|"We are all born and someday we'll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. What if our aloneness isn't a tragedy? What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure - to experience the world as a dynamic presence - as a changeable interactive theory?" Rachel Corrie
Can I take you, dear readers, on a journey with me to the Minetta Lane Theater? It was here that I saw the play "My Name Is Rachel Corrie." It was here, through the magic of Rachel Corrie's journals and emails and Megan Dodd's mesmerizing portrayal, that I met the courageous young woman who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, at the age of 23. At the time of her death, Rachel Corrie was attempting to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. I fell in love with the heart and soul of this young idealist. Perhaps through her words, I can convey Rachel's mission and the urgency of the crisis that is occurring today.
There are those who appear to be born with purpose and Rachel's purpose was obvious at a very early age. It is difficult not to be somewhat stunned by the description of Rachel as a two year old looking across Capitol Lake in Washington State and announcing, "This is the wide world and I'm coming to it."
When she was a 10 year old child in Olympia Washington, Rachel delivered a speech at her schools Fifth Grade Press Conference on World Hunger
"I'm here for other children
I'm here because I care
I'm here because children everywhere are suffering and because forty thousand people die each day from hunger.
I'm here because those people are mostly children.
We have got to understand that the poor are all around us and we are ignoring them.
We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable.
We have got to understand that people in the Third World countries think and care and smile and cry just like us.
We 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.
My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000.
My dream is to save the forty thousand people who die each day.
My dream can and will come true if we all look into the future and see the light that shines there.
If we ignore hunger, that light will go out.
If we all help and work together, it will grow and burn free with the potential of tomorrow."
As the calendar pages turned, the little girl with the social conscience grew into an activist and, eventually, outgrew Olympia.
Rachel's political evolution gathered momentum in her early twenties. Evergreen State College was a very liberal university in Olympia. Rachel observed loudly "the highest level of humanity is expressed through what we choose to buy at the mall".
She became involved in community activism, after September 11th, but she questioned the relevance of what she was doing. "People are offering themselves as human shields in Palestine and I am spending all of my time making dove costumes and giant puppets."
Rachel told her mother:
"I've been organizing in Olympia for a little over a year on anti-war/global justice issues. And it started to feel like this work is missing a connection to the people who are impacted by US foreign policies......any government policies, particularly policies which we're funding. I feel pretty isolated from the world because of living in Olympia my whole life and my activism at this point has been extremely tied to Olympia. But I've had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the tax money that goes to fund the US military."
And so, Rachel left her home and studies at Evergreen College and joined the International Solidarity movement in Gaza on January 25, 2000. The audience embarks on her trip with her, and through her descriptions, we meet the Palestinian people, experience their warmth and feel the pain of the injustices that are being foisted upon them.
We experience Rachel's hard hitting experiences in Rafah, in the Gaza Strip. We can feel her growing fear. In Gaza, Rachel carried the body of a dead man on a stretcher while the Israeli army shot in front of her. And yet, most of her activism involved protection, such as staying overnight in the homes of families on the frontline to stop their demolition and standing in front of water workers at a well in Rafah as they came under fire.
Shortly before being bulldozed to death, Rachel wrote the following letter to her mother. Witnessing the occupation inspired this powerful letter. I ask that you not only to allow the words to move you emotionally, but more importantly, to allow the words to move you to action.
I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house, and you and me inside. Sometimes the adrenaline acts as an anesthetic for weeks - and then at night it just hits me again a little bit of the reality of the situation . I am really scared for the people here. Yesterday I watched a father lead his two tiny children holding his hand out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers because he thought his house was going to be exploded.
It was our mistake in translation that made him think this, although I'm sure it is only a matter of time. In fact, the Israeli army was in the process of detonating an explosive in the ground nearby. This is in the area where Sunday about 150 men were rounded up outside the settlement with gunfire over their heads, while tanks and bulldozers destroyed twenty-five greenhouses - the livelihoods of three hundred people. To think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I was really scared that they were all going to be shot, and I tried to stand between them and the tank. This happens every day, but this father walking out with his two little kids just looking very sad, happened to get my attention more at this particular moment, probably because I felt like it was our translation problems that made him leave.
I thought a lot about what you said about Palestinian violence not helping the situation. 60,000 people from Rafah worked in Israel two years ago. Now only 600 can go there for jobs. Of these 600, many have moved, because the three checkpoints make a 40-minute drive into a 12-hour or impassable journey.
Sources of economic growth are all completely destroyed - the airport (runways demolished, totally closed); the border for trade with Egypt (now with a sniper tower in the middle of the crossing); access to the ocean (completely cut off in the last two years)
There used to be a middle class here - recently. We get reports that in the past, Gaza flower shipments to Europe were delayed for two weeks for security inspections. You can imagine the value of two-week-old cut flowers, so that market dried up. And then the bulldozers come and take out vegetable farms and gardens. What is left for people? Tell me if you can think of anything. I can't.
