Tag Archives: Rachel Corrie

#GazaUnlocked #HeartlandtoGaza

The American Friends Service Committee organized an expert panel of witnesses to provide testimony about the current situation in Gaza as part of its Gaza Unlocked campaign. Check out the campaign here.

The expert testimony was held in Indianapolis, Indiana on Saturday, April 21, 2018 in the format similar to a formal hearing in Congress. The delegation from Indiana was invited to attend, including Vice President Pence, but they didn’t show up. Representative Andre Carson was unable to attend, but one of his staff members was able to attend in his place and he sent his regrets.

I showed up and watched the livestream testimony and Q &A that followed from my perch in the library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

Gaza Unlocked

Jehad Abu Salim

The three experts were certainly very well qualified to speak about Gaza. Jehad Abu Salim is from Gaza and currently studying for his PhD at NYU.  Laila El-Haddad has lived in Gaza and written extensively about Gaza. She’s the author of Gaza Kitchen. Dr. Sara Roy is a senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies specializing in the Palestinian economy, Palestinian Islamism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

They each spoke about the current conditions in Gaza as well as the political dynamics of Israel’s siege and long-term blockade on the Gaza Strip. The take-away message for me was that we must educate ourselves, our family, friends and communities, and especially our members of Congress.

Social media armchair activists are not making a difference if they stay within their bubbles and comfort zones behind the computer screens. We must get out into our communities and wake Americans up to the realities of the Israeli occupation. I hope a condensed and edited version of this testimony will be made available to help us educate others.

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Two lives, two deaths, highlight Congress’ willful blindness

Taylor Force

Taylor Force

Taylor Force, 28 and a first-year student at Vanderbilt, was stabbed to death while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016.  He was with 29 students and four staff members from the university who had gone to Israel to study global entrepreneurship.

Rachel Corrie, 23 and a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, was crushed to death in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in March 2003. She was standing with other ISM volunteers in front of a Palestinian home slated for destruction by Israel, along with other homes in the neighborhood.

Rachel Corrie
Rachel Corrie

 

The similarities in their deaths are striking.

Both Taylor and Rachel were Americans. Both were victims of deliberate attacks. Both were young, intelligent and, by all accounts, had tremendous gifts to give the world.  Both were unarmed and engaged in peaceful activities — Taylor was studying and Rachel was exercising Gandhian nonviolence resistance.

Taylor was killed by a knife-wielding Palestinian in the heart of Israel. Rachel was killed by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer in the occupied Palestinian territory outside of Israel.

Both families grieved their inexplicable losses, and sought some measure of justice.

This week, (March 2018) Congress will pass S.1697 and H.R.1164 — the Taylor Force Act. The bill ends $300 million in direct US funding to the Palestinian Authority if it does not halt payments to the families of “terrorists” who are either in jail or were killed carrying out their crimes.

In March 2003, Rachel’s parents asked Congress to help them get a full, fair and expeditious investigation into their daughter’s death, but Congress took no action on H.Con.Res.111. They also sued Caterpillar, Inc. alleging liability for Rachel’s death because the company supplied bulldozers to Israel knowing that they would be used in contravention of international law. The Ninth Circuit dismissed the lawsuit in 2009 based on the political question doctrine.

In 2005, the Corrie family also filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel. The lawsuit charged Israel with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case and with responsibility for her death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect. They sued for a symbolic one US dollar in damages.

In August 2012, an Israeli court rejected their suit and ruled that the Israeli government was not responsible for Corrie’s death. Former U.S. President Carter and some human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, criticized the ruling. 

I met Rachel’s parents in Gaza in November 2012 and asked if they were going to file an appeal. They both looked weary and said they didn’t know because of the costs and emotional toll it might entail. However, they did appeal and learned in February 2014 that it had been rejected by the Supreme Court of Israel.

The Corrie family established The Rachel Corrie Foundation to honor her memory, and to spread the values that their daughter embodied in her short life. In 2006, Alan Rickman’s play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” debuted in New York City. And every year, Palestinians remember Rachel and honor her as a martyr.

