Twenty years ago, on March 16, 2003, Rachel Aliene Corrie, a 23-year-old American woman, was run over and killed in the Gaza Strip by an Israeli military bulldozer as she protested the demolition of Palestinian homes.
Corrie had gone to Gaza as part of her college senior-year independent-study proposal to connect her hometown and Rafah as sister cities.
While there, she joined other pro-Palestinian activists in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in efforts to prevent the Israeli demolition of Palestinian property, which human rights groups said were being used as collective punishment. Witnesses said that the Israeli soldier operating the bulldozer deliberately ran over Corrie.
“There’s no way he didn’t see her, since she was practically looking into the cabin. At one stage, he turned around toward the building. The bulldozer kept moving, and she slipped and fell off the plow. But the bulldozer kept moving, the shovel above her. I guess it was about 10 or 15 meters that it dragged her and for some reason didn’t stop. We shouted like crazy to the operator through loudspeakers that he should stop, but he just kept going and didn’t lift the shovel. Then it stopped and backed up. We ran to Rachel. She was still breathing,“ an ISM activist using the name “Richard”, who witnessed Corrie’s death, had told Haaretz.
The Israeli army conducted an investigation, which concluded that the death was an accident, and that the driver of the bulldozer could not see Corrie due to limited visibility from his cab. However, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as B’Tselem and Yesh Din, criticized the military investigation.
In 2005, Corrie’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel, charging Israel with not conducting a full and credible investigation into the case and with responsibility for her death, contending that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had acted with reckless neglect.
An Israeli court rejected their suit in August 2012 and upheld the results of the 2003 military investigation, ruling that the Israeli government was not responsible for Corrie’s death. The ruling was met with criticism by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and by activists. An appeal against this ruling was heard on May 21, 2014. On February 14, 2015, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected the appeal.
Rachel Corrie’s death sparked widespread outrage and renewed international attention to the ongoing Israeli violence against Palestinians. She sent a series of emails to her mother while she was in Gaza, four of which were later published by The Guardian. The play “My Name is Rachel Corrie” and the cantata “The Skies are Weeping” were based on Corrie’s letters.
Yasser Arafat, the first President of the Palestinian Authority, offered his condolences and gave the “blessings of the Palestinian people” to Corrie, promising to name a street in Gaza after her. According to Cindy Corrie, Arafat told her mother Craig Corrie that Rachel Corrie “is your daughter, but she is also the daughter of all Palestinians. She is ours too now.”
On the twelfth anniversary of Corrie’s death, a symbolic gravestone with her name was installed in the Tehran cemetery to honor her by the Commemoration of Martyrs of Movement of the Islamic World’s Staff.
On Thursday, on twentieth anniversary of killing of Rachel Corrie, people took to social media to remember the brave activist.