So when someone says that any act of Palestinian violence justifies Israel's actions not only do I question that logic in light of international law and the right of people to legitimate armed struggle in defense of their land and their families, not only do I question that logic in light of the fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits collective punishment, prohibits the transfer of an occupying country's population into an occupied area, prohibits the expropriation of water resources and the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as farms; not only do I question that logic in light of the notion that fifty-year-old Russian guns and homemade explosives can have any impact on the activities of one of the world's largest militaries, backed by the world's only superpower, I also question that logic on the basis of common sense.
If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled and lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment, with no means of economic survival and our houses demolished; if they came and destroyed all the greenhouses that we'd been cultivating for the last however - long; do you not think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could?
You asked me about non-violent resistance, and I mentioned the first intifada. The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance. Who do you think I'm staying with, in houses that are going to be demolished amid gunfire? Who do you think are staffing the human-rights centers? What do you think this Palestinian-led movement is that I joined that engages in non-violent direct action? Who do you think these families are that I tell you about, who won't take any money from us even though they are very, very poor, and who say to us: "We are not a hotel. We help you because we think maybe you will go and tell people in your country that you lived with Muslims. We think they will know that we are good people. We are quiet people. We just want peace". Do you think I'm hanging out with Hamas fighters? These people are being shot at every day and they continue to go about their business as best they can in the sights of machine guns and rocket launchers. Isn't that basically the epitome of non-violent resistance?
When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family's house. I was in the process of being served tea and playing with the two small babies.
I'm having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach from being doted on very sweetly, by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States it all sounds like hyperbole. A lot of the time the kindness of the people here, coupled with the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I can't believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry. It hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be.
For a long time I've been operating from a certain core assumption that we are essentially the same inside, and that our differences are by and large situational. That goes for everybody - Bush, Bin Laden, Tony Blair, me, you, Sarah, Chris, Dad, Gram, Palestinians, everybody of any particular religion. I know there is a good chance that this assumption actually is false. But it's convenient, because it always leads to questions about the way privilege shelters people from the consequences of their actions. It's also convenient because it leads to some level of forgiveness, whether justified or not.
It is my own selfishness and will to optimism that wants to believe that even people with a great deal of privilege don't just idly sit by and watch. What we are paying for here is truly evil. maybe the general growing class imbalance in the world and consequent devastation of working people's lives is a bigger evil. Being here should make me more aware of what it means to be a farmer in Columbia, for example. Anyway, I'm rambling. Just want to tell my mom that I'm really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for all of us to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don't think it's an extremist thing to do any more. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not what they are asking for now. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when I was two and looked at Capitol Lake and said "This is the wide world and I'm coming to it."
When I come back from Palestine I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I've ever done.
I love you and Dad. Sorry for the diatribe."
Rachel had become a martyr to the Palestinians by standing up to the Israeli army. Edward Said praised her actions as "heroic and dignified at the same time.
Though Rachel is dead, do not let her words and her story die along with her, dear readers. Keep Rachel Corrie alive in each one of us.
"This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for all of us to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop."
Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003)
The Struggle For Survival (October 1, 2006)
On September 26, 2006, I attended an event in New York City called Occupation of Palestine/Invasion of Lebanon: A Forum on the Mid-East Crisis. There were two speakers on the menu, Aaron Levitt, from Jews Against the Occupation and International Solidarity Movement's Bashir Abu Manneh, from the English Department of Barnard College.
Judging by the size of the room, the organizers had not anticipated a large crowd. And yet, the small room was packed to capacity. The gathering group was there because they were seeking solutions. They were sick of the Middle East situation and the bullying stance of Israel and the United States. They were heartbroken about the devastation and brutality in Palestine and Lebanon. They were concerned about the endless wars. They were there because they deeply desire peace in the Middle East.
Mr. Levitt opened the evening with a question. "Is there anyone here that is Pro Israel"? Not one hand was raised. Then he proceeded with his brief talk.
He explained that in 2004, he had been stranded in Palestine and took the opportunity to visit the abandoned and depopulated villages He had his camera with him and showed us the film footage. Seeing the villages had been a powerful experience for him and it was a powerful experience for the audience as well.
Levitt began with footage of Ein Kerem, the alleged birthplace of John the Baptist.
Thousands of people had populated the area prior to 1948 when they had been driven into exile by such bloodthirsty groups as the Irgun, the Haganah and the Stern Gang.