Congress continues to perpetuate the cycle of violence and trauma in Israel-Palestine that ultimately ended the young lives of Taylor Force and Rachel Corrie.*

They can’t stand back and view Israel-Palestine objectively, primarily because of the outrageous influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington (AIPAC). This is not in the best interests of the U.S., and I wonder how many more Americans, not to mention innocent Palestinians and Israelis, will pay the ultimate price by Congress’s willful blindness.

iStock 20492165 MD - American and Israeli flags

America and Israel flags

* Enacting Israel’s legislative agenda, funding Israel’s military to the tune of $3 billion+ each year, parroting Israel’s framing of the occupation which is contrary to international humanitarian law, and

 

 

 

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Disaster tourism

Rally in Baltimore - May 2, 2015

Rally in Baltimore – May 2, 2015

Today I’m remembering the old Palestinian man in Rafah who chewed me out in 2004.

I was standing at the site in the southern Gaza Strip where a bulldozer, operated by an Israeli soldier, had rolled over a young American woman, Rachel Corrie, not once but twice. She had been standing in front of a Palestinian doctor’s home to protect it from demolition, but died when the driver of the bulldozer ignored her. I was taking pictures and smiling at the young children who gathered around me.

The old Palestinian man spoke rapidly in Arabic and I didn’t understand a word. My driver later paraphrased:

People come to Gaza to see our suffering. They cry big crocodile tears, take lots of pictures, and leave. Nothing changes here. You’re doing the same.

That was 10 years ago — and the catalyst for my commitment to learn and “do something” and not engage in disaster tourism.

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Now I’m in Baltimore where Freddie Gray is killed in police custody, the Baltimore State Attorney charges six Baltimore police officers, and the Governor declares a State of Emergency in response to rioting.

National Guard in front of Baltimore City Hall

National Guard in front of Baltimore City Hall

Hundreds (thousands?) of National Guard are mulling all around the Inner Harbor and stationed at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Traffic is stopped as humvees come racing down Pratt Street led by police cars with their sirens on. Helicopters seem to be hovering over head morning, noon and night.

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The eyes of the nation and the world are focused on what’s happening here, along with plenty of media from Fox News to the Croatia Public TV, and I’m again taking pictures. With mixed feelings.

The New Black Panthers

The New Black Panthers

Yesterday (May 2, 2015) at the Rally in Baltimore, I had a surreal feeling that it was staged for the picture-taking, the professional and social media, and the gawkers. Was I only a gawker?

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I wanted to stand in solidarity with those who are calling for change. I purchased my “Black Lives Matter” t-shirt.

But I want to do more than stand and watch. I want to be part of changing the status quo.

That old Palestinian man in Rafah spoke the truth in 2004. I don’t think Freddie Gray’s family want to see disaster tourists descend on their grief. They want to see change.

P1300612

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Human shields as weapons of war

The media is making “human shields” a very big story in this latest assault on Gaza.

One writer believes “Hamas’s human shields tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is a tragedy for their own people.” In another story, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper condemned Hamas for “deliberately using human shields to further terror in the region.” Newsweek appended a video purporting to show Palestinians rushing to the roof of a house, after Israel fired a warning shot, to act as human shields to protect the house. (The video is clearly disseminated by Israel in its Hasbara campaign to win public support.) The New York Times also reported about civilians serving as human shields in Gaza.

A Hamas spokesman is on record supporting and encouraging civilians to act as human shields to protect their homes.

People worldwide are horrified by the rising death toll of civilians in the Gaza Strip and the apparent callous disregard for human life. But which side is disregarding human life?

Israel’s Hasbara machine is doing an excellent job of framing the “human shields” issue as one of Hamas putting innocent civilians in harm’s way, a clever way to deflect the media’s attention away from the perpetrator of this massive high-tech assault and away from the party who is really responsible for the heavy toll on civilian casualties. (In fact, one knowledgeable observer in Gaza told me today that no resistance fighters have been killed in the past 6 days.)

Some context.

The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. There are 1.82 million people squeezed into 141 sq. miles. That’s a lot of people!!

Jabaliya Refugee Camp in northern Gaza Strip.

Jabaliya Refugee Camp in northern Gaza Strip.

