Guest Post: The Demonization of Rachel Corrie and other pro-Palestinian activists by Israel

On Sunday, July 10 2011, the final hearing in the civil case filed by the family Rachel Corrie against the state of Israel took place. The final hearing heard the testimony of Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz who was head of Southern Command in 2003 when Rachel was killed by D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer.

Rachel Corrie was an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent movement made up of foreigners, which stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people. ISM activists protest against Israel’s military violence on the Palestinian people. They attend protests against the apartheid wall in Bi’lin and Ni’lin and against settlement expansion at Nabi Saleh. In addition, they protest against house demolitions all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Rachel Corrie entered the Gaza Strip via Erez crossing in early 2003 and lived in Rafah with a local family. As well as protesting the Israeli Defence Force’s mass home demolitions in Rafah (Rafah was evacuated of nearly 16,000 people from 2000 to 2004 due to this policy), she also established a twinning project between Rafah and her home town of Olympia, Washington. On the day she was killed, Rachel wearing a bright orange jacket in order to be visible to soldiers, went out to protest against levelling and demolition activities being carried out by the IDF in the Philidelphi Corridor (the area on the Gaza-Egypt border where Rachel was killed that was being cleared by the IDF of houses to stop armed activity and arms smuggling by Palestinians). She was killed when a 600ton bulldozer ran her over.

During the hearing, Zuaretz was asked repeatedly by the Corrie’s attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, if any procedures existed for dealing with civilians while any IDF activity was being carried out. To this he replied that the question was a stupid one because no civilians existed at the time; anyone present in Gaza and especially in the Philidelphi Corridor was believed to be a combatant, or terrorist at Zuaretz called them (I do not use this term because it is an incorrect use of the word – terrorists attack civilians, not armies) by the IDF and therefore they were free to be killed. He stated that “reasonable people would not be there unless they had aims of attacking our forces.” No matter that Rachel, her fellow ISM activists and the family she was staying with were unarmed and that their protest was legal. There existed no procedures for dealing with international activists to remove them from the area or keep them away from areas where house demolitions were taking place. Zuaretz said they could not be arrested because it would endanger soldiers’ lives. He emphasised that Gaza at that time was a war zone, and that in the Philidelphi corridor was a closed military zone. He put 100% of the responsibility for Rachel’s death on Rachel herself for being present in a war zone where a ‘shoot to kill’ policy existed for anyone present (although Rachel was not shot).

Moreover, Zuaretz added that the ISM activists must have had links to ‘terrorists’ because how else would they have been allowed to live and do the work they were doing otherwise? They must have had permission from the ‘terrorist’ groups controlling Rafah to do this. He claimed also that ISM activists were naïve and easily manipulated and were used by terrorist groups as pawns and human shields.

In reply to these claims, Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother at a press conference that took place the day after the final hearing had this to say: “Rachel had a mind of her own… ISM is a movement, people choose to come, it is non-violent resistance.” Her father, Craig Corrie, said “ISM works with families and does not want any part in violent resistance.” Another ISM activist had once told him that “ISM activists are outsiders in the community and not trusted by many people because,” he claimed, “it would be too easy for Israel to place an infiltrator among their ranks.”

The view of Zuaretz is shared by many, evidence of which can be found in the comments of any article in an Israeli newspaper, including this article about key evidence that was withheld by Israel in the hearing. To summarise, (some of them are too hurtful to quote), they call Rachel an idiot, an exploited human shield and largely to blame for her own death.

This view is not limited to Rachel Corrie or to ISM activists. One just has to look to last year’s flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza which ended in the killing of 9 Turkish (and one American-Turkish) civilians by IDF soldiers. Israel believed they were terrorists and many agreed that they were largely responsible for what happened.

This year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more or less gave Israel the green light to act with violence towards the latest flotilla activists when she warned them that they would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves” (although it should be noted that last year’s boats were not even in Israeli waters when they came under attack).

Israel does not only lay the blame when activists are killed or injured in an effort to discredit them, it also goes to huge lengths to prevent them existing.

Israel went to huge efforts to prevent this year’s flotilla from even leaving ports in Greece. Those on the so-called ‘flytilla’ faced extra security personnel at European airports and, if they were allowed to fly, their planes were landed far from the airport so that Ben Gurion airport’s security personnel could deal with them least they manage to reach passport control and declare that Palestine was their intended destination and not Israel. Those who did make it into the airport faced abusive treatment from security and were placed in detention to await deportation.