Today Ein Kerem is populated by North American Jews. "They are artsy people; the granola crunching, politically correct set", Mr. Levitt explained. And yet, their political correctness does not extend to the people whose land they are occupying.
The village was impressive; the old stonework was breathtaking. It was the work of the Palestinians.
A total of four hundred and thirty villages were depopulated. In every single case, the excuse was that these were "vital military outposts".
"This was utter nonsense", Mr Levitt explained.
Today, close to 400 villages are scrub brush, ghost towns and little pieces of farms giving low yield crops. The Israelis have taken the most fertile parts of the country.
One of the most notorious and controversial events of current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was the April, 2002 Israeli invasion of Jenin Refugee Camp. For weeks, the Israeli army assaulted the camp with helicopters, tanks, bulldozers, and troops.
Mr. Levitt explained that in Jenin, everyone is originally from Haifa, and they still hold the deeds and keys to their stolen homes.
Lifta had approximately 2500 Palestinians prior to the occupation. It was emptied out because, once again, it was said to be a "super strategic" place. Every home and Mosque contained a hole that was blown in the roof by the Haganah. The two foot hole was to make the places uninhabitable so that no families could return. Beautifully built homes were now no protection from the cold Jerusalem rain.
On the 28th of December in 1947, six people were gunned down when Jewish terrorists (probably from Begin's IZL or the Stern gang) shot them in the village coffee house. Soon after the terror act on Lifta's coffee house, its population was terrorized repeatedly into leaving by Menachem Begin's IZL and Yitzhak Shamir's Stern terror gangs. By February 1948, the village was completely emptied and all of its inhabitants were trucked to East Jerusalem.
Bashir Abu-Manneh talked about Hezbollah and Hamas. People in the United States are fairly ignorant of the true nature of these organizations. Hezbollah is mainly defensive. They want national unity and are fundamentally democratic. They are socially philanthropic and provide Social Services and Healthcare. 80% of the Lebanese people supported Hezbollah.
Hamas wants to end the oppression and free the 10,000 political prisoners. They want to end the siege in Gaza and dismantle the settlements. They want control over their own borders. They want democratically elected officials. They want an end to national oppression. They want to return to the 1967 borders.
Today there is 70% poverty in the West Bank and Gaza.
Israeli terror against Palestinians has intensified. Israel has halted the transfer of about $55 million a month in taxes it collects for the PA in an attempt to bankrupt its government. Its army had closed El-Montar trade crossing (Carney Crossing); the only passage Gaza has to the rest of the world. More army checkpoints were erected within cities, and people were not allowed to move between neighborhoods. Israeli offensive army had intensified its terrorist attacks against Palestinian cities; raiding homes, completely destroying their contents or demolishing the whole house, randomly arresting people, raiding mosques and churches stripping worshippers naked and harassing religious figures, and beating or shooting reporters and confiscating their cameras. The Israeli tanks continuously shell civilian communities in Gaza Strip killing children and women, while military drones continue their targeted assassinations of alleged militant leaders by bombing their vehicles. The Israeli government is grabbing more land to expand its colonies and is finishing its jailing wall on Palestinian land to besiege more Palestinian cities and to destroy their economy. The wall and military checkpoints had divided the West Bank into small 64 cantons. Palestinian prisoners including children (boys and girls in their teens) in Israeli prisons are routinely tortured and denied heath care. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article13004.htm
The presentation did not offer much hope. The question and answer period contained more questions than answers. I asked Bashir Abu Manneh if the Israelis and the U.S really wanted peace. His facial expression answered my question.
I took the long walk to the subway. The crisp air did nothing to clear my head. I thought of the pictures of the villages. I thought of the pictures of little Palestinian and Lebanese children I had seen. I thought of the pictures of deformed Iraqi babies. I thought of the "granola crunching" Israelis. I was wrestling with "despair" and I was losing. As I descended subway stairs I paused for a moment to pay homage to a homeless man. The sounds of a saxophone sweetened the surreal subway scene. Street musicians are commonplace in New York City. They too are a part of the struggle for survival.
The Dark Forces of Injustice - Genevieve Cora Fraser
When the knock comes
On the door of your soul
Do not fear opening yourself
To a view of hell created
And controlled by the Will
Of the misguided
When the knock comes
Welcome the hate filled
Into an ocean of understanding
Share the food of insight
Break bread and feed the minds
Crippled by the propaganda
Of those who would be
The masters if we let them
When the assault comes
Rise in spirit
Resist the weight of hate
Counter their attacks
With energized self-determination
Buffered and buttressed
By the full weight
Of the Loving of the world
Who offer you support
In your unmitigated suffering
We are all Palestinians’
Who do battle
With the dark forces of injustice
We will prevail
And the meek shall inherit the earth
Copyright Judy Andreas 2006