When you squeeze that number of people into very tight quarters, any bombardment is likely going to kill innocent civilians.

Many Palestinians have never been able to travel outside of Gaza.

Many Palestinians have never been able to travel outside of Gaza.

How does Israel’s high-tech military fight in such tight quarters and avoid killing innocent civilians? They don’t. They can’t.

So they must try to explain themselves by raising specious arguments, including:

  • It’s Hamas’s fault because they deliberately locate their rockets near civilian areas. (Duh! There is very little space uninhabited by civilians.)
  • It’s Hamas’s fault because they encourage civilians to run to the rooftops to protect their homes. (Hamas is not forcing anyone to risk their life to defend their property. Civilians are trying to protect their property with the only weapon at their disposal – their bodies.)
  • It’s Hamas’s fault because they brought this reign of terror down on top of themselves and their people by indiscriminately shooting their crappy rockets at Israel. (A military occupation cannot claim the right of self-defense since they are the perpetrators of the occupation. End the occupation and then the right of self-defense will be a viable argument if Israel is attacked.)
  • It’s Hamas’s fault because they have no regard for human life, they want to become martyrs and be with their 72 virgins. (I’ve really heard this argument made with a straight face. It’s simply a manifestation of how the Israelis have dehumanized the Palestinians — just as the Nazis dehumanized the Jews in the 1930s.)

TO BE SURE — using civilians against their will as humans shields is a violation of international humanitarian law and must be condemned. Rule 97. The use of human shields is prohibited.

But lets not confuse a situation where civilians are caught in the midst of a bombardment in the most densely populated community on the planet, or when they decide voluntarily to protect their homes with their bodies, with the act of forcibly using civilians to shield the military. There is no evidence that that is occurring in Gaza, despite the media’s lazy use of the phrase “human shields”.

Here are some concrete examples of using “human shields” in contravention of international law.

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In the past 6 days, the Israeli military has destroyed or badly damaged a hospital, clinics, schools, a water desalination plant, the Gaza Ark, hundreds of homes, and other civilian infrastructure.

burned-GA-1-Mahdi

Today there are international solidarity activists staying at a geriatric hospital in Gaza to protect it from a threatened Israeli missile attack. Listen to the Hospital Director describe the situation here in English.

So when you hear the media reporting about “human shields” in Gaza, ask yourself “Are these people voluntarily putting themselves in harm’s way or are they being forcibly placed in harm’s way?” And then remember whose missiles are reining down on them.

Picture taken between 3:00-4:00PM, 16 March 2003, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. Rachel Corrie (L) and Nick (R) oppose the potential destruction of this home (to the west of the Doctor’s home where Rachel was killed). In the instance pictured, the bulldozer did not stop and Rachel was pinned between the scooped earth and the fence behind her. On this occasion, the driver stopped before seriously injuring her. Photo by Joseph Smith (ISM Handout).

Picture taken between 3:00-4:00PM, 16 March 2003, Rafah, Occupied Gaza. Rachel Corrie (L) and Nick (R) oppose the potential destruction of this home (to the west of the Doctor’s home where Rachel was killed). In the instance pictured, the bulldozer did not stop and Rachel was pinned between the scooped earth and the fence behind her. On this occasion, the driver stopped before seriously injuring her. Photo by Joseph Smith (ISM Handout).

 

 

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Diamonds . . . all of them

This week I referred to the missing Israeli teenagers as *diamonds* — very valuable in the eyes of their parents, family, friends and the tribe of Jews all over the world.  A Jewish friend in the United States thought that was a very appropriate description.

Those Palestinian children detained and kidnapped by Israeli soldiers (many sitting in Israeli jails or, worse, shot and killed) are also *diamonds* to their parents, family, friends and the tribe of Palestinians all over the world.

My Jewish friend admitted that she has a difficult time thinking of those Palestinian children as *diamonds*.

The same day, a Palestinian friend from Gaza chastised anyone who sympathized with the three missing Israeli teenagers and also considered themselves solidarity activists for the Palestinian cause. She probably felt such sympathy was a betrayal and certainly couldn’t think of those three Israeli teenagers as *diamonds*.

