Rachel Corrie’s humanity lives on in Gaza’s Ark

* Article by Michael Coleman, aka one half of the kayaktivists, edited by Greta Berlin and James Godfrey and first published on Green Left Weekly on Thursday, August 30, 2012http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/52095

Rachel Corrie, 2002

Rachel Corrie was born on 10 April 1979, and raised in Olympia, Washington, USA. She was the youngest of Craig and Cindy Corrie’s three children. Cindy describes their family as “average Americans, politically liberal, economically conservative, middle class”. However, even as a young girl, Rachel’s commitment to human rights was clear, when in grade five she stood in front of an auditorium full of adults and talked passionately about her dreams for the future, giving her now famous “I’m here because I care” speech.

After graduating from college at 23, Rachel’s commitment to human rights took her to the Palestinian enclave called Gaza, to a small city called Rafah  – about as far from Olympia as humanly possible. In Palestine, Rachel volunteered with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), bearing witness to Israel’s daily violations of international law against the 1.4 million people who lived there.

Rachel’s main purpose in Rafah was to try and prevent the Israeli Occupation Force [IOF], from demolishing Palestinian houses along the border with Egypt to create a “security” zone. At the time, the Israeli military had demolished 1,700 homes in Rafah, an action human rights groups claimed was collective punishment. On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie died trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition, when she was crushed by an IOF bulldozer.

Rachel Corrie faces down a bulldozer in Gaza

Shortly before her death, Rachel said that “I feel like I’m witnessing the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive”. Unfortunately since 2003 the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip has only deteriorated, and the collective punishment now targets the entire population of the Strip. All of Gaza’s now 1.6 million residents, the majority of whom are children, have been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 ‘officially‘. However the restrictions on the movement of the population of Gaza began as far back as 1991 – when Gaza was first cut off from Israel and the West Bank. The blockade is clearly an act of collective punishment, something the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out, stating that “the whole of Gaza’s civilian population is being punished for acts for which they bear no responsibility.”

The effects of the blockade are well documented. During the past five years when the blockade has been in full effect, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have reported that the Israeli Military has killed or injured over 10,000 Palestinians residents. 70% of the population is now reliant on aid organisations for their basic human needs such as food, shelter or medical care. 90% of Gaza’s water is now undrinkable; due to a sanitation system that was rendered inoperable by the IOF during Operation Cast Lead. Gaza’s hospitals have faced constant chronic shortages of drugs and equipment for years, while fuel shortages cause power cuts of up to 18 hours a day.

Last Tuesday, the Corrie family’s decade long struggle for justice for Rachel was dealt a blow when the Haifa District Court ruled that her death was an accident, for which she was responsible. Despite the judge’s decision perpetuating the myth that her death was a tragic accident, the case shed light on Israel’s breaches of human rights and the impunity enjoyed by its military.

However people of conscience around the world have not been deterred by Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie or the many murders that preceded and followed it. In fact as it has becomes blatantly clear that the only route to a free Palestine is through civil society initiatives like the ISM, the Free Gaza movement, the flotillas, flytillas and other global civilian projects, the numbers of people around the world standing in solidarity with the Palestinians, both in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, has only increased.

The latest creative strategy for challenging Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza is Gaza’s Ark. Gaza’s Ark will not only challenge the blockade physically – it will also build hope on the ground in Gaza by providing investment, training and employment. Gaza’s Ark will also promote Palestinian trade with the outside world through the only port on the Mediterranean that is closed to shipping. Indeed, as James Godfrey of Free Gaza Australia stated: “Gaza’s Ark affirms our belief that the Palestinians of Gaza can rebuild their economy through outbound trade that threatens no-one’s security.”

The legacy and spirit of Rachel’s humanity lives on in projects like Gaza’s Ark and always remember as Cindy Corrie stated following the verdict: “I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her”. The Corrie’s are a truly inspirational family who have both my condolences and gratitude.

Corrie Family awaiting the verdict
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