Rachel Corrie’s short life was a testament to the power and importance of international solidarity, human rights activism and direct action resistance. Her death was an example of the brutal carelessness and callousness that the state of Israel exhibits towards human lives. The court verdict on Tuesday 28 August, at Haifa District Court, that criticised Rachel herself for not getting out of the way and blamed everyone but those with blood on their hands, was a brazen – but sadly not at all surprising – miscarriage of justice.
However, the fact that this outcome was not surprising illustrates the crux of the problem. The ruling was entirely in keeping with a pattern of impunity that exists because Israel’s discriminatory government and criminal justice system fail to uphold the law. Every time an Israeli court ignores the illegal eviction of a Palestinian family in East Jerusalem, orders villagers in the West Bank to hand over acres of land which belong to them, or fails to hold to account soldiers who injure and kill peaceful demonstrators, the message is same: there is no justice for Palestinians. Indeed, the government inquiry into the flotilla attack which cleared those who killed the nine activists, as well as the Corrie ruling on Tuesday and countless other cases, underline the fact that anyone trying to challenge the oppression of Palestinians will be met with similar inhumanity.
Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, called the day of the verdict “a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule and law and also for the country of Israel.”
It is to be hoped, though sadly not awaited with baited breath, that the long struggle of the Corrie family for a justice which remains elusive – which, to a British audience, echoes of the Lawrence family’s indefatigable pursuit of the truth against an institutional apparatus that was inherently biased against them – will awaken the conscience of people in Israel, America and the UK.
Clearly sad but true, the killing of a white, middle class American in the occupied Palestinian Territories was considered more newsworthy than the unceasing but unheard of murders of Palestinians, who are dehumanised or simply ignored by the global media regularly in Gaza and elsewhere.
Only a very heartless and twisted Israeli apologist (unfortunately, there are quite a few) would suggest that Corrie “wanted to die” or that the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the non-violent human rights activist group she was working with, “puts activists in danger” and then “exploits media coverage” if they are injured. Corrie went to work in Palestine because her politics was rooted firmly in humanitarianism and she wanted to use her opportunities and privilege as an American citizen to help defend the lives and livelihoods of a people under attack; because she understood their common humanity and wished to protect it. The first line of the speech she made in fifth grade, “I’m here because I care”, which she delivered even at such a young age with the idealistic conviction of an activist, sums that up.
Blame for Corrie’s death must be placed firmly on the shoulders of those who caused it – which is the only place the court, itself part of the state apparatus responsible, failed to point the finger. To do anything else is perverse, but sadly blaming the victim has become all too common in Israel’s political, military and judicial culture.
No Palestinian or solidarity activist takes any glory in this outrageous verdict which adds insult to injury for the long-suffering Corrie family, who fought the case to try to show Israel that it could not continue killing with impunity. But it confirms, yet again, that Israel does indeed intend to reserve for itself, and all those involved in continuing the occupation, the right to kill without consequence. And although with hasbara and spin it denies the Palestinian narrative, disowns the damage it does and tries to convince the world that it is a progressive country with ‘a moral army’, with absurd rulings like this, Israel is increasingly becoming seen as the emperor who has no clothes.
Let’s not forget that just a few weeks later British activist Tom Hurndall was also fatally shot and his killer, Taysir Hayb, served just six and a half years in jail. And just weeks after that, Welsh cameraman James Miller was also shot and killed by the Israeli military who then refused to indict the man responsible. Most persistently yet least noticed, especially during the intifada, but continually today, Palestinians whose deaths don’t hit the headlines in the West are killed and injured with impunity by Israel’s war machine. For these families there is no chance of publicity and little hope of pursuing real justice in Israeli courts, as even some commentators in Israel recognise, noting that, appallingly, 96% of cases of unlawful harm to Palestinians are closed by the military police without indictment.
In an interview shortly before she was killed, Rachel bore witness to what she called “the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive”. This project is ongoing and Rachel opened the eyes of many in America and across the world. The aftermath of her death has helped to expose the flawed Israeli justice system.
Citing Palestine as a key example, British activists – who in their youth were recruited by Ronnie Kasrils of the ANC to help with anti-apartheid activities in South Africa – have said, the world needs more international solidarity. Corrie’s case prominently illustrates that the world cannot expect the Israeli government to uphold justice. Indeed her mother argued that the state, by stalling, obfuscating and maligning the ISM, had worked to cover up the truth. And as for the courts, as ICAHD’s Jeff Halper put it, “When justice and law become separated as they have in Israel, the law is demeaned and becomes merely another tool of oppression.”
Tuesday was, indeed, a very bad day for human rights and a very sad day for justice, in Israel, Palestine and the entire world. But Rachel has inspired millions to work to end such injustice and this ruling will only galvanize their resolve. As her mother has observed “Rachel brought a different face of the United States to the Palestinian people”, who up until then knew America almost exclusively as the subsidiser of the tanks and bombs that terrorise them. That’s why graffiti in Gaza says: “Rachel, who came to Rafah to stop the tanks. We remember her with love and honour as an inspiration.”