Rachel Corrie

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Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979March 16, 2003) was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) who traveled as an activist to the Gaza Strip during the Al-Aqsa Intifada. She was killed in Rafah when she tried to obstruct an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, in an effort to prevent what she believed was a home demolition. The circumstances of her death are disputed: the ISM claims that the bulldozer driver deliberately ran over her twice, while the IDF claims that the bulldozer driver didn't see her and that the cause of death was falling debris pushed over by the bulldozer. Other commentators speculated that the driver failed to see her or expected her to jump out of the way.

Her death sparked intense controversy, with various advocates blaming it on the IDF, the ISM, Palestinian terror, and on Corrie herself.


Early life

At a Palestinian well
At a Palestinian well

Raised in Olympia, Washington, Corrie was the daughter of Craig Corrie, an insurance executive, and Cindy Corrie, a school volunteer and amateur flautist. Corrie graduated from Capital High School, then attended The Evergreen State College, where she studied the arts and international relations. She joined the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace and participated in various peace and environmental activities, then joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in her senior year. She took a leave of absence to initiate a sister city project between Olympia and Rafah and to participate in ISM-organized demonstrations in Rafah. In the year before leaving she had studied "Labor and the Environment", "Common Ground", "Local Knowledge" and a contract entitled "Public Art and the Middle East Conflict".

Activities in Gaza

On January 18, 2003, Corrie travelled to the Gaza Strip, where she attended two days of training in non-violent resistance before joining other ISM activists in direct-action protests. Through February and March, according to ISM activists and e-mails Corrie sent to her family, she participated in a variety of actions, including a mock trial of President of the United States George W. Bush; and a demonstration as part of the February 15 global protests against the war in Iraq, where she burned a paper U.S. flag, after refusing to burn an Israeli flag. She also helped to occupy the area around local wells. The ISM says that these "human shield" operations are designed to protect the wells and Palestinian workers from the IDF.

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Rachel Corrie burning a hand drawn American flag

In e-mails to her family, Corrie described what she witnessed and expressed her frustration over it. [1] (,2763,916299,00.html) On March 14, in an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting network, she said: "I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive . . . Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with." [2] (

Corrie's death

Corrie hours before her death, protesting in front of an IDF  bulldozer
Corrie hours before her death, protesting in front of an IDF Caterpillar D9 bulldozer

The Israeli military frequently uses armored bulldozers to destroy buildings and farmland in Rafah, inside what Israel has claimed as a "security zone" ("no man's land") near the border with Egypt. The IDF says that the demolitions are intended to uncover explosive devices, and destroy smuggling tunnels and firing positions. Palestinians are sometimes killed in demolition operations, which critics consider to be a form of collective punishment in violation of international law. Proponents see them as a legitimate measure of self-defense.

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was in a group of seven ISM activists (three British and four Americans) attempting to disrupt what they thought were house demolitions. The IDF later said it was not intending to demolish houses but was clearing debris and shrubbery to expose explosive devices.

The following is a description from Joseph Smith, an ISM activist from Kansas City, Missouri, of the events leading to Corrie's death." [3] (

"[Between 13:00 and 13:30, activists] noticed that two Israeli Army bulldozers and one tank [had] entered onto Palestinian civilian property near the border and [were] demolishing farmland and other already damaged structures. The military machine was severely threatening near-by homes, so the 3 activists went up onto the roof of one home, and then called for others to come.
"[Between 13:30 and 14:00], I arrived, and one of the three activists in [sic] the house joined me on the ground . . . [W]e began to disrupt the work of the bulldozers . . . At this point, Rachel and the two other activists joined us . . . Rachel and a British activist were wearing jackets that were fluorescent orange and had reflective stripping [sic] . . . [Between 14:00 and 15:00], Rachel and two other activists began interfering with the other bulldozer, which was attempting to destroy grass and other plants on what used to be farmland. They stood and sat in its path, and though it would drive very close to them, and even move the earth on which they were sitting, it always stopped in time to avoid injuring them . . . [Between 15:00 and 16:00], one bulldozer pushed Will, an American activist, up against a pile of barbed wire. Fortunately, the bulldozer stopped and withdrew just in time to avoid injuring him seriously, but we had to dig him out of the rubble, and unhook his clothing from the wire. The tank approached to see if he was ok. One soldier stuck his head out of the tank to see, and he looked quite shocked and dumbfounded, but said nothing . . . [Later], [t]he bulldozer drivers began waving at us, making faces, laughing, and shouting what sounded like lewd comments. One even removed his helmet and posed for a picture, which unfortunately didn't turn out.
Corrie immediately after being hurt
Corrie immediately after being hurt
"[Between 16:45 and 17:00], [o]ne bulldozer, serial number 949623, began to work near the house of a physician who is a friend of ours . . . Rachel sat down in the pathway of the bulldozer . . . [It] continued driving forward headed straight for Rachel. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer. She got so high onto it that she was at eye-level with the cab of the bulldozer. . . . Despite this, he continued forward, which pulled her legs into the pile of rubble, and pulled her down out of view of the driver . . . We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted, one activist with the megaphone. But [he] continued forward, until Rachel was underneath the central section of the bulldozer . . . Despite the obviousness of her position, the bulldozer began to reverse, without lifting its blade, and drug [sic] the blade over her body again. He continued to reverse until he was on the boarder [sic] strip, about 100 meters away, and left her crushed body in the sand. Three activists ran to her and began administering first-responder medical treatment . . . She said, "My back is broken!" but nothing else . . .
"[Between 17:00 and 17:15], the ambulance arrived . . . She was still breathing [when the paramedics carried her to the ambulance] and her eyes were open, but she was clearly in a great deal of pain . . . She was brought directly to the emergency room, and was in there when I arrived in a taxi. [At 17.20], she was pronounced dead . . ."