Israel’s actions towards Pro-Palestinian activists are not limited to ISM activists to participate in direct action or to large scale events such as the flotillas and the flytilla, although these are the only ones that make the news. Everyday Israel attempts to dissuade pro-Palestinian activists and make their visits here unpleasant at best, impossible at worst. Flying into Ben Gurion airport, or entering via any land border, one can face intense scrutiny by border guards checking if you are even thinking of visiting the West Bank or intend to visit friends with Arab sounding names and will quickly deny you entry for these reasons (although they would dub you a ‘security threat’). Flying back out is perhaps more stressful, hours of questioning, strip searches, multiple luggage checks, and pers

onal escorts through the airport to board your flight are common if you mention anything about Palestine, the West Bank, or have anything Arabic or Palestinian in your luggage. And it does not matter how old you are, your ethnicity or your religion as this 79 year old holocaust survivor can attest to.

Israel can claim it is preventing foreigners coming to any harm when it prevents activists from entering but the only way Israel can prevent foreigner civilian activists from being hurt is by stopping the systematic violence against Palestinians and guaranteeing their rights. Subsequently, there would be no need for foreigners to come and defend them.

Israel goes to massive efforts to stop any kind of international solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It demonises them publically in the media (see these two YouTube videos for bizarre examples), criminalises their efforts (see the recent passing of a law to ban BDS campaigns), calls them terrorists and extremists, and blames them if they are hurt. Governments refuse to condemn Israel for its violations of international human rights law and now ordinary citizens are unable to stand with Palestinians and are increasingly having their lives put at risk if they do so.

 Written by J.R.

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6 thoughts on “Guest Post: The Demonization of Rachel Corrie and other pro-Palestinian activists by Israel

  1. There are two points here that bother me and that I feel should be commented on (when you go from Corrie and the flotilla to general remarks about Israel’s entry/exit procedures).

    “Everyday Israel attempts to dissuade pro-Palestinian activists and make their visits here unpleasant at best, impossible at worst.” – I think the term “activists” is absolutely misplaced here. These Israeli practices are not limited to activists at all. What defines an activist anyways? I guess whatever the definition may be, it does not include students, travellers, researchers or NGO-workers etc. who are treated this way for the sole reason that they do what they do in the oPt and not in Israel. Or maybe only because they have the wrong stamps in their passport or study the wrong subject. Education, curiosity or sympathy simply do not qualify as activism, and definitely not so in the way that Israel uses the term.

    “And it does not matter how old you are, your ethnicity or your religion as this 79 year old holocaust survivor can attest to.” – As much as this example might suggest the opposite – it is naive (at best) to really believe in some sort of colour blindness of the Israeli airport security, or in any sort of non-discrimination for that matter. They don’t even try to conceal their racial (or maybe rather ethnic and religious) profiling practices. Hedy Epstein was probably picked by them as she publicly speaks out against Israeli human rights abuses. But having an Arab last name? Chances are that you are taken aside even before passport control (or check-in if you’re on your way out) and spend some time in pleasant conversation with the security personnel.

  2. Peaceful demonstrations after decades of violence are to be taken at face value? Determinations as to one’s intent at airports and borders? Do you think Israelis are fools? Gaining the Israeli’s trust after years of Arab/Palestinian violence and reactionary rejectionism will take decades, if it ever happens. Pretending to want peace or really wanting it appears to be the same thing, unfortunately. It is most amusing to see the Palestinians go to the UN asking for what they could have had by simple agreement in 1947, but I guess a 64 year long tantrum is enough even for a still immature polity like the Palestinians. .

  3. Rachel Corrie joined herself to an immature polity and suffered the consequences. Her foolish behaviour leads to zero sympathy from me.

    1. Moran, your argument goes both ways.
      “Pretending to want peace or really wanting it…” – Unlike the Israelis, the PLO has made lots and lots of concessions during the last decades. They settled for a state in the West Bank and Gaza as early as 1988 (if you don’t believe it, check out the Palestinian declaration of independence) and by that recognized the Israeli state on the rest of their homeland. This was years before Israel even recognized the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people, not to speak of an Israeli recognition of any sort of Palestinian state on any part of the land. During the last decades, the Palestinians have given up more than the Israelis ever owned – while Israel continues to build on those parts of the Palestinian homeland that they are pretending to be negotiating about.
      Do I think the Israelis are fools? No, honestly, I don’t. I believe they know exactly what they’re doing, because the result will be exactly what the founders of the Israeli state had in mind from the beginning: A Jewish state on all of Eretz Israel. What they are doing is called “creating facts on the ground”. It is the Israelis who are pretending to want peace while at that same time they are busy destroying every chance for a viable Palestinian state.

