Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2006, pages 20, 49
“We Are Them. They Are Us.” A Celebration of the Writings of Rachel Corrrie
By Laura Angela Bagnetto
AS THE bulldozer advanced on 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, she reportedly looked at the Israeli driver and shouted, “Stop. What would your mother think of what you are doing?” She never heard the answer. Moments later her body, wearing a neon orange jacket, was crushed as the bulldozer continued forward.
We do know what Corrie’s mother thought, however, as she joined her husband at the front of Riverside Church in New York to standing applause March 22 to celebrate the writings of their daughter.
“Alice, a Jewish member of ISM [International Solidarity Movement], held Rachel as she died,” said Cindy Corrie. Wrote Alice in a letter to Cindy after the incident, “Rachel died working to save the soul of Israel.”
Cindy Corrie read from Rachel’s journal on the reason why she went to Rafah: “I’ve been organizing in Olympia [Washington] for a little over a year on anti-war global justice issues,” Rachel had written, “and at some point it started to feel like this work is missing a solid connection to the people who are most immediately impacted by U.S. foreign policy...I have this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the portion of my tax money that goes to fund the U.S. and other militaries.”
As an American volunteer with the ISM, a nonviolent resistance movement to Israel’s occupation, Rachel went in March 2003 to Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, to help protect homes and wells from Israeli military bulldozers. Shortly after she arrived, she lay dying in the hospital near Rafah.
March 22 was to have been the New York theater debut of “My Name is Rachel Corrie” at the off-Broadway New York Theater Workshop. Although the play already had been performed in London (see July 2005 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 80), the New York theater canceled the run following protests from its sponsors. In response, the organization “Rachel’s Words” put together a nearly four-hour celebration of Corrie’s writings, including e-mails, letters and excerpts from her journals.
Over 1,200 people attended the event at Riverside Church in Manhattan. The evening culminated in a showcase of literary, musical, political and even comic performances that either reflected on Rachel and her life directly, or invited the audience to focus on the Palestinian cause. Three years after her death caused major controversy throughout the world, Rachel’s life and work were celebrated again.
Before she died, Rachel told her mother that going to Rafah was the most important thing she had done in her life. “Indeed, practicing nonviolent resistance can often be more dangerous than undertaking armed resistance,” ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf told the crowd at Riverside Church, “because often you are confronting military, heavily armed soldiers, who are trained to look at you as their enemy and we’re standing there, armed only with our belief in the justice of the cause that we are fighting for.”
Rachel Corrie’s commitment to social justice was reflected in the e-mails she left behind. In one, read by Anthony Arnove, co-editor of Voices of a People’s History of the United States, she described her experience in Rafah:
“The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, ”˜Kaif Sharon?’ ”˜Kaif Bush?’ and they laugh when I say, ”˜Bush Majnoon,’ ”˜Sharon Majnoon’ back in my limited Arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn’t quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: “Bush mish Majnoon”...Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, “Bush is a tool,” but I don’t think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.”
“There is tremendous insight in that statement,” noted Arnove. “I think too many people have come to see Bush as singularly harmful or evil as an individual and Rachel’s story gives it a much deeper truth: Bush is a businessman, Bush is a tool, and the forces he represents are much more deeply entrenched than one individual or one party....They have deep institutional roots in the U.S. economic system, which is the real driving empire.”
New York democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Jonathan Tasini also acknowledged Washington’s one-sided policy in the Middle East conflict. “It has been a topic that too many people in our country, particularly the Jewish community, and I speak as a Jew, do not want to talk about. Most American Jews have no idea what the occupation is like, or they choose to deny it...So it’s our duty to speak for the voices that cry out for peace and justice. It is our duty, every American, to talk about violations of human rights, the brutality of the occupation, and our role in that occupation,” he declared to applause.
Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, also addressed the audience, highlighting Rachel’s quest for social justice. As he ended his talk, he focused on a piece Rachel wrote when she was 10 years old. He asked people to repeat her words—in church, in other places of worship, even on the golf course. “They have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs. We have got to understand that they are us.”
“We are them,” he repeated. “They are us. We are them.” ❑
Laura Angela Bagnetto is a free-lance writer based in New York.