On March 16, 2004, people will hold vigils and rallies in different partsof the world to remember Rachel Corrie, a young American woman, part ofthe International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who was murdered in the GazaStrip by a bulldozer on this day last year.

Many other Palestinians, and some internationals, including the ISM’s TomHurndall, have been murdered in the Gaza Strip since. Figures fromB’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, show that Israeli security forcesand armed settlers have killed 540 Palestinians since March, 2003, four ofwhom were killed inside Israel’s borders, 109 of whom were children under18. At the same time, 132 Israeli civilians, including 20 children, werekilled by Palestinians.

B’Tselem’s figures were last updated on March 5. The recent killings inJenin and Rafah, as well as the suicide bombings in Ashdod over the pastweekend, were not included.

Rachel Corrie was trying to prevent one of Israel’s military bulldozers fromdestroying a house in Rafah, a city that has been virtually razed to theground by such bulldozers in the year since she was killed. B’Tselemreports that Israel demolished 223 houses in 2003 and 30 so far in 2004,to March 7, and that these demolitions are conducted as punishment,“against families of persons ‘wanted’ by the security forces or who havebeen killed.”

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) reported before October 2003 that Israel had demolished 655 housesin Gaza since September 2000, rendering 5,124 homeless, along with largetracts of agricultural land. In operations in October, Israel destroyedanother 200 homes and made 2,000 more people homeless. Bâe(TM)Tselem emphasizesthat the persons who actually suffer from the demolitions are not peopleeven suspected of having committed any offense. In other words, thedemolitions are collective punishment, a violation of international law.

In 2003, the UN Special Rapporteur for food reported that over 22 per cent ofPalestinian children under five are suffering from malnutrition and 15.6 per centfrom acute anemia, which brings permanent negative effects on development.This malnutrition is a direct result of Israel’s “closures” policy, whichhas effectively shut down the Palestinian economy and frequently preventsemergency food aid from entering the territories.

There is much more to this conflict, as Rachel herself well understood,than the figures on innocents killed or children starving, or houses andfields demolished. In a letter to friends and family in the U.S., shedescribed her difficulty in trying to convey the larger picture withoutusing “charged” words: “The assassinations, rocket attacks and shooting ofchildren are atrocities — but in focusing on them I’m terrified of missingtheir context. The vast majority of people here — even if they had theeconomic means to escape, even if they actually wanted to give upresisting on their land and just leave (which appears to be maybe the lessnefarious of Sharon’s possible goals), can’t leave. Because they can’teven get into Israel to apply for visas, and because their destinationcountries won’t let them in (both our country and Arab countries). So Ithink when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which peoplecan’t get out of, I think that qualifies as genocide. I don’t like to usethose charged words. I think you know this about me.”

After March 2003, Israel denied responsibility for Rachel’s murder andtook the opportunity to attack the young woman’s organization, the ISM,for acting “irresponsibly.” The Israeli Army investigated and acquitteditself of any wrongdoing.

The ISM is an organization based on an alliance among Palestinians,Israelis and internationals who are trying to resist the Israelioccupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip using nonviolent tactics.In the year since Rachel’s death,Palestinians and their friends in ISM and other groups have mobilizedagainst the massive wall Israel is building in the West Bank, againsthouse demolitions in places like Rafah, and against the hundreds ofmilitary checkpoints that dot the landscape of the Occupied Territories,choking the Palestinian society and economy.

Palestinians and Israelis who want the occupation and violence to endagree that international support and international pressure is needed.For that reason, ISM members work in their own countries as well.

The helicopters and warplanes that have killed Palestinian civilians inbombing raids in Gaza are made in the United States. The bulldozers thatdemolish houses for collective punishment are made by CaterpillarCorporation. In Toronto, the March 16 actions will include a stop atCaterpillar Corporation’s offices.

Rachel Corrie was well aware that the destruction in Israel/Palestine isan international issue in which everyone plays a role. In some sense,this was her last will. “When I come back from Palestine,” she said, “Iprobably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not beinghere, but I can channel that into more work if the Israeli military shouldbreak with their racist tendency not to injure white people. Please pinthe reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide whichI am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largelyresponsible.”

To try to channel the nightmares into more work for justice and peace foreveryone involved: that is the way to honour Rachel’s memory.

Justin Podur

Justin Podur is a writer and editor for ZNet (www.zmag.org), part of Z Communications, an alternative media organization dedicated to political analysis and support for movements for social change....