      Decades of violence, you say? Indeed. Decades of violent, belligerent occupation. Decades of violent denial of basic human rights to the Palestinians. Decades of violent destruction, of violent expulsion, of violent crushing of peaceful protests. (Let me guess, your next argument will be “But… but… look at the Hamas charter! They want to destroy us!” My answer will be: Look at the fucking Likud charter, they want the same (just the other way around). This would be the moment where I’d want to bang my head on the table because it’s one of the stupidest arguments ever, but just like every single one of your points it just keeps coming up. Stupidity never dies, what can I say…)

      Are you talking about the 2nd Intifada? I agree, that was no peaceful resistance. But labelling ONLY the Palestinian actions with terms like “peaceful”, “violent” or “non-violent” distorts the reality of occupation. Occupation is NEVER “non-violent”. Occupation is inherently violent, everywhere, always, all the time, with effects of every single part of the life. Restrictions on movement, education, development, adequate standard of living…. all these are VIOLENT acts.

      The Palestinians started their resistance with a broad non-violent movement. The 1st Intifada was based on civil disobidience and was crushed violently by Israel. To talk about mistrust in the face of peaceful resistance is more than hypocritical considering the Israeli acts that have never even been “non-violent” to start with. And why should there be any faith by the Palestinians in anything that Israel says? Israel has been talking about their “willingness for peace” for decades, forcing the Palestinians (with a little US pressure) back to the negotiating table over and over again, while at the same time continuing to destroy the very foundations for any sort of peace deal. At the beginning of every new round of negotiations, the Palestinians had a weaker bargaining position than before as Israel kept building and building and building. And if the Palestinians complained about it, somehow THEY ended up being branded the ones who were preventing peace, or as you call it “reactionary rejectionists”. Have you taken a look at the Palestine Papers that were published in January? Talking about rejectionism. The Palestinian negotiators gave up almost everything (in my opinion they basically sold out their own people, but that’s me with my goddamn sense of justice) and – surprise! – it somehow still wasn’t enough.

      “It is most amusing to see the Palestinians go to the UN asking for what they could have had by simple agreement in 1947” – you know what is the funny thing about this? That you actually seem to believe that rights and international law have some kind of expiration date. Let me tell you something: They don’t. The Palestinians have every right to go to the UN, as much as they had every right to decline the partition plan 1947. The UN partition plan has never been a legally binding document, it was a proposal. Why on earth should the Palestinians have accepted a plan that suggested living on 43% of their homeland (while making up 67% of the overall population)?!?

      “Rachel Corrie joined herself to an immature polity and suffered the consequences. Her foolish behaviour leads to zero sympathy from me.” – Needless to say so. People like you don’t have any sympathy for anyone other than yourself.

      1. “That you actually seem to believe that rights and international law have some kind of expiration date. Let me tell you something: They don’t. The Palestinians have every right to go to the UN, as much as they had every right to decline the partition plan 1947. The UN partition plan has never been a legally binding document, it was a proposal. Why on earth should the Palestinians have accepted a plan that suggested living on 43% of their homeland (while making up 67% of the overall population)?!?”

        This is the kernel of it, isn’t it? Indeed, they have every right. No, the UN partition plan has never been a legally binding document, it just made sense if you understood the realities on the ground at the time. Purely practically speaking the Palestinians would have been vastly ahead had they just accepted the original partition. Why should the Palestinians have accepted a plan, etc., …well that is why, out of self-interest. Now, let’s talk reality: The Palestinians lost and have continued to lose, with no end in sight. It was time, long ago, to cut your losses and let your people live their lives without throwing away generation after generation, like the Germans did after World War I, the Irish after 1609, the Serbs after….well, you get the idea. Too bad Arafat was so weak, agreeing to peace and then walking away from it when he found his people and the other factions would not accept peace. Too bad the PA, in “betraying” their people faced reality when their people could not. It is still ironic, to me, that the source of partition, the UN, with their non-legally binding document, a proposal, is now where the Palestinians are going. “Pursuit of justice”: every lawyers favourite phrase, the favourite phrase of every lost cause. The Jews should take up arms against the Babylonians, I suppose, if they can find them, the Orangemen should go after the Catholics in Ireland, the Sunnis after the Shia, the White Russians after the Red, Native Americans after the whites, Aftro-Americans after the whites, the Koreans after the Japanese…and so on, all in the name of justice. Really makes a lot of sense.

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