The American activist's legacy of devotion to human rights lives on 20 years after she was killed by Israeli occupation forces while trying to defend a Palestinian home in Gaza from demolition.
It has been 20 years since American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by Israeli occupation forces in southern Gaza as she tried to protect Palestinians from losing their homes to demolitions.
On March 16, 2003, two years before Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, Corrie acted as a human shield in hopes of stopping a bulldozer operated by Israeli forces from flattening a home in the Palestinian Rafah refugee camp.
Israeli forces operating the 60-tonne D9 bulldozer built by Caterpillar Inc continued moving toward Corrie as she stood her ground, running her over and leaving her crushed.
One witness, fellow American activist Greg Schnabel, would tell the media Rachel had been wearing an orange fluorescent jacket and was “clearly” visible to the bulldozer driver, as well as to Israeli forces in a nearby tank.
Twenty minutes after the bulldozer backed away, Corrie was pronounced dead.
The autopsy was conducted by Israeli former chief pathologist Yehuda Hiss.
It was not released publicly but a copy passed to Corrie’s parents stated she died as a result of “pressure on the chest (mechanical asphyxiation) with fractures of the ribs and vertebrae of the dorsal spinal column and scapulas, and tear wounds in the right lung with hemorrhaging of the pleural cavities”.
Israel has since denied claims of responsibility, saying the incident was an accident and accused Corrie and other activists of illegal activity.
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Dedication to human rights
Rachel Corrie was 23 years old and in her final year of college when she decided to see Gaza firsthand.
She attended Evergreen State College in Washington State’s capital city Olympia. It was there that she joined Olympians for Peace and Solidarity, a group affiliated with Palestinian-led activist organisation International Solidarity Movement.
Corrie’s peace work in Gaza took place against the backdrop of the Second Intifada (Palestinian uprising), which started in September 2000 and lasted until February 2005.
After Corrie’s death, some of her writings were collected by her family and published under the title Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie.
One piece contained in the collection was from an email she had written her mother from Rafah on February 27, 2003 – just weeks before her death.
Corrie wrote: “Just want to write to my mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore.”
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Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, have fought for accountability since their daughter’s death.
In 2010, they sued the IDF and Israel’s defence ministry.
An Israeli district court announced the verdict of the trial in 2012, ruling that Rachel was in a war zone and that Israel was therefore not responsible for her death.
Israeli Judge Oded Gershon cleared the Israeli military and the driver of the bulldozer of any wrongdoing.
The Corries continue Rachel’s work through the foundation they established in her name – the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which works to promote grassroots efforts that advance human rights, social, economic and environmental justice.
The family remains in touch with their daughter’s fellow activists, as well as with the family of the home Rachel was trying to save from demolition in Gaza.
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