Monday, 16 March 2015

The meaning of moral courage - remembering Rachel Corrie

I will never forget the horror of the photographs, published by the Irish Times twelve years ago on this date, of the murder of Rachel Corrie.  Corrie, who was 23 and from Washington in America's Pacific Northwest, was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip.  Taking part in the peaceful defence of homes slated illegally for demolition, she was run over by an IDF bulldozer.  She was crushed and her spine was broken.  She died shortly afterwards at the Najar Hospital.  In a very rare fit of moral vision, the Irish Times published a sequence of shocking photographs, showing Rachel standing atop a mound of earth in front of a D9 Caterpillar bulldozer - a terrifying armoured behemoth nearly two stories high itself - and then of her poor shattered body with her friends and comrades crowded around her, as she lay dying in the earth of Gaza.

The IDF has always denied that the killing was a deliberate act, but its actions, and the official investigation of Rachel's death, have attracted criticism from human rights organisations and from the United States government.   In 2010, the Corrie family initiated a suit against the Israeli Defence Department and the IDF.  The case was dismissed in 2012, and an appeal to Israel's Supreme Court likewise in 2014.   In each case, the Israeli court averred that Rachel's death was her own responsibility, and absolved the IDF of any fault.

Richard Falk, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Territories, suggested that these verdicts were sad, not only for the Corrie family, but also 'for the rule of law and the hope that an Israeli court would place limits on the violence of the state, particularly in relation to innocents and unarmed civilians in an occupied territory'.  Former American President Jimmy Carter has said that the 'court's decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory'.

In September 2003, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference on civil society in Palestine at the United Nations in Manhattan, where I heard Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, speak.  Her quiet bravery and lack of bitterness were striking.

Rachel Corrie was an exceptionally courageous young woman.  I honour her memory.  Learn more about Rachel, her work, and the activities of her parents from the website of the Rachel Corrie Foundation:

Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice


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