Counterpoint: The Rachel Corrie Foundation

One would expect a more mature and balanced approach by those who are perpetuating her name.

david forman 88 (photo credit: )
david forman 88
(photo credit: )
Upon graduation from Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington, Rachel Corrie joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). She came with a number of the group to Gaza to protest Israel's actions in Rafah. On March 16, 2003, along with several members of ISM, she staged a sit-in protest before a bulldozer that was leveling some Palestinian homes under which, authorities claimed, were tunnels used to smuggle in arms from Egypt to carry out acts of terrorism. Expecting the bulldozer to stop, she was run over and killed. The facts surrounding Corrie's death have been disputed. While some argue that her death was deliberate, others, along with senior IDF officers, hold that it was accidental. Despite the ambiguous circumstances that surround the event, this did not prevent her family and friends from understandably turning her into a martyr. To perpetuate her memory and the alleged "good works" that she did in Gaza, The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice was established. It supports "programs that foster connections between people, that build understanding, respect and appreciation for differences and that promote cooperation within and between local and global communities. The foundation encourages and supports grassroots efforts in pursuit of human rights and social, economic and environmental justice." However, the foundation's Web site almost exclusively focuses on Israeli injustices (its homepage is dominated exclusively by Gaza related stories), which contradicts its contention that it seeks to enhance peace among fractured communities around the globe. And yet, human rights violations that are daily occurrences in places like Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Sudan, as well as the human rights abuses that take place in Gaza, perpetrated by the very people that Rachel Corrie innocently went to help, are nowhere addressed. To read through the Web site, Israel is the major civil liberties villain in the world. I WRITE these lines because I was recently in Olympia. In virtually every store I entered in this small picturesque town overlooking Puget Sound, there was a portrait of Rachel Corrie. So prominent is her presence in the town that those who attach to her death a manifestation of heroism tried to push through a resolution that would establish Rafah as a sister city of Olympia. The city council rejected the proposition. The Web site creates the clear impression that there is an official relationship between Olympia and Rafah, which prompted me to write Cathie Butler, the communications manager of Olympia, who responded: "Mr. Forman - The city of Olympia does not have a sister city relationship with Rafah. The city council considered such a proposal from a citizen group a few years ago, but did not endorse it." Olympia's city council recognized that which the Corrie family has yet to accept: A rush to a discriminatory proposal does not serve a higher goal of social concern based on fairness and egalitarianism. This discriminatory attitude is reinforced as the Web site calls attention to a presentation by Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, on their recent visit to Gaza. If the purpose of the foundation is to "foster connections between people that build understanding and respect," why did the Corries not visit southern Israel at the same time? Then again: Why should facts confuse those who are involved in the work of the foundation? Given its lofty goals, how is it that there is not a word mentioned about a high-level delegation from Gaza that joined Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's gathering in Iran to lend support to President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan after he was accused by the International Court of the Hague of committing genocide, or for that matter, any mention of the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas, or the firing of rockets into the Negev? By pure syllogistic reasoning, the foundation supports genocide in Darfur, brutal Hamas killings and indiscriminate assaults on Israel's civilian population. While one can understand the innocence of a young kid who joined ISM to protest Israel's actions in Gaza, one would expect a more mature and balanced approach by those who are perpetuating her name, rather than a prejudicial presentation of Israel to justify Rachel Corrie's untimely death. But propagating bigotry - in the form of pure anti-Semitic propaganda - is also found on the Web site's homepage, which features an article, entitled: "Who will stop the AIPAC Jews before it is too late?" UNFORTUNATELY, A BIASED view of the Middle East conflict has become typical of a growing number of social activists in the Western world who seem incapable of extending an equal measure of understanding to Palestinians and Israelis. This is particularly true of the liberal Protestant community that sometimes gets trapped by its own liberation theology, which prompts it to identify with the supposed underdog in the Middle East imbroglio, thereby ignoring the simple fact that both Palestinians and Israelis are victims, not the Palestinians alone. Neither side has a monopoly on suffering and pain. Further, there is nary a word said by these well-intentioned liberals about the fact that more Palestinians have been killed by Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank than have been killed by Israelis. It never seems to cross the minds of these critics that Palestinians have been casualties of their own leaders, with kidnappings, arrests and murders being almost daily fare in Gaza and the West Bank, which makes a mockery of the letter that Rachel Corrie wrote her mother: "The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaged in Gandhian nonviolent resistance." What is particularly incredible about such a statement is that Corrie and her colleagues, blindly dedicated to the Palestinians' plight, did virtually everything to gain their approval. When Palestinian militants expressed concern that the "internationals" might be spies, circulating a letter a few days before Corrie's death, asking, "Who are they, why are they here, who asked them to come," Corrie tried to overcome this suspicion by learning a few words of Arabic, burning a makeshift American flag before Gaza schoolchildren and participating in a mock trial denouncing the "crimes of the Bush administration." The Palestinians exploit such stories as Rachel Corrie's for their own public relations advantage. However, beyond their suspicions about ISM, what these same Palestinians do not say is that they are not appreciative of these foreign do-gooders because their actions invite Israeli repercussions. It is not enough that the Gazans suffer the consequences of their leaders' irresponsible behavior - the firing of 6,000 rockets over a three-year period, which virtually begs for retaliation - but they also have to suffer the adventurous protests of groups like ISM, whose members, after they have stood in front of a bulldozer, beat a hasty retreat to the safe shores of America. What is so troublesome is that Rachel Corrie's tragic death has not just been shamefully exploited by her family and friends (like the Palestinians have done), but worse, it has been cynically abused. If the distasteful propaganda of the foundation, named in Rachel's memory, continues to concentrate its work in such a bigoted fashion, instead of fulfilling its stated admirable aims, then her death will have served no greater purpose. Her noble, albeit naïve intentions will be for naught and, sadly, Rachel Corrie will have died in vain.