Not In My Name
Cindy Corrie's Remarks for Not in My Name Benefit
These remarks were presented by Rachel Corrie's mother, Cindy, at the NIMN Benefit on October 10, 2004.
Craig and I are pleased to be with all of you. We thank Not in My Name for this opportunity. After Rachel was killed in Rafah in March 2003, Jewish-American groups from nearly every major U.S. city joined our family in calling for an independent U.S. investigation into her killing. Not In My Name here in Chicago was one of those groups. At the time, our family felt vulnerable and unsure about how the Jewish-American community would respond to Rachel's story and to us. The response, of course, was diverse. I cannot adequately express how much the support of Not in My Name and groups like yours meant to us in those early days. We thank you for it. At the time of Rachel's death, we received messages from members of the Jewish community in Israel who placed memorial ads for Rachel in Ha'aretz newspaper. It was tremendously heartening to us to know that there were many within U.S. and Israeli Jewish communities those who understood Rachel's journey to Gaza, who understood the work she was doing there, who themselves opposed the Israeli occupation and who were working for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians and for security and freedom for all in the region.
In 1963, Martin Luther King said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." The news from Israel and Palestine is full of challenge these days. Human rights organizations report that since the wide-scale Israeli military assault in the northern Gaza Strip began on September 28th, that 101 Palestinians have been killed, including 32 children. At least, 322 Palestinians have been injured, 111 children. During this assault, the Israeli military has destroyed homes, kindergartens, commercial stores, and mosques and razed farmland. The civilian Palestinian population has suffered from lack of food, water, electricity, and the inability to reach medical care. Five Israelis (including two children) lost their lives in rocket attacks on Sderot. In Taba in Egypt, dozens of Israeli vacationers have died and been injured in bombings that authorities feel may be linked to Al-Quaida. As a friend said recently, this tragedy is a terrible open wound.
Out of Israel this week came, too, the shocking (though not truly surprising) words of Dov Weisglass, senior advisor to Ariel Sharon and one of the initiators of the Gaza Disengagement Plan, who speaking to Haaretz about the plan had this to say:
"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process, and when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress." "The disengagement is formaldehyde," he said. "It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
You and I are confronted with very cynical maneuverings on this issuemaneuverings by politicians in both Israel and the United States. We need an antidote to this cynicism and the antidote lies, I believe, in the grassroots work on this issue that we all can and must dothe very genuine work for understanding, for justice, and for peace that we all care deeply about, work that I believe will ultimately prevail. Tonight, Craig and I will share some of Rachel's story and ours. We hope to leave you with a sense of how important it is for each of us to continue to take action on this issue.
When Rachel was two years old, she looked up at me one day and asked, "Is brave part of growing up?" Her question so surprised me that I took a moment to scrawl it in my journalonly to discover it again twenty-some years later after she was killed standing before a bulldozer defending the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah. "Is brave part of growing up?"
And many years later as a college student, Rachel contemplated bravery again when she wrote about the places where she had grown up in the Northwest, on the shores of Puget Sound. She said,
"This area is known for its endangered species, for its water, for its beer, for its music scene and its scenery. You can live here for years passing Northwest Coastal art on street corners and sending your relatives smoked salmon on holidays. You can live here for years and believe you understand and yet not understand what it is you are living in... "Studying the history of this area roots me. It makes me more conscious of the land and more conscious of myself and of the people around me as actors in history. Studying local history is motivating. We've certainly waded in the same water and wandered on the same beaches as very brave people. It makes bravery seem more possible. Something that can occur on the forest roads around the Skokomish."
As for many young people, 9-11 was Rachel's first experience with deep national tragedy. The experience caused her to consider and to question the role and impact of her country in the world, and the role and impact of her own family and of herself in the world. She recognized her privilege as an American and the responsibility that it placed upon her. She became deeply involved with several Olympia peace groups.