Journalist Judy Lash Balint, who was not present, disputes this account and claims that ISM's version is full of contradictions and misinformation. [4] ( A major point of dispute is Rachel's interaction with the bulldozer and what really caused her death — a stroke from the blade or a falling debris, or whether she was crushed under the bulldozer tracks and blade.

The eyewitness accounts of various ISM members and Palestinian witnesses are not consistent on these points. For example, they do not agree on whether Corrie was at first standing, sitting, kneeling, or lying in the path of the bulldozer. Though Joseph Smith said, "She sat down in front of it ...", other eyewitnesses described the event differently. Tom Dale of ISM stated "Rachel knelt down in its way," Greg Schnabel of ISM stated "Rachel was standing in front of this home," Richard Purssell of ISM stated "Rachel stood to confront the bulldozer ..." while Ali Al-Shaar (a Palestinian) stated "The American girl was lying in front of the bulldozer ..." Joseph Smith said "[He] continued to drive until she was forced onto the top of the dirt he was pushing," Tom Dale stated "The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth," Greg Schnabel stated "The bulldozer began to push up the ground from beneath her feet," Richard Purssell stated "Rachel climbed up the pile and at the one stage was looking into the cabin window," and Ali Al-Shaar stated "... the bulldozer took sand and put it over her." [5] (

Richard Purssell stated "She began to slide down the pile, however as soon as her feet touched the ground for some reason she fell forward. Maybe her foot was caught or the weight of the soil pushed her forward."

ISM activist Tom Dale was standing just yards away from Corrie. He told journalist Joshua Hammer, Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek:

"The bulldozer built up earth in front of it. Its blade was slightly dug into the earth. She began to stand up. The earth was pushed over her feet. She tried to climb on top of the earth, to avoid being overwhelmed. She climbed to the point where her shoulders were above the top lip of the blade. She was standing on this pile of earth. As the bulldozer continued, she lost her footing, and she turned and fell down this pile of earth. Then it seemed like she got her foot caught under the blade. She was helpless, pushed prostrate, and looked absolutely panicked, with her arms out, and the earth was piling itself over her. The bulldozer continued so that the place where she fell down was directly beneath the cockpit. I think she would have been between the treads. The whole [incident] took place in about six or seven seconds," (Mother Jones, Sept-Oct 2003). [6] (

Smith's claim that they heard the bulldozer driver shouting at them (Smith, section 16:00-16:45 ( ), is contradicted by the driver. Dooby, an army reservist and Russian immigrant, told Hammer it is hard to communicate from the cabin of the bulldozer, because it is hard to see or hear. Armored bulldozers have noisy engines and thick plates of glass. Dooby has long experience as a bulldozer operator, according to Joshua Hammer. Hammer writes that, in an interview broadcast on Israeli television, Dooby said his field of vision was limited inside the D9 cabin and that he had no idea Corrie was in front of the machine. Dooby said:

"You can't hear, you can't see well. You can go over something and you'll never know. I scooped up some earth, I couldn't see anything. I pushed the earth, and I didn't see her at all. Maybe she was hiding in there."

The IDF produced a video about Corrie's death that includes footage taken from inside the cockpit of a D9. It makes a "credible case," writes Hammer, who has not seen the video, that "the operators, peering out through narrow, double-glazed, bulletproof windows, their view obscured behind pistons and the giant scooper, might not have seen Corrie kneeling in front of them," (Mother Jones ( ISM disputes the contents of the Mother Jones article.[7] (

Responsibility for Corrie's death

Armoured bulldozers have limited visibility.
Armoured bulldozers have limited visibility.

Because the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers have a restricted field of vision with several blind spots, Israeli army regulations normally require that other soldiers assist in directing bulldozer drivers, but the Israeli army commander of the Gaza Strip said in an interview broadcast on Israeli television that, on the day of Corrie's death, soldiers had to stay in their armored vehicles and were not able to direct the bulldozer, or arrest the protesters, because of a potential threat from Palestinian snipers. He also said that Israeli soldiers may have been handling other ISM activists instead of watching over the bulldozer. The ISM activists in the vicinity say they were not being "handled" by soldiers at the time of the incident.

