After Gaza death, activists resolute
American Rachel Corrie was killed Sunday in Gaza when an Israeli army bulldozer ran over her.
The death of peace activist Rachel Corrie has done little to still violence in the Gaza Strip. An Israeli army raid into a Gaza shantytown early Monday left seven Palestinians dead, including the Islamic Jihad militant the troops were pursuing and a four-year-old girl.
Coming on the heels of Ms. Corrie's death Sunday, the battle and army seizure of land in the northern Gaza Strip underscores the question many activists had been asking themselves in the hours after the young American was killed: What next?
Just a day after Corrie's death, peace activists in Gaza and the West Bank already have their answer. Despite the risks and anxieties, they say their commitment to pursuing nonviolent resistance in the Palestinian territories has only been strengthened.
"We are determined to stay and maintain our presence," says Tom, a young British volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the group to which Corrie belonged. "None of us has had any sleep, so we haven't had anytime to process how we're feeling about this," he adds, "but it already feels like an enormous loss."
Founded in August 2001, the Palestinian-backed ISM aims to raise awareness of the situation in the occupied territories through the media, divestment drives, and the use of international volunteers who come for limited periods of time.
Corrie, who arrived here in January and was to graduate this year from Evergreen College in Olympia, Wash., died trying to prevent an Israeli army bulldozer from demolishing a house in Rafah, where Gaza abuts the Egyptian border. The bulldozer ran over her.
The army described the incident as a "very regrettable accident," explaining that the bulldozer had very small windows. "We're dealing with a group of protesters who are acting irresponsibly, putting the Palestinians, themselves, and our forces in danger by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone," says an army spokesman.
The ISM volunteers operate by deliberately placing themselves in volatile situations in order to prevent harm or injury to Palestinians and their property. Their logic is that foreign citizens are less likely to be harmed, and Corrie had recently written in a web journal of the freedom and protection foreigners felt they have here.
Corrie was the first international volunteer to die since the intifada began 29 months ago, but she was the fourth foreign citizen to be killed by Israeli troops. Soldiers have shot and killed a German doctor, Harald Fischer; an Italian photographer, Rafaeli Ciriello; and a British UN worker, Iain Hook.
The ISM volunteers, who range in age and origin, coming from Asia, Europe, and North America, receive two days of intense training to prepare for this environment. They are taught various forms of nonviolent resistance as well as the finer points of dealing with Israeli soldiers, weapons, and being arrested.
Alcohol, drugs, and relationships are forbidden. At the end of their training, they sign "personal responsibility" forms, committing themselves to nonviolent verbal and physical action.
Corrie's death raises the question of whether the training is adequate. But many activists say that training wouldn't make a difference in face of what they say is systematically and consistently hostile army opposition.
"We were expecting something to happen, especially down at Rafah," says Marlous, a Dutch woman who occasionally participated in protests with Corrie. Marlous, who works for a Palestinian organization in the West Bank, said protesters had been increasingly wary of Israeli army tactics. "This is the first death, it's hard to understand."
James Delano, a documentary filmmaker from Honolulu who had participated in missions with Corrie, said she wasn't prone to take unnecessary risks. "I wouldn't describe her as a zealot," he says. "Rachel was passionate about her work. She was an intelligent, caring human being. I'm sure she was doing what she saw as a reasonable action."
Rafah is the scene of frequent unrest. Israelis say weapons are smuggled across the border from Egypt and that Palestinians use houses in the area to fire on its troops.
The ISM works in small teams with each member assigned a specific task. One person always photographs an event, and the pictures of Rachel's encounter with the bulldozer show a slim, tall young woman holding a megaphone as she stands in front of the massive machine. She is wearing a neon-orange vest with Day-Glo striping and is clearly visible.
Witnesses say Corrie was standing in front of a house set for demolition and shouting as the bulldozer approached her.
"Rachel was alone in front of the house as we were trying to get them to stop," Greg Schnabel, a fellow protester from Chicago, told the Associated Press.
"She waved for the bulldozer to stop. She fell down and the bulldozer kept going. We yelled 'stop, stop,' and the bulldozer didn't stop at all. It had completely run over her and then it reversed and ran back over her."
Mr. Delano took part in a few ISM "actions" with Corrie in Rafah and says he felt threatened by army bulldozers.
"The situation was always fluid, and the army doesn't live by regular rules," he says of his experiences. "The bulldozer [driver's] tactic is just to keep coming and hope that people get out of the way. One situation I was in was very dangerous - the bulldozer just kept coming, and it was three or four feet away and there was a wall behind us. I was completely shocked that the driver would act the way he did. It was insane."
A State Department spokesman said the US wants an "immediate and full investigation" of the incident. An Israeli army spokesman said that investigation is under way. "As soon as it's over, we'll have something to say. It won't take longer than a few days, there is a serious investigation going on."