On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie, a twenty-three-year-old peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Rafah, southern Gaza, where she had been living for the past seven weeks as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Wearing a bright orange jacket of the sort donned by ISM volunteers during “human shield” work, Corrie, along with other ISM activists, was trying to block demolitions of Palestinian homes.
In its initial statement dated 17 March, the IDF noted that the incident occurred while IDF forces were “taking down shrubbery along the border between Israel and Egypt” and that “as the windows of the bulletproof bulldozer are very small, the visibility is very limited and the bulldozer operator did not see the woman.” But while the initial Israeli statement indicated that “an IDF bulldozer apparently ran over a protester accidentally,” the “full” investigation, led by the chief of general staff of the IDF and completed during the second week of April 2003, concluded that Corrie had not been run over by an “engineering vehicle” after all, “but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete which was moved or slid down while the mound of earth which she was standing behind was moved.” The report exonerated Israeli forces of any responsibility.
According to eyewitness reports by ISM volunteers on the scene, however, the army’s description of events bore little resemblance to what they saw. In the words of Joe Smith, an ISM activist present at the time, “Rachel was kneeling 20 meters in front of the bulldozer on flat ground. There was no way she could not have been seen. We only maintain positions that are clearly visible. She had been doing this all day, but this time the driver did not stop. Once she had fallen under the bulldozer, the driver stopped when she was under its middle section and reversed.” Photographs of the incident confirm the ISM accounts.
On 11 April, just as the IDF was issuing its findings, a twenty-one-year-old ISM activist from Britain, Tom Hurndall, was shot in the head by an IDF soldier elsewhere in Rafah while wearing the type of bright orange vest that Corrie had been wearing when she was killed. Two months after the shooting, Hurndall remains in a coma. (For more on the ISM and Israel’s campaign against international peace activists, including details of the machine gun shooting of two ISM activists by the IDF on 6 April, see the report by Charmaine Seitz and the Chronology and Quarterly Update sections in this issue.)
Corrie’s death received only very limited attention in the U.S. media, almost totally preoccupied by the war on Iraq, but there was nonetheless some reaction. On 25 March, eleven U.S. representatives--all Democrats from Washington State and California--led by Brian Baird of Washington introduced a nonbinding resolution (H. Con. Res. 111) expressing sympathy to Corrie’s family, calling on the United States to undertake a full investigation, and encouraging the U.S. and Israeli governments to determine the circumstances of the death and make sure such incidents do not recur. Following the conclusion of the Israeli army’s investigation in April, the State Department said that the United States was still demanding a full investigation. The IDF reviewed and affirmed its findings, and formally closed the file at the end of June.
The following are excerpts from Rachel Corrie’s emails to her parents, who made them available through the ISM. They were printed in the Guardian of 18 March 2003.