The Israeli government promised a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation. An initial autopsy was performed at the National Center of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv. The Olympian reported that the autopsy report of March 20 concluded that Corrie's death was "caused by pressure on the chest from a mechanical apparatus." [8] (

However, the Jerusalem Post, quoting an Israeli military spokesman, reported that Corrie had not been run over. "An autopsy found that the cause of Corrie's death was falling debris," the Post reported. The military spokesman said: "The driver at no point saw or heard Corrie. She was standing behind debris which obstructed the view of the driver and the driver had a very limited field of vision due to the protective cage he was working in," (June 26, 2003).

The Israeli army's investigation, led by the chief of the general staff of the IDF, found that Israeli forces were not guilty of any misconduct, (Guardian, April 14, 2003). [9] (,2763,936327,00.html) The army's report, which was seen by the Guardian, says that Corrie was: "struck as she stood behind a mound of earth that was created by an engineering vehicle operating in the area and she was hidden from the view of the vehicle's operator who continued with his work. Corrie was struck by dirt and a slab of concrete resulting in her death." The report continues: "The finding of the operational investigations shows that Rachel Corrie was not run over by an engineering vehicle 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 also states that the army had not, in fact, intended to demolish a house, but was searching for explosives in the border area designated a security zone or "no man's land" by Israel. No houses were demolished on the day of Corrie's death, but one of the houses she believed she was protecting — the home of pharmacist Dr. Samid Nasrallah — was damaged six months later when the IDF knocked a hole in one of its walls. The IDF eventually demolished the house in January 2004, according to the charity Rebuilding Alliance, because it stood in the security zone. [10] (

A spokesman for the IDF told the Guardian that, while it did not accept responsibility for Corrie's death, it intended to change its operational procedures to avoid similar incidents in the future. The level of command of similar operations would be raised, said the spokesman, and civilians in the area would be dispersed or arrested before operations began. Observers will be deployed and CCTV cameras will be installed on the bulldozers to compensate for blindspots, which may have contributed to Corrie's death.

The IDF gave copies of a detailed report entitled "The Death of Rachel Corrie" to members of the U.S. Congress in April 2003, and Corrie's family released the document to the media in June 2003, according to the Gannett News Service. [11] ( However, in March 2004, the family maintained that the entire report had not been released, and that only they and two American staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv have been allowed to view it. The family say they were allowed to look at the report in the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. [12] ( The ISM rejected the Israeli report stating it was contrary to eyewitness reports, and that the investigation had been far from credible and transparent. [13] (

On March 25, 2003, U.S. Representative Brian Baird introduced Resolution 111 in the U.S. Congress calling on the U.S. government to "undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation" into Corrie's death. [14] ( The Corrie family continues to call for a U.S. investigation. [15] (


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Peace vigil in Olympia

Corrie's death sparked controversy, in part because she was a U.S. citizen and the first Western activist to be killed in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in part because of the highly politicized nature of the conflict itself.

Capt. Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the Israeli army, called Corrie's death a "regrettable accident" and said that Corrie and the other ISM activists were "a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger — the Palestinians, themselves and our forces — by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone." The ISM ( itself has been criticized for attacking Israeli actions (which the Israeli Government contends are self-defensive), while giving support to Palestinian terrorists. [16] ([17] ( The ISM has approved Palestinian violence as self defense, and has refused to condemn suicide terrorist attacks in Israel against civilians. On March 17, Amnesty International USA condemned the death and called for an independent inquiry. Christine Bustany, their advocacy director for the Middle East, said that "U.S.-made bulldozers have been 'weaponized' and their transfer to Israel must be suspended."


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A Palestinian memorial

A number of memorials have been held. The ISM held a gathering at Olympia's downtown Percival Landing on the day of her death. Two days later, there was a service at the spot where she died, attended by between 40 and 100 people. The event was interrupted by an Israeli APC which fired tear gas and concussion grenades.

On April 25, 2003, 15 people, including British citizens Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, met at an ISM apartment in Rafah before proceeding to the site of Corrie's death. Five days later, Hanif and Sharif carried out a suicide bombing of Mike's Place, a restaurant in Tel Aviv, killing three civilians. [18] ( The Israeli government imposed new restrictions on ISM activities as a result of the bombers' visit to the ISM apartment.

Corrie's photograph has been used in protests, including in Rafah, against Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank. On 15 July 2003, the Chicago Tribune reported that "to the people of Rafah, Rachel Corrie will always remain a very special martyr, their American martyr."

A play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, based on Corrie's e-mails from Gaza and directed by British actor Alan Rickman, has opened in London and runs until April 30, 2005. [19] (,2763,1454990,00.html)


As of March 15, 2005, Corrie's family planned to file a lawsuit against Caterpillar Inc. alleging liability over the death of Corrie and in connection with the equipment used in the home demolitions, which they say is a violation of international law. Claims have already been filed against the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Defense Ministry. [20] (

See also:

External links and references

News reports

Memorials and ISM statements

Commentaries and other resources

it:Rachel Corrie he:רייצ'ל קורי nl:Rachel Corrie zh:若雪·柯利


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