In April 2002, she led the effort to create a flock of doves for Olympia's earth day tribute, "The Procession of the Species," an artistic community collaboration that culminates in a parade to honor all life. Afterward, she wrote in celebration,
"I've danced down the street with forty people from the ages of seven to seventy dressed as doves...I think peace doves will happen again next year, and hopefully they'll be a Procession institution... In a lot of ways, I think the Procession is a values statement. I'm happy to see a peace message included in that. I think it's important for people who oppose war and repression to speak about who we are as a community in addition to speaking about war and racism and injustice. We are not outside. I think it's important that human rights and resistance to oppression be included in the way we define ourselves as a community...Ignoring all other factors, I would choose to spend eight hours a day for the rest of my life making things in a giant room full of other people."
Rachel was drawn to Palestine and Israel by people in Olympiaby an Israeli woman, now living there, whose family members had survived the Holocaust, who had grown up and lived in Israel for twenty-nine years and had become a powerful voice against the Occupation; by activists who had spent years in the West Bank and continue their work on this issue, and by local ISM (International Solidarity Movement) volunteers who in the summer of 2002 traveled to the West Bank and Gaza to join Palestinians in non-violent, direct-action resistance to the Occupation.
In remarks at the United Nations in 2002, Huwaida Arraf, one of the International Solidarity Movement co-founders noted that there are only two stipulations for joining ISM: one must believe in the right to freedom of the Palestinian people based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and international law; and one must agree to use only non-violent direct action methods of resistance. Ms. Arraf added, "The strength of ISM activists is not in arms. Their strength is in the truth and justice of the Palestinian cause, and in believing that the Palestinian people deserve equal rights."
Rachel learned from her friends in Olympia, expanded her own study of the Israeli-Palestinian-U.S. conflict, began learning Arabic, and arranged her life to finance her own trip to Palestine. In January 2003, frightened but determined, she left our family home in Olympia, traveled to David Ben Gurion airport in Israel, made her way to the West Bank for training with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and then to Rafah at the southernmost tip of the Gaza Strip. Rachel believed this place had been forsaken. She recognized that there was danger. When she first called home on her cell phone from a threatened Palestinian home, there was fear in her voice as she listened to the shelling coming from the border and as Craig and I, thousands of miles away, listened to it by telephone. Then, her e-mails began and Rachel began to open our eyes:
"I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what's going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don't know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I'm not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to meAlior point at the posters of him on the walls..."
"Love you. Really miss you. 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 in the evening or at night it just hits me againa little bit of the reality of the situation. I am really scared for the people here."
Nidal's English gets better every day. He's the one who calls me, 'My sister.' He started teaching Grandmother how to say, 'Hello. How are you?' in English. You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me."
Rachel told us that going to Gaza was one of the most important things she had done in her life. With other activists, she spent nights sleeping at wells in Rafah to protect them from demolition. She stood between Palestinian municipal water workers who were trying to repair wells and the Israeli military towers from which shots rang down, harassing the workers and internationals. She documented the destruction of olive orchards, gardens, and greenhouses, as well as harassment of Palestinians at checkpoints. She learned Arabic from Palestinian children and helped them with their English homework. She drank sweet tea with Palestinian grandmothers, held wiggling babies, and danced with Palestinian children.
On March 16, according to seven eyewitness accounts, Rachel was crushed by an Israeli D-9 bulldozer while she stood trying to prevent the demolition of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist, his wife and three young children near the Egyptian border. She had written of this place, too:
"Today as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, "Go! Go!" because a tank was coming. Followed by waving and "what's your name?" There is something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids: Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peek out from behind walls to see what's going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously, occasionally shoutingand also occasionally wavingmany forced to be here, many just aggressive, shooting into the houses as we wander away."
Rachel stood there that day, unarmed, nonviolent, a peace activist. She believed that the nonviolent direct action that she was doing and supporting would make not only Palestinians but also Israelis and Americans more secureby supporting Palestinians who practice nonviolent resistance and by speeding an end to this conflict that has so damaged both U.S. and Israeli images in the world. Rachel stood there that day because the United States and Israel rejected a proposal in the UN to send international human rights monitors to the region. She and other activists went in their place, and they continue to go. Rachel stood there that day protesting illegal home demolitions that the U.S. opposes on the record, yet fails to stopdevastating demolitions that we, in fact, contribute to with billions of U.S. tax dollars annually that fund the Israeli military with its bulldozers, apache helicopters, F-16s, and more. In fact, the U.S. Government, with our tax dollars, surely purchased the Caterpillar D9R bulldozer that killed Rachel.
