Rachel Corrie was born on April 10, 1979, and raised in Olympia, Washington, in the US. She was the youngest of the three children of Craig and Cindy Corrie. Rachel’s mother Cindy describes their family as “average Americans, politically liberal, economically conservative, middle class”.
Even as a young girl, Rachel stood in front of adults and talked about human rights. After graduating from college at 23, Rachel’s commitment to human rights took her to a small city of Rafah in the Palestinian enclave called Gaza — 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 task in Rafah was stopping 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 1700 homes in Rafah, an action human rights groups said was collective punishment.
Rachel Corrie died on March 16 2003 when she was crushed by an IOF bulldozer as she tried to protect a Palestinian home from demolition.
Before her death Rachel said: “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.
All of Gaza’s now 1.6 million residents, most of whom are children, have “officially” been under an Israeli blockade since 2007. However, the restrictions on 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 as the International Committee of the Red Cross has pointed out, saying: “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 UN and World Health Organization have reported that the Israeli military has killed or injured more than 10,000 Palestinians residents.
Seventy percent of the population is now reliant on aid organisations for their basic human needs, such as food, shelter or medical care. Ninety percent 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.
The Corrie family’s decade long struggle for justice for Rachel came to an end on August 28 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 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. James Godfrey from Free Gaza Australia said: “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 of Rachel’s humanity lives on in projects like Gaza’s Ark. Cindy Corrie said following the verdict: “I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her.” Projects like Gaza’s Ark will carry on her work as a tribute to her and the people of Gaza who have continued to believe in justice for their besieged territory.
[Michael Coleman is a participant in Gaza’s Ark.]