Friday, June 17, 2005
By RACHEL LA CORTE
Associated Press Writer
When 23-year-old Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer, she was protesting the impending demolition of a Palestinian home.
More than two years later, Craig and Cindy Corrie say they are trying to carry on their daughter's work.
"Rachel, when she was in Gaza, wrote to us about her own thinking in terms of making a commitment to that place," Cindy Corrie said. "She didn't want to feel guilty when she left, knowing that she could come and go as she pleased. When she was killed, those words resonated with us, and they continue to resonate with me."
In a bid to raise money to rebuild the bulldozed house and others nearby, the Corries have started a seven-state tour with Khaled and Samah Nasrallah -- one of two Palestinian families who lived in the house Rachel died protecting.
On Friday, the tour comes here. Black and white photos of the former Evergreen student with the word "Peacemaker" still hang from cafe windows downtown, and a scholarship has been created in her name at her alma mater.
An Israeli army investigation concluded that Corrie's death was accidental. Officials have said the driver of the machine could not see the woman -- a claim activists have fiercely disputed and her parents are challenging.
When their youngest child died, Craig was an actuary nearing retirement; Cindy was a flutist and vocalist.
While they considered themselves socially involved -- they had participated in a protest for the impending Iraq war just the day before her death -- Cindy Corrie said they had never considered themselves political activists.
"It was a quiet time in our lives," she told The Associated Press this week.
Their lives have been anything but quiet since their daughter's death.
They travel the country to talk about their daughter and her social causes, and the Corries have taken an active role in Palestinian issues. About a year ago, they joined up with The Rebuilding Alliance, an organization that helps rebuild Palestinian homes and schools.
In March, the Corries sued Caterpillar Inc., the company that made the bulldozer that ran over their daughter, arguing that Caterpillar violated international and state law by providing specially designed bulldozers to Israeli Defense Forces, knowing the machines would be used to demolish homes and endanger people.
When the lawsuit was filed Caterpillar issued a statement expressing concern over Middle East unrest, but said with more than 2 million Caterpillar machines used in the world, "We have neither the legal right nor the means to police individual use of that equipment."
The Corries are also pursuing separate claims in Israel against the state of Israel, the Israeli Defense Ministry and the Israeli Defense Forces.
In the past four years, Israel has used Caterpillar bulldozers to topple more than 4,000 Palestinian homes, killing and injuring people in the process, according to the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights.
Human rights groups have condemned the demolition of Palestinian homes as a violation of international humanitarian law.
In February, Israel abandoned the decades-old policy of destroying the homes of Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen, saying it was ineffective.
Nasrallah, an accountant for Palestine Airlines, said his family was not involved with terrorism, saying, "We are normal civilian people."
Israel has characterized the International Solidarity Movement, the group Rachel Corrie was working with when she was killed, as meddlers whose activism in some cases has amounted to abetting terrorism.
Others argue that the young people who join these kinds of groups are just naive.
"I think she just made bad decisions for herself," said Keren Bar-nir, with the American Zionist Movement in New York. "I think it's based on really extreme groups persuading people. The kids these days are so disillusioned."
Corrie's mother said her daughter was neither misguided nor misled.
"The question is not why are these people there, but why aren't we all there," Cindy said. "I would give almost anything if I could have Rachel in my life right now and not be in this role, except the one thing I wouldn't do is ask my child to be less than the person that she could be."
Although news of Rachel's death was largely overshadowed by the beginning of the war in Iraq, the story of her death endures. A Google search on her name gets nearly 175,000 hits. Most of the sites are sympathetic, but some castigate her as un-American and show a photo of her burning a mock American flag surrounded by Palestinian schoolchildren.
Cindy says that picture has been used to demonize Rachel.
"I know there's going to be differences of opinion people have about this and I'd just like there to be room for respectful discussion on this, instead of blind labeling of people," Cindy said.
The Corries find hope in the support that they've received in Olympia, as well as overseas.
A one-woman play called "My Name is Rachel Corrie" based on Rachel's journals, letters and e-mails and directed by actor Alan Rickman opened in London in April.
The Corries have also sought solace in a friendship with the Nasrallahs, who witnessed Rachel's death from a hole in their garden wall.
Months after Rachel's death, the Corries traveled to the home, which was then still standing, to see the spot where she died.
"It was of course a very emotional moment, but it was also a very necessary moment to be in the place, to physically see the spot where Rachel was killed, where everything transpired that day," Cindy said.
The house was rendered uninhabitable seven months after Rachel's death and eventually demolished.
"Rachel had this relationship with our family and our children, so she stood to defend our children and to protect the principle of staying in your home," Khaled Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said he wanted to tour the United States with the Corries in honor of Rachel, and to help rebuild 3,400 other homes in the Gaza strip.
"I felt the idea of rebuilding homes is rebuilding hope for living in peace," he said.
On the Net:
The Rebuilding Alliance: http://www.RebuildingAlliance.org
Rachel Corrie Memorial Web site: http://www.rachelcorrie.org/
Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice:; http://www.rachelcorriefoundation.org/International Solidarity Movement: http://www.palsolidarity.org/
Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace:
The Evergreen State College: http://www.evergreen.edu