Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I would like to have met Rachel Corrie

 The Rachel Corrie just before it sailed from Dundalk in April 2010

The holiday is over! It was great while it lasted. The weather was generally good and allowed for long walks across hills and mountain tops, and up country roads and along beautiful, pristine sandy beaches. It was a time to recharge the batteries and prepare for the work ahead. And there was time to write. Observant readers will have noted in the last blog my admission that, ‘I’m trying to write a book of short stories. Or at least I’m trying to start thinking about it.’

In fact I did a bit of both. I thought about it and I wrote several short stories. So, all I need now is to find time in the midst of what will be a hugely busy period ahead, to think and write a few more.

But that is going to be difficult given the parades issue in the north; the growing crisis in the health service in the south, and the necessary focus on preparing Sinn Féin’s alternative budget proposal. And much more.

I consciously avoid reading newspapers or listening to the news while on holidays. But some stories endure.

One such was the ruling recently by an Israeli judge that the Israeli state was not responsible for the death in March 2003 of Rachel Corrie. It was according to Haifa district court Judge Oded Gershon a “regrettable accident”.

He claimed that Rachel “chose to put herself in danger. She could have easily distanced herself from the danger like any reasonable person would.”

Another example of the victim being blamed.

Not surprisingly the judgement was welcomed by the Israeli government which called it a “vindication”.

However, Hanan Ashrawi, of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, spoke for Palestinians and many others when she said that the evidence had revealed “overwhelming proof that Rachel was deliberately murdered”. She added: “Palestinians as a whole will continue to love Rachel and cherish her memory.”

This blog never met Rachel Corrie. I would have liked to. She was a 23 year old American human rights activist. She was killed on land between the Rafah refugee camp and the border with Egypt on March 16th 2003 by an Israeli soldier driving a bulldozer which was being used to destroy the home of a Palestinian pharmacist. Colleagues of Rachel described how the Israeli soldier deliberately ran her over.

One witness recalled: “As the bulldozer reached the place where Rachel was standing, she began as many of us did on the day to climb the pile of earth. She reached the top and at this point she must have been clearly visible to the driver, especially as she was still wearing the high visibility jacket ["orange fluorescent... with reflective strips"]. She turned and faced in my direction and began to come back down the pile. The bulldozer continued to move forward at [5-6 mph]. As her feet hit the ground I saw a panicked expression on her face... The pile of earth engulfed her and she was hidden from my view.”

The Israeli Government and the Israeli Defense Forces rejected the eye witness accounts and claimed that Rachel Corrie’s death was an accident.

The accounts of her courage and commitment describe a young woman dedicated to the protection of human rights and willing to take risks – huge risks – in pursuit of peace and justice and in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people.

A few days before her death Rachel gave an interview to the Middle East Broadcasting Network, in which 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.”

The huge esteem in which Rachel is held was reflected here in Ireland by the decision to rename the MV Linda, an 1800 tonne ship, which was purchased in March 2010 by the Free Gaza Movement, the MV Rachel Corrie. The renaming ceremony took place on Wednesday morning May 12th 2010. Later that evening the MV Rachel Corrie slipped out of Dundalk Harbour and set sail for the Mediterranean.

It was the beginning of a historic journey to the middle east where those on board planned to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and deliver hundreds of tons of much needed construction, school and medical supplies.

This blog reported on those events at that time and of the efforts of an international flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.

On May 30th Israeli naval commandos attacked the flotilla and nine human rights activists were killed. The Rachel Corrie was several days behind because of mechanical difficulties but on June 5th Israeli forces stormed the ship while it was still in international waters and detained is crew and passengers. They were eventually expelled from Israel.

But the work of justice and human rights for the Palestinian people and especially those trapped in the besieged Gaza Strip, is more important than ever.

A United Nations report published last week – ‘Gaza in 2020 – A liveable place?’ reveals the extent to which the crisis in that region is deepening and the enormous health, water and humanitarian challenges now facing the 1.6 million people who live there.

A hospital damaged during the Israeli assault on Gaza in 2008

According to the UN ‘the people of Gaza remain worse off than they were in the 1990s’.

By 2020 the daily lives of Gazans will be worse than they are now. It concludes: ‘There will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline and the vision of affordable and reliable electricity for all will have become a distant memory for most. The already high number of poor, marginalised and food-insecure people depending on assistance will not have changed and in all likelihood will have increased.’

By every conceivable measurement Gazans will be worse off. Unemployment which last year stood at 29% has increased. The unemployment rate for women in 2012 was 47% and 58% for people between the ages of 20 and 24.

The Gaza strip is running out of water; it needs 250 additional schools now and another 190 in the next eight years. It also needs 71,000 housing units.

The UN report concludes that ‘one of the main reasons for the economy’s inability to recover to pre-2000 levels has been and is the blockade of the Gaza strip.’

The Israeli siege and the oppressive actions of its forces against Palestinians was what motivated and outraged Rachel Corrie.

Our goal must be to support the efforts of all of those seeking to bring an end to this injustice.

The American International School destroyed by Israeli forces during Israel's Operation 'Cast Lead' in December 2008 and January 2009.

The United Report recorded that during the Israeli assault on Gaza: "6,268 homes were destroyed or severely damaged; 186 greenhouses (growing vegetables for sale) were destroyed; 931 impact craters in roads and fields were counted;  universities faced US$ 25 million in damages; 35,750 cattle, sheep and goats, and more than one million chicken and other birds were killed; and 17% of the cultivated area was destroyed. ‘Cast Lead’ caused a total of US$ 181 million in direct and US$ 88 million in longer-term costs for Gaza’s agriculture; generated about 600,000 tonnes of rubble and US$ 44 million in environmental costs; and water and sanitation infrastructure suffered almost US$ 6 million in damages." 

1 comment:

Timothy Dougherty said...

Wecome back Gerry,
The hardest vacations are the ones we take from ourselves, or try to. Reading accounts form HUSSEIN ABU HUSSEIN, human rights lawyer who represented the Corrie family in their case against the Israeli government. "verdict ensures that the Israeli culture of impunity will continue unchecked. Rachel Corrie lost her life standing non-violently with those who have been subject to Israel’s systematic policy of destruction" or as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter put it: “The court’s decision confirms a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory.” The image of Rachel Corrie bravely standing, was a courageous act. The rules of engagement at the time Rachel was killed were to “shoot to kill any adult person on the [Philadelphi] route. There is some good news, The Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) and the Gaza Water and Sewage Administration opened a water treatment plant in the Palestinian city of Gaza on Tuesday, 9-4-2012.