Though many in the American Embassy, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Congress have been sympathetic and supportive of our family, on balance the U.S. Government has been notably quiet in its response to Rachel's killing. Brian Baird, Rachel's Congressman from Washington State, introduced House Concurrent Resolution 111 (HCR 111) into the House of Representatives. This calls for an independent U.S. investigation into Rachel's killing. There are seventy-seven co-signers to date. In Illinois Congressmen Jesse Jackson, Ray LaHood, Rahm Emanuel, Danny Davis, and Bobby Rush have signed on.
In September 2003, Craig and I visited Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. We spent six days in Rafah. We went to sleep nearly every night to the sound of shelling on the bordershelling that often had not ended when we awakened to the morning call to prayer, broadcast over a loudspeaker. We saw destruction wherever we turned, an endless sea of rubble, it seemedthe crumbled remains of homes, greenhouses, olive orchards.
We visited the home where Rachel was killed. She had written this to us about it:
"The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole familythree kids and two parentssleep in the parents' bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all share blankets... Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching "Gummy Bears" dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons."
The afternoon we visited Dr. Samir's house, Intimadhis wifeoften hugged me. She has a sweet, gentle face and an easy smile. Her oldest child, Kareem, showed me the children's bedroom, the walls marked with bullet holes shot by Israeli tanks from the border. Dr. Samir showed me the spot at the foot of his bed where Rachel joined the three young children to sleep, hoping that her presence in the house might prevent its demolition. He showed me the spot in the kitchen where, late at night she had sat to make her quiet phone calls home. The children showed me the youngest child's English bookan illustrated dictionary of familiar nouns. They tried to teach me the words in Arabic and giggled at my attempts. They reported that Rachel had worked with them on English and that she knew every word in their book in Arabic. Clearly, they thought she was better at their language than I was. I sat in the sand in the yard with six-year-old Iman, patted her rabbit, and talked quietly with her as she sifted sand through her fingers. It seemed soothing to me in this terribly troubled place, but her father told me that she did this all the time. He was concerned that it was abnormal and that she was having trouble dealing with the trauma in her young life.
The Nasrallah home was located along a border strip between Rafah and Egypt that the Israeli military is widening and where they are building a high steel wall, demolishing hundreds of homes as they go. There is no legal recourse here, no compensation for the houses destroyed. Typically, the IDF shoots into these houses at night so that the side facing the border is often riddled with bullet holes. Some are partially demolished. When families can take it no longer and leave, the IDF declares the houses "abandoned" and then moves in to complete the demolition. The victims are people living in the wrong place at the wrong time. This past May, during Operation Rainbow (a particularly destructive Israeli incursion into Rafah) Israeli Justice Minister, Yosef Lapid, a member of the centrist Shinui Party and Sharon confidante, revealed that the IDF was planning demolition of some 2000 more homes in Rafah in order to further broaden the border strip. Lapid challenged this plan saying, "The demolition of houses in Rafah must stop. It is not humane, not Jewish, and causes us grave damage in the world." But the demolitions continue. Peter Hansen, the Commissioner General of UNRWA writes, "Israel has legitimate security concerns, and much suffering of its own, but its security is poorly served by a policy that creates fresh anger and despair every day. What is needed is a just and durable peace that will allow the children of Gaza to again sleep soundly at night."
