You may not have remembered her name, but perhaps you recall hearing about the young American woman who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. Her life story is told in a one-woman play titled “My Name is Rachel Corrie” (2008), and more fully in the book “Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie,” also published in 2008.
This is Passion Week, and as we Christians recall the death of Jesus Christ it is also fitting to consider the sacrificial death of this young woman ten years ago, even though hers does not have the same universal significance as Jesus’ death.
Rachel Corrie was born in Olympia, Wash., in April 1979, and when she was still 23 she joined other foreign nationals working in Gaza as volunteers for the International Solidarity Movement. And there she was killed on March 16, 2003, ten years ago this month.
Rachel was interested in helping other people from the time she was a girl. For example, she gave a speech about world hunger when she was in the fifth grade. (That speech can be viewed on YouTube.)
In January 2003, Rachel arrived in Rafah, Gaza, located in the very southern part of the Gaza Strip. When she arrived there it was a city of some 140,000 people, 60% of whom were refugees. About two weeks later (on Feb. 7) she wrote how the Israeli Army was building a 14-meter-high wall between Rafah and the Gaza-Egypt border.
Soon after observing the situation in Gaza, Rachel speaks out against “perpetuating the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a balanced conflict.” “Rather,” she insists, it is “a largely unarmed people against the fourth most powerful military in the world.”
“Let Me Stand Alone” documents how (on Feb. 27) Rachel declares in an email to her mother, “The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance” (p. 273).
A little later she writes, “I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide, and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature” (p. 276).
In “Razing Rafah, Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip,” Human Rights Watch notes that in the four years after September 2000, over 2,500 Palestinian homes were demolished in Gaza. About 2/3 of those were in Rafah.
Rachel was trying to keep just one of those houses from being demolished, the home of the Nasrallah family, comprised of two brothers, their wives, and five young children. On March 16, 2003, as she was trying to keep the Nasrallahs’ house from being destroyed, Rachel was run over and killed by a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, a vehicle especially built to demolish houses.
Her death was the first of many westerners who were killed in Gaza in the spring of 2003. Since the war had just started in Iraq, though, few Americans were paying much attention to Gaza.
The Iraq War officially ended at the end of 2011. But the struggle of the Palestinian people to live unmolested in their own homes in their own land goes on. Unfortunately, most USAmericans seem to side with the Israelis rather than with the Palestinian people who have been treated so unjustly since 1947.
Let’s pray that the President’s visit to Israel last week will help to relieve the tension between Palestine and Israel and that it at least sowed some seed that will eventually grow to help improve the living conditions for people like those for whom Rachel Corrie died.