Harry Fear, a British filmmaker, has spent a considerable amount of time in Gaza and speaks about a love jihad for Gaza, a viral love for Gaza. A love for human life. A love for universal human rights, for the sanctity of human life.

He shares the story of Denny from Santa Fe, New Mexico who recently moved to Gaza, and Rachel Corrie, an American teenager who was killed in Gaza in 2004 by an Israeli bulldozer.  Activism is about fighting for a world that loves because what Palestine is missing is justice.

Love as a human force has the power to change the world. 

I agree with everything Harry says in his TEDx talk, but he fails to mention that the human heart is big enough to love everyone, both Palestinians and Israelis. In fact, just like athletes build muscles in preparing for their marathons, activists can build their hearts, strengthening them and growing large enough to encompass all of humanity.

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Carrots or sticks?

Definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. — Einstein

U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Israel is summed up in one word. Carrots.

carrots

U.S. Presidents, Secretaries of State, diplomats, and members of Congress have been wooing Israeli leaders for years . . . decades . . . hoping to coax them into abiding by international law and into a peace agreement with their neighbors and, specifically, with the Palestinians.

For as far back as I’ve been following developments in the Middle East, we’ve seen good intentions but no agreement. The Camp David Accords (1978), the Reagan Plan (1982), the Baker Plan (1989), the Madrid Conference (1991), the Oslo Proposals (1993-1999), the Clinton Parameters (2000), the Quartet’s Roadmap (2003), and the Olmert Plan (2008) to name but a few. (Thanks to Tessa Tompkins for sharing her excellent research with me.)

There are surely many reasons for these failures but what has the U.S. been doing consistently throughout the past 30-40 years?

  • American taxpayers have forked over Billion$ each year to Israel.
  • The US has shielded Israel from international scorn by casting the lone veto in the United Nations Security Council year after year on resolutions, such as S/2011/24 condemning the expansion of settlements in the occupied territories. Just look at this list of US vetoes and cringe.
  • The US has turned a blind eye, or at most, given a mild slap on Israel’s wrist, when that nation commits outrageous crimes in violation of international law, such as Israel’s attack against an aid ship in international waters four years ago and Israel’s 22-day bloodbath in Gaza five years ago which left more than 1,400 Palestinians dead, most of them civilians, women and children.
  • The U.S. has threatened the PLO with sanctions, and has labeled Hamas a foreign terrorist organization (refusing to even talk with Hamas leaders) while treating Israel’s Knesset and Likud Party with kid gloves.
  • The U.S. government has not held the Israeli government accountable for the intentional killing of an American peace activist in Gaza in 2004. (Imagine how the U.S. would have responded if the PLO had crushed a peace activist with a Caterpillar!)

sticks

 

Time to put the carrots away and bring out the sticks. What sticks does the U.S. government have which might lead to a different, more constructive, result in the Middle East?

  • No more money.
  • No more vetoes at the Security Council.
  • No more preferential trade agreements with Israel.
  • Join the EU in boycotting Israeli business and goods from the occupied territories.
  • No more joint military exercises.
  • Support Palestine’s bid for ICC jurisdiction.

When Israel joins the community of nations and abides by international law, the U.S. President and members of Congress can debate the pros and cons of extending carrots to Israel. Until then, it’s insanity to maintain the status quo.

 

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Remembering Rachel Corrie

“You shed tears, and take some pictures and leave, but nothing changes for us!”

My friend and I were standing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in 2004 looking at the barren parcel of land where Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, had stood her ground and died a year earlier. We were surrounded by curious children, each wanting their picture taken.

The old man wearing the traditional galabya was speaking directly to me in rapid-fire Arabic. Our eyes met, I stopped and listened.  Was he angry or frustrated?  I couldn’t tell and I had no clue what he was saying.  He threw up his hands and walked away.

In the car driving back to Gaza City, our driver translated.  “That old man was telling you that many foreigners have come to Rafah to see the miserable conditions, to take pity on the people and sympathize. They take pictures and then return to their countries, but nothing changes for the Palestinians.”

That was 2004 and the turning point for me.

Shamefully, I knew that old man in Rafah was right. Too often, people who are privileged to travel, to see the world and understand the horrific injustices that exist elsewhere, return to their comfortable lives and forget.

