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Fighting, Massacred, Genocide, Indicted, and Dead but Enduring

by on March 16, 2021

The best part of my dismal newspaper is probably Sudoku, Work Scramble, or the Funnies. This year for my birthday my parents got me the day calendar of 365 days of Pearls Before Swine. On the back of the comics are daily tidbits. Today’s facts of the day read thus:

  • In 1945, U.S. military forces declared the island of Iwo Jima secure after twenty-five days of fighting.
  • In 1968, U.S. Army soldiers massacred more than 300 civilians in My Lai in South Vietnam.
  • In 1988 Lt. Col. Oliver North and U.S. Vice Adm. John Poindexter were indicted on charges of conspiracy during the Iran-Contra affair.
  • In 1998 mass trials began in Rwanda for roughly 125,000 suspected perpetrators of the country’s 1994 genocide.

On this day of war and intrigue what the calendar doesn’t mention was the death of Rachel Corrie. Eighteen year ago today Rachel was crushed to death by a U.S.-made, U.S.-sold Caterpillar (as her dad recently described it) bulldozer, in Gaza while trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian house by Israelis forces.

40 candles of solidarity: An international birthday for Rachel Corrie –  Middle East Monitor

Rachel’s murder by Israel (for which it has denied responsibility) thrust Rachel’s parents into the issue of Gaza. Her death inspired more than her parents; seventeen years later Phillip Weiss of Mondoweiss wrote about the enduring legacy of Rachel, who had inspired a play and is celebrated worldwide – not for dying, but for acting for justice.

When Rachel was killed in 2003 Gaza was merely suffering. It has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. One of the most densely populated places on the planet, full of refugees, Gaza has been under siege, illegally, by Israel (with the help of Egypt and a blessing as well as help from the United States) for fourteen years. During those fourteen years it has been invaded (war is the wrong word; war is two sided) by Israel three times, plus daily incursions of Israeli military forces that detain people – including children – without charge, and determine whether a Palestinian farmer can farm his land, or a fisher fish.

Gaza has not been immune to the world-wide effect of the corona-virus. As a densely populated place under siege this is challenging; in addition, Palestinians mainly do not have access to a vaccine, despite Israel being one of the highest-vaccinated populations in the world, and Israel’s requirement under international law to provide for the health of Gazans, including the provision of a vaccine. Two months ago even the New York Times was accusing Israel of medical apartheid against Palestinians.

The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which Rachel’s parents began after her death (I volunteer for the Foundation), hosted an excellent webinar today about medical apartheid and the current situation in Gaza. The important takeaway is that the U.S. supports the occupation of Gaza, and that local actions, from community-building to contacting our representatives, is essential to ending the oppression of people.

Every day Gazans are fighting for the right to exist, a right that Israel tries to deny them. At times the treatment of Palestinians has been labeled a slow genocide. At times, such as during the fifty day Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Israelis have massacred the people of Gaza. Recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has ruled it has jurisdiction to prosecute both Israelis and members of Hamas for war crimes during 2014, despite the protestation of Netanyahu in Israel and Biden in the U.S. It’s as if the fighting of 1945, the massacre in Vietnam in 1968, and the human rights violations of Rwanda are replaying themselves in history. And, of course, Iran is still and issue – or perhaps a red herring. Meanwhile, Rachel Corrie is dead but her ideas of justice and of what is right has not and will not die. Her legacy, her words, and her work will live, while the violence will disappear into footnotes of history.

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