You might have read about her in the news. Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American student at Evergreen College in Washington State. On March 16, she was the first person to be killed working with the International Movement for Solidarity in Gaza. She was killed after an Israeli bulldozer ran over her – and upon seeing her alive – reversed the vehicle backwards.
I do not know why her death has hit me this hard. Maybe it is because she was only one year older than I, or because she was an active member in a local union I helped organize, or maybe because I am just simply in awe of the courage in which she lived her short life.
Before going to Palestine, Rachel helped part-time at a mental health facility. At her memorial service it was widely mentioned that her patients were crazy about her. They spoke of the compassion and humor in which she cared for them. Most importantly they talked about the lessons Rachel taught them, about how she would offer them hope, allowed them to regain their sense of dignity and self-respect and about how she treated everyone as profoundly important and valuable.
By being active in her local union, teaching people to act on behalf of workers and the poor at the Labor Center at Evergreen and actively offering solidarity work to improve the level of unemployment benefits received by local out-of-work steelworkers, Rachel championed the causes of those in her community.
But Rachel Corrie had an even larger vision.
Rachel’s effort to ease suffering soon extended into numerous struggles as she saw herself more and more bound by the plight of vulnerable civilians in Palestine. Our media will try to marginalize Rachel by referring to her as a “human shield.” More accurately, she was a young person who believed that obvious injustice cries out for human intervention. Rachel’s politics are far from extreme; she simply did not condone violence (on either side of the conflict) and felt that her presence could inspire support for finding nonviolent solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Far from enabling terrorists as some attempt to suggest, Rachel’s role in Palestine was walking children to school, helping adults get to the food market, helping farmers gather their crops and creating pen pal relationships between Olympia young people and Palestinian youth. She felt her presence, and the presence of others, could inspire peace by showing the humanity of caring people all over the world.
The lesson that should be taken from her life is larger than which side to take in regards to this conflict. It is the story of a young woman who saw things in the world she didn’t agree with and then put her beliefs into practice by fighting for what she felt was morally just and right.
A few days before her death she wrote the following words to her parents in an e-mail about her experience in Gaza:
“This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. This is not at all what I asked for when I came into this world. This is not at all what the people here asked for when they came into this world. This is not what they are asking for now. This is not the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me.”
At the outset of this terribly destructive war in Iraq, Rachel serves as an example to all of us of someone willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for human rights and decency. I offer you my prayers Rachel. Thank you for teaching us about “being peace.”
-The writer, a graduate student in the School of Political Management, is a Hatchet columnist.