inspire many long after her death.

To those who knew her, Corrie was thoughtful, sensitive, and courageous. The ISM remembered Corrie:

It rained on Kufr Qaddoum where attack dogs clenched in their jaws the peaceful freedom fighters of Palestine, an image reminiscent of a segregated America.

It drizzled as the folks of Al Ma’sara demanded the wall to fall, an echoing cry humanity heard from Germany.

Puddles formed along Shuhada Street in Al Khalil where Apartheid still lurked despite South Africa’s continued victories.

And it watered on Gaza, where the dust never seems to settle between the murderous attacks of the Zionist military.

It is fitting to honor Corrie with a poem, as she is known for her letters and emails from Palestine to her family, compiled in a book edited by her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie. So let us remember Corrie with an excerpt from an email sent by Corrie to family and friends, while in Rafah.  The email was published in Let Me Stand Alone:

Hi friends and family, and others,

I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me – Ali – or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, 'Kaif Sharon?' 'Kaif Bush?' and they laugh when I say, 'Bush Majnoon', 'Sharon Majnoon' back in my limited arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn’t quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: “Bush mish Majnoon' … Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, 'Bush is a tool,' but I don’t think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.
Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it – and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. Ostensibly it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this because I am a white US citizen, as opposed to so many others). When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I’m done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.

They know that children in the United States don‚t usually have their parents shot and they know they sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and once you have spent an evening when you haven‚t wondered if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and once you‚ve met people who have never lost anyone˜once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn‚t surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed 'settlements' and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing—just existing—in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world‚s fourth largest military—backed by the world’s only superpower—in it‚s attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew. As an afterthought to all this rambling, I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are refugees – many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Rafah existed prior to 1948, but most of the people here are themselves or are descendants of people who were relocated here from their homes in historic Palestine—now Israel. Rafah was split in half when the Sinai returned to Egypt.

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