Thursday, June 3, 2010
Gaza-bound 'Rachel Corrie' stirs renewed hope
First, a quick roundup of the flotilla-related news from Gaza: Mass political demonstrations, candlelight ceremonies, and mourning tents have proliferated across Gaza over the past three days. At the same time, tensions are mounting on the borders—rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel and retaliatory strikes killed three Islamic Jihad militants. The Israeli military also reported that it killed two would-be terrorists who crossed the border from Gaza. Egypt opened the border for humanitarian aid into Gaza as well as the travel of Palestinian patients, students, and foreign passport holders. Hamas has refused to accept the humanitarian aid from the flotilla ships until all detained activists are released and Israel agrees to deliver the aid in full.
The most hope-inspiring news on the Gazan streets, however, is that another boat (pictured on right) is currently on route to Gaza and may attempt to break through the blockade this weekend despite the recent tragedy. The boat bears the namesake of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist killed by a 64-ton Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while attempting to defend a Palestinian home from demolition. Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), one of the groups that helped to organize the flotilla. (The video at the start of this blog post shows an interview with Rachel Corrie two days before she died.)
The vast majority of Palestinians and some left-wing westerners regard Rachel Corrie as a heroic activist. Others cast her as a naïve idealist or a reckless zealot. University of Haifa professor Steve Plaut has likened Corrie to a Nazi sympathizer—a view shared by many right-wing Israelis. A play based on Corrie’s vivid diaries has been performed across the world, sparking both acclaim and boycott. The 2009 documentary film “Rachel” was featured at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival but introduced by a pro-Israel activist who chastised the film’s one-sidedness and “demonization” of Israel.
At the time Corrie lived in Gaza in 2003, neighborhoods along the Egyptian border were often razed by the military on suspicions that they hosted entrances to smuggling tunnels. In the same year, 26 Palestinian suicide bombers murdered Israeli civilians and about 1500 crude, unguided rockets—many of them smuggled through tunnels—were fired into Israel, according to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
Anees Mansour (pictured on the right at the site of Corrie’s death, which is now overrun by smuggling tunnels) is among thousands of Gazans who check the news constantly these days, seeking updates on the progress of the “Rachel Corrie.” Mansour was a friend of Corrie’s and also carried British activist Tom Hurndall to a clinic after he was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper. Mansour says the foreign activists inspired his community work (two months ago he co-organized Gaza's first ever demonstration against child labor in the smuggling tunnels), and he admires their courage for leaving comfortable, privileged lives to help Palestinians living in a constant danger. However, he wonders why the media “only cares when internationals are killed.”
Like the flotilla tragedy, Corrie’s death in March of 2003 was the subject of international media attention and scrutiny. The Israeli military's investigation was closely monitored by an unrelenting American family with strong diplomatic support—yet has been chastised by some American political leaders for its lack of thoroughness and transparency.
On Wednesday, the Corrie family sent an email to supporters asking for help in ensuring the safe passage of the “Rachel Corrie.” They also emphasized their grave concerns over the pending Israeli military investigation of the violence and loss of life aboard the Mavi Marmara. “Our family's own experience has made it all too painfully clear that the Israeli military is unable or unwilling to adequately investigate itself,” the email said.
In March, before coming to Gaza, I attended the Corrie family’s wrongful death trial in an Israeli civil court. The trial is currently in recess until September. The Corrie family has conceded the possibility that their daughter’s death was an accident. However, testimonies given at the trial suggested an Israeli military investigation weighted to clear the army of culpability. (I’ve pitched articles on this topic to various media outlets, and will update my blog soon.)
The Corrie family’s civil court case—and now the flotilla tragedy—come in the wake of fiery debates over the controversial UN Goldstone Report, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes during last year’s Gaza hostilities. The Israeli government has rebuked the report’s call for both Hamas and Israel to form independent investigative bodies. Defense Minister Ehud Barak and IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi have instead pushed for a judicial panel to evaluate IDF investigations.
Barak told reporters earlier this year, "All of the soldiers and officers whom we sent to battle need to know that the State of Israel stands behind them even on the day after.”