Then there are people like Rachel Corrie who was killed in Rafah on March 16, 2003. She had arrived two months earlier as an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteer.

On the day of her death, she was standing in front of the home of a local Palestinian pharmacist. Israeli bulldozers were destroying homes in the neighborhood to create a buffer zone near the Egyptian border for security purposes. Rachel, along with other ISM activists, stood in front of the house in an effort to stop the demolition. The driver of the bulldozer ran over her, not once, but twice.

Rachel was no ordinary traveler. She had the courage of her convictions.

By Rachel Corrie, aged 10 — 1990

I’m here for other children.

I’m here because I care.

I’m here because children everywhere are suffering and because forty thousand people die each day from hunger.

I’m here because those people are mostly children.

We have got to understand that the poor are all around us and we are ignoring them.

We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable.

We have got to understand that people in third world countries think and care and smile and cry just like us.

We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.

We have got to understand that they are us. We are them.

My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000.

My dream is to give the poor a chance.

My dream is to save the 40,000 people who die each day.

My dream can and will come true if we all look into the future and see the light that shines there.

If we ignore hunger, that light will go out.

If we all help and work together, it will grow and burn free with the potential of tomorrow.” ― Rachel Corrie

Nearly ten years after Rachel’s death, I met her parents in Gaza. They had started the Rachel Corrie Foundation to carry on their daughter’s work for peace and justice, and they frequently brought delegations to Gaza.

They filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the State of Israel, symbolically asking for $1 in compensation but demanding a transparent and thorough investigation of their daughter’s death.

In August 2012, the Haifa District Court exonerated the driver of the bulldozer and the Israeli government. Upon reading the verdict, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “the action described in the suit was ‘a military action in the course of war’ according to all criteria and that the state (therefore the Defense Ministry) is exempt from responsibility for it.”

There was worldwide condemnation of the verdict, including from former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “The killing of an American peace activist is unacceptable. The court’s decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians…”.

I knew very little about Israel’s apparent impunity from international law when I first visited the Gaza Strip in 2004. I tagged along with an American psychologist who had volunteered to bring an international award to Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a well-respected Palestinian psychologist.

Dr. El-Sarraj started the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme. When Israel refused to allow him to travel to Australia to receive the honor from his colleagues, my friend and I took the award to Gaza.

We had an informal ceremony in Dr. El-Sarraj’s office with some of his staff in attendance.  I didn’t have words to share my disbelief and anger, and so I remained silent. Why would Israel prevent this man from traveling abroad?  He was obviously influential both in and out of Gaza, and his writings showed a man who advocated peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.

My friend said a few congratulatory words and presented the plaque to Dr. El-Sarraj who graciously accepted it and put it on his bookshelf along with other awards and memorabilia. I snapped some pictures.

I felt something snap in my gut too.

Rachel Corrie was killed as she stood waving her arms to stop the house demolition in Rafah.  Dr. El-Sarraj was imprisoned, along with thousands of other Palestinians, in this tiny enclave called the Gaza Strip. The old man in Rafah knew nothing would change. There was something profoundly wrong with this picture.

A few days later, we left Gaza through the Erez checkpoint into Israel. There was no line of people waiting to exit, only the two of us. We sat on our luggage waiting to be directed through the turnstile at the end of a long caged tunnel.  We waited and waited and waited.

We couldn’t see the Israeli soldiers but we knew they were watching us, and listening. My friend’s patience was wearing thin. I was passing the time by reading. Finally, after waiting more than an hour, a voice over the intercom instructed us to go through the turnstile.

I vividly recall the terrified eyes of the female Israeli soldier in 2004 who was checking my embarrassingly large suitcase for explosives. We didn’t say a word to each other, but I knew about the female Palestinian suicide bomber who had blown herself up and killed four Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint just months earlier.

Why would people treat each other this way? Why couldn’t Israelis and Palestinians coexist peacefully? Was there a right side and a wrong side? One I could support and the other I could condemn?  Why had this “conflict” continued for so long?

I had many questions in 2004 and I knew I needed to educate myself.

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