We visited other homes along the border where Rachel had slept trying to offer some international protection. At the Al-Shaer's we met Naela-Rachel's young friend who told us how she and Rachel would sing songs to each other in English and in Arabic. Naela showed us a letter Rachel had written to her in her notebook:
"Naela, You are a beautiful person inside and out. You have been very kind to me, and I can see that you have a good heart. I can also see that you are very intelligent. Thank you for being my friend, for helping me with Arabic, for accepting me into your home. I will never forget your generosity. You are a very talented person. Do not ever forget that you deserve all the best things in life. I hope you will follow your dreams. I believe that you will be good at whatever you do. Whether you are a teacher, a chemist, a translator, a diplomat, or anything else, the world will be better because of your work. Life is difficult for people here in Rafah. The world should be ashamed of this. But also, we should be inspired by people like you who show human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strongeven in the most difficult of circumstances. Thank you for existing, for helping me see how good people can be, despite great hardship. I will be thinking of you. Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. Don't give up. Much love and respect, Rachel Corrie from Olympia, WA, USA"
Amidst all of the devastation in Rafah, Craig and I still saw signs of remarkable spirit and endurance: in the young children smartly dressed in their pressed uniforms walking to and from school; in the college-age students who came to meet us, practicing their English and telling us about the degrees they were pursuingthough prospects for getting jobs are almost nonexistent; in the proud faculty and board of directors at the new Rachel Corrie Kindergarten and in the enthusiastic pre-school children who, in unison, vociferously greeted us in each classroom there. After drinking a great deal of sweet tea and coffee with friends and after planting olive trees with the children of Rafah, we took a lonely walk through Erez checkpoint back to Israel. We were nearly the only people passing through. Craig said to me that it was like those movies you see where someone finally walks out of prison but leaves their friends behind.
Rachel joined many others who are working to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine and to bring freedom and security to both Palestinians and Israelis. She worked with Israeli peace activists to understand the destruction of the Palestinian water supply. She received guidance from a reservist in the Israeli military, a father of two teenage sons, who taught her Hebrew phrases to shout through her megaphone when she encountered bulldozer and tank operators. Rachel was held as she died by Alice who is a Jewish member of ISM from the UK, who has cousins in Israel that she fears for whenever she hears of a suicide bombing. A growing number of Jewish-Americans and Israelis tell us that as they work to end the occupation and the violence that it has perpetuated, that they are working to save the soul of Israel.
At the time of Rachel's death, our family was showered with supportive messages from all over the world. They helped in our healing then, and they continue to inspire us.
From a woman in Israel who wrote to her friend in Olympia who passed the message on to me, "We need all our young people, ours and theirs."
From a woman in New York state: "My grandparents fled the pogroms of Russia a hundred years ago and spent decades working for the creation of a Jewish homeland. I'm certain that if they were alive, they would weep for all that is happening there now, as I do."
And from a gentleman in the Middle East came this message: " I write to you as a parent myself and also as a Muslim who believes passionately in the freedom and dignity of every individual on our earth. It seems to me that we too carelessly forget or disbelieve our shared identity across all times and cultures, when in fact we are one human family desperately in need of peacemakers." Rachel knew that we are part of one human familyone community. She spent much of her short life making connections to the many diverse parts of that family. Now, it remains for each of us to continue that work. I believe that through efforts like that being made by The Rebuilding Alliance and other groups to challenge demolitions and to rebuild homes that we can bring attention to the tragedy in Gaza, can mobilize people to stop the illegal home demolitions there, can start to heal the families of Gaza who have been made homeless, and can make it possible for young people like Iman, Reem, and Kareem Nasrallah and Naela to once again dream and to believe in the possibilities that their futures hold.
In this blessed place where we live, I hope you will take a moment to contemplate the rubble across the forgotten landscape of Rafah and to challenge it and like Rachel to take a step toward building bridges to this place.
Rachel wrote to me,
"The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly. I also think it's important for people in the United States in relative privilege to realize that people without privilege will be doing this work no matter what, because they are working for their lives. We can work with them, and they know that we work with them, or we can leave them to do this work themselves and curse us for our complicity in killing them. I really don't get the sense that anyone here curses us. I also get the sense that people here, in particular, are actually more concerned in the immediate about our comfort and health than they are about us risking our lives on their behalf. At least that's the case for me. People try to give me a lot of tea and food in the midst of gunfire and explosive-detonation. I love you Rachel"
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