On march 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie, wearing a bright-orange jacket and holding a bullhorn, tried to shield the home of a Palestinian civilian in a refugee camp in the Rafah area of the Gaza Strip, one of three thousand homes that were demolished by Israeli forces between 2001 and 2003. She was crushed to death by an Israeli Caterpillar.
In the subsequent furor, Corrie was labeled both a traitor and a martyr.
Rachel Corrie was never a terrorist. She never sympathized with Al Qaeda. Her blond hair and U.S. nationality and the fact than no Arab blood ran in her veins made her stand out among the other young women in the Gaza Strip. Neither was she a follower of Islam and she was barely 23 years old.
Rachel lived in Olympia, in the state of Washington, and she had been far from home for many months. She belonged to the International Solidarity Movement and for the moment her profession was a new one for the 21st century: that of a human shield against evil and wrongdoing.
One might guess at the reasons why Rachel found herself in a Palestinian refugee camp in Gaza, and why she postponed her dream of graduating from college, leaving behind for the moment the beautiful possibility of loving, of having children.
She wanted now, not later to bear witness to the Palestinian tragedy and, far from home, she was learning the true meaning of U.S. justice.
Rachel was guilty. Guilty according to Israeli statements of being in the wrong country at the wrong time with the wrong people. She was guilty of not staying home to dance in the discotheques of the United States, of ceasing to be a common, ordinary citizen.
She chose to stand in front of a Palestinian home at the moment an Israeli bulldozer was trying to tear it down. In the first image captured on camera, she is challenging the driver with a megaphone in her hand. Her hair is loose around her shoulders.
She places her body between the weakened wall of the house and the brutal shovel of the bulldozer. The scene takes place in Rafah, in Gaza, and her protective gesture is poignant. Never has such an undefended, fragile person challenged a vehicle transformed into a machine of death and destruction.
One cannot hear her words. Next to her in the first photograph is another young solidarity worker, perhaps of her same nationality. In the second photo, she is on the ground bleeding. According to witnesses the bulldozer, after stopping for awhile, decided to move forward. After knocking her down with the first blow, it backed up and attacked once again.
With a turn of the steering wheel, the driver drove away from the scene. He changed direction and left her there to one side, like some unimportant object: the house still standing, the young woman on the ground.
The image has no sound. (What was she shouting at her assassin? Her cries were not in Hebrew, but in the purest English pronounced by a pure girl.
The Israeli soldier could not understand why the shouts were directed at him in the same language of his godfather and protector. Maybe he thought for an instant how odd were these blond Palestinians speaking English, a second before he floored the accelerator for the final attack.
Silence. The death of a blond young woman, 23 years old, crushed to death in Gaza, deserves silence. There are no investigations. No one orders the assassin arrested because that would mean one less driver for the bulldozers, for the tanks, one less soldier to carry on the killing. And all of them are needed to keep carrying out these crimes.
No one has expressed regret to Rachel’s parents. Only the Palestinian leader has expressed his condolences. Nothing important has happened because no one has to ask forgiveness in the United States or Israel. No one has begged forgiveness or even contemplated the collateral damage. It is not necessary.
Perhaps they may even think that the Palestinians were responsible, for not preventing her from standing in front of that house at the hour of the disaster.
If the young woman stood together with the Arab people under attack, together with the Third World, it is a certain fact that she was not a legitimate U.S. citizen. If she were one, she would have been like the President of her country, on the side of Zionism.
Something is missing from their statistics: Rachel Corrie is the first U.S. martyr, the first U.S. blood shed on Palestinian soil in Gaza. Now her banner is raised and flies in the wind. From now on she will accompany the struggle, because she has entered into history to accompany the sadness and pain of the Palestinian nation.
Missiles and bombs will fall now on Bagdad, the mourning will spread to new homes and this image will remain as the terrible face of the United States. The United States has two faces, the contemptible face of Bush, and the sweet face of Rachel .
He, arrogance, she, solidarity; he, disrespect for a sovereign people, she, admiration and love of humanity.
Unlike everything that W. Bush stands for, Rachel represents the beautiful face of the United States, and the beautifully human face is everlasting.
(*Palestinian Ambassador to Cuba)
This article was published in the Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde