The HyperTexts

Rachel Corrie Poetry and Quotes

This page contains poems and songs written about Rachel Corrie, in addition to her own poetry and quotations.

compiled by Michael R. Burch, an editor and publisher of Holocaust and Naka poetry



Night Labor, a poem for Rachel Corrie
by Michael R. Burch

Tonight we keep the flame alive;
we keep the candle lit.
We burn bright incense in your name
and swear we’ll not forget—
your innocence, your courage,
your commitment—till bleak night
surrenders to irrevocable dawn
and hate yields to love’s light.

                              Amen

Colin Reese, her roommate, said that Rachel Corrie was "not the most punctual or tidy person in the world," but that when it came to peace work, she "would work harder and longer than anybody else." Hence, the title of my poem, "Night Labor."

Why have I written a tribute poem to honor Rachel Corrie? Because I believe in her cause, her courage and her good example. This page contains poems and prose written by Rachel Corrie, as well as tribute poems and prose written about her by others. Toward the bottom of this page you can even read the emails Rachel sent her friends and family from Palestine. Rachel Corrie was a young American peace activist who used her body as a "human shield" to protect Palestinians from home demolitions in the Gaza Strip. On March 16, 2003 she was killed by an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) armored Caterpillar bulldozer as she tried to prevent it from demolishing the home of Palestinian pharmacist Samir Nasrallah and his family. The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD) has reported more than 24,000 such home demolitions, so this was not an isolated incidence. Nor unfortunately is it unusual for Israel to kill or maim peace activists. Other young peace activists murdered by Israel include Furkan Dogan, an American citizen; Tom Hurndall, a British citizen who was shot in the back of the head by an Israeli sniper as he guided two Palestinian children to safety; and eight Turkish peace activists killed by Israeli commandos who boarded and hijacked the ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in international waters. Other peace activists shot by Israel include Australian citizen Kate Edwards (internal injuries), Irish citizen Caoimhe Butterly (shot in the thigh while leading Palestinian children to safety), American citizen Brian Avery (shot in the face and permanently disfigured), American citizen Tristan Anderson (he lost part of his brain), American citizen and grandmother Greta Berlin (whose leg is scarred by a rubber-coated steel bullet), and Maltese citizen Bianca Zammit (shot in the thigh). There is no way to accurately know how many Palestinians have died prematurely since 1948, due to Israel's wildly unjust system of government-sponsored racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing, just as there is no way to accurately know the number of victims of the Holocaust, but estimates according to The Libertarian Review based on U.N. data, and the Palestinian Genocide website are 100,000 violent deaths, 1.9 to 5.1 million avoidable deaths, and 6 to 7 million refugees who have been denied freedom, equality and justice (many of whom experience a living death in dismal refugee camps and walled ghettos like Gaza).

Here is a poem of sorts that I constructed from a documentary about her life:

Who was Rachel Corrie?

Who was Rachel Corrie?
Sometime after five o'clock the bulldozers were ordered to return to complete their work.
The internationals believed the house was about to be destroyed; they knew small children were inside.
Who was Rachel Corrie?
She had been living in the home of Dr. Nasrallah and his family since leaving her home in Olympia, Washington seven weeks earlier;
now she was rushing to position herself between the bulldozer and the house.
Who was Rachel Corrie?
Why would she risk her life to protect a family she had known for less than two months?
What was she doing in a small Palestinian border town?
Who was Rachel Corrie?
Surely she was us,
if we only shared her courage!

Here is a poem that Rachel wrote when she left her home in Olympia, Washington to travel to Gaza as a peace activist ...

Leaving Olympia
by Rachel Corrie
January, 2003

We are all born and someday we’ll all die, most likely to some degree alone.
What if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy?
What if our aloneness is what allows us to speak the truth without being afraid?
What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure—to experience the world as a dynamic presence—as a changeable, interactive thing?
If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.
And I have no right to this metaphor, but I use it to console myself, to give a fraction of meaning to something enormous and needless.
This realization: this realization that I will live my life in this world where I have privileges.
I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia.
I can’t be Picasso.
I can’t be Jesus.
I can’t save the planet single-handedly.
I can wash dishes.

Here's a song by singer-songwriter Jim Page that tells her story in a compelling way. It's called "Rachel's Song: I'd Rather Be Dancing" ...



While I was searching YouTube for the song above, I also found this one by Pink Floyd ...



I also found this clip of Noble Peace Prize laureate and former U.S. president Jimmy Carter explaining why Gaza and the West Bank are perhaps the worst spots on earth for human rights abuses today ...



Rachel Corrie confronts an Israeli soldier, two days before Israeli soldiers killed her ... no wonder she looks so skeptical ...



Why would Rachel Corrie use her body as a human shield? The Israeli court verdict stated that she could have saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger "as any reasonable person would have done." But you be the judge. As you can hear Rachel testify in her own words immediately below, Palestinian children were being shot and killed. Is it reasonable to stand aside and let children be killed and their homes be destroyed? Was Rachel being unreasonable, or is it the Israeli government and military that have gone mad? ...



Rachel Corrie attempts to stop a home demolition several hours before her death; please note her bright jacket and megaphone ... how could the bulldozer drivers fail to be aware of her presence? ...

in_front_of_bulldozer

Fellow peace activists attempt to help Rachel Corrie after she was run over by an Israeli armored Caterpillar DC9 bulldozer ...

accident

An Israeli court ruled that the death of Rachel Corrie was an "accident." But the video evidence below says otherwise and was shot by Israel's Channel Two News and bystanders. You be the judge. You can see the bulldozer driver smiling and laughing. Rachel stood in clear sight with a megaphone. It was cold-blooded murder. You can hear how calm the soldiers were as they discussed a defenseless human being having been killed. The term "object" was probably a military code-word, but no one calls an inanimate object "him" or "dead."  So the driver knew good and well what he was doing. The only mistake he made was running over an American woman because he mistook her for a Palestinian man whose death wouldn't create an international incident.



Corrie family's Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein responded to the court verdict as follows: “While not surprising, this verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. Rachel Corrie was killed while non-violently protesting home demolitions and injustice in Gaza, and today, this court has given its stamp of approval to flawed and illegal practices that failed to protect civilian life. In this regard, the verdict blames the victim based on distorted facts and it could have been written directly by the state attorneys.” 

The International Solidarity Movement, with which Rachel was volunteering in Gaza, noted that: "The verdict is a green light for Israeli soldiers to use lethal force against human rights defenders and puts Palestinian and International human rights defenders in mortal danger." The ISM added that "Judge Gershon’s verdict is a travesty of justice but it is not exceptional. As a rule the Israeli legal system provides Israeli soldiers impunity to commit murder. The only Israeli soldier convicted of manslaughter since the outbreak of the second Intifada in 2000 was Taysir Hayb, a Bedouin citizen of Israel, for shooting British ISM volunteer Tom Hurndall in the back of the head with a sniper rifle as Tom was carrying a child to safety. At least 6,444 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli occupation forces in this period, with no justice for them or their families.  

You be the judge. Here is Rachel Corrie in her own words, as a fifth grader determined to help other people who were suffering and starving to death. Does she seem like a "terrorist" to you?



Here is the story of Rachel Corrie in a compelling video documentary: http://vimeo.com/35049937

Rachel Corrie Quotes


Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with.

I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive. It's horrifying.

We should be inspired by people ... who show that human beings can be kind, brave, generous, beautiful, strong-even in the most difficult circumstances.

I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.

I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on all the time, very sweetly, by people who are facing doom.

If I lived in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless death wouldn’t be a distant symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.

The resistance of Israeli Jewish people to the occupation and the enormous risk taken by those refusing to serve in the Israeli military offers an example, especially for those of us living in the United States, of how to behave when you discover that atrocities are being committed in your name. Thank you.

We are protecting civilians. We are unarmed. We are no threat to you. Please do not shoot.

My Dream, a poem by Rachel Corrie, age ten

I’m here for other children.
I’m here because I care.
I’m here because children everywhere are suffering
And because forty thousand people die each day from hunger.
I’m here because those people are mostly children.
We have got to understand that the poor are all around us and we are ignoring them.
We have got to understand that these deaths are preventable.
We have got to understand that people in third world countries think and care and smile and cry just like us.
We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.
We have got to understand that they are us. We are them.
My dream is to stop hunger by the year 2000.
My dream is to give the poor a chance.
My dream is to save the forty thousand  people who die each day.
My dream can and will come true if we all look into the future and see the light that shines there.
If we ignore hunger, that light will go out.
If we all help and work together, it will grow and burn free with the potential of tomorrow.

According to a report by Gordon Murray, during the last month of her life Rachel "spent a lot of time at the Canada Well helping protect Rafah municipal workers" who were trying to repair a vital well that had been damaged by Israeli bulldozers. Rachel and other International Solidarity Movement activists were interceding because even though Rafah had been under "strict rationing (only a few hours of running water on alternate days)," Israeli snipers and tanks "routinely shot at civilian workers trying to repair the wells." In one of her own reports, Corrie said that despite having received permission from the Israeli District Command Office and carrying banners and megaphones "the activists and workers were fired upon several times over a period of about one hour. One of the bullets came within two metres of three internationals and a municipal water worker close enough to spray bits of debris in their faces as it landed at their feet."

Rachel had studied the nonviolent methods of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. In an email to her mother she wrote, "The vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaged in Gandhian nonviolent resistance." Other peace activists have said similar things. I recommend the book Witness in Palestine by Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American woman, for people interested in hearing what people who have lived among the Palestinians have to say. The prevailing fictions that "all Palestinians are terrorists and/or religious fanatics" and that "Israel is only protecting itself from acts of terrorism" simply don’t hold water. The plain truth is that Israel has been stealing land from the Palestinians for more than sixty years: this is why the IDF uses bulldozers. The bulldozers regularly demolish Palestinian homes so that Israeli "settlers" can steal the underlying land. Of course it’s much easier to steal land when it’s "unoccupied."

Two days before her death, on March 14, 2003, during an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting network, Rachel said: "I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive ... Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with."

The circumstances of Rachel’s death are disputed. Eyewitnesses said that she was wearing orange fluorescent clothing with reflective strips, and that she looked directly into the cabin of the bulldozer before it killed her, and that it seemed the operator ran her over on purpose. The bulldozer operator claimed that he did not see her.

While we mourn the death of Rachel Corrie, we must not forget that thousands of Palestinians have died, without being mentioned by the Western press or eulogized by Western poets. On the night of Rachel’s death, nine Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, among them a ninety-year-old man and a four-year-old girl. The death of the young girl makes me think of the Bible verse about Rachel weeping for her children. Palestinians know that the death of one American receives more attention than the killing of hundreds of Muslims. But of course we shouldn’t accept or forget the death of anyone who died so unjustly.

The purpose of my poem is not to exalt Rachel Corrie’s death above those of the many Palestinians who have died — I’m sure she wouldn’t want that — but to commend her work and encourage others to continue it. The Palestinians have been denied equal human rights and the protection of fair laws and fair courts for over sixty years, since the Nakba ("Catastrophe") of 1948. While it is true that Israeli Jews have also died during the ongoing conflict, there is a tremendous difference: every Israeli Jew lives and dies free. This is not true for the Palestinians who live in Gaza and the West Bank. This is the same terrible disparity that existed between white settlers and the Native Americans who walked the Trail of Tears, and between the white slaveowners of the Deep South and their black slaves, and between white Germans and Jews during the Holocaust. In each case, the violence on both sides (and by far the greater violence was on the part of the oppressors) was primarily the result of the massive injustices and imbalances created by government-sanctioned racism, apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

Israel has near-total power over the Palestinians. With power comes responsibility. It is the responsibility of every nation on earth to establish fair laws and fair courts for every human being under its aegis. Israel has not done this. The fact that Israel regularly bulldozes Palestinian homes and claims the underlying land, says worlds. What other nation on earth allows bulldozers guarded by snipers and soldiers with machine guns to demolish the homes of its minorities? Only in this case, as in South Africa during the days of apartheid, the Palestinians are the rightful majority. It is past time for Israel to abandon racism and religious intolerance, and to establish fair laws and fair courts that protect the human rights and dignity of every law-abiding person. And it is long past time for Americans to follow the lead of Rachel Corrie, as she followed the lead of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Michael R. Burch
March 21, 2010

oh rafah. aching rafah
by Rachel Corrie

oh rafah. aching rafah. aching of refugees aching of tumbled houses bicycles severed from tank-warped tires and aching of bullet-riddled homes all homes worm-eaten by bullets and then impregnated through bullet holes by birds. oh rafah. aching fingers of rafah. children born without fingers and fathers unable to travel the 20 or 30 miles to Gaza to repair their children’s fingers. clawed knuckles from old gunshots bandaged fingers and slimy small poking fingers between puffy lips of children — slobbery and wondering and blinking like all children — but fingers patting and tapping at strange big hands amidst the music of shelling and the constant anonymous night vision telescope of murder above and beyond and around and even inside. fingers cracked crusts of spackle concrete fingers of the endless rebuilding of things crashed: home. home. oh rafah. aching homes of rafah. home of the rafah camp rafah grown permanent with the names of the countries that paid for the neighborhoods still attached. home of rafah unleavable. homes stickered with glow in the dark stars in teenager’s rooms. homes constructed over a lifetime and unraveled in the night. ache of rubble and weedy rebar craning out of concrete boulders. ache of ghost homes looming without volume without mass straddling this wall and this wasteland the wall demands. ache of dinners knees and haunches kneeling dinners spread over floors in the music of gunfire the irregular heartbeat of the border and living-dead homes waiting immobile for bulldozers and tanks and the shattering of tea glasses the bending of rebar the tumbling of concrete and the ejection of people: baby. grandmother. small girl curling her entire small hand around one big finger. teenage boy with teenage boy legs and teenage boy laugh ejected into rubble and homelessness and scattered if not killed. oh rafah. aching rafah. children of rafah exploded. children of rafah deafened: deafened to tank wheels. deafened to explosions gunshot music shocking claps drones.

Journal entry
Rachel Corrie
Rafah, Gaza Strip
February 2003

Poem to Rachel Corrie
by Hilda Silverman
March 18, 2003
 
Whatever words might have been adequate
have become a high fluting cry
like the keening whit-tu-tu
of the unseen bird outside
my window. All day I have been trying
to break free from the bulldozer’s
blade, piled earth, steel treads fracturing
skull and chest, that moment of resistance
and protest, stilled frame reverberating
beyond the moment, like the kid
in Tiananmen Square before the tank.
Her bright orange jacket
and megaphone.
Her kind and tired eyes.
All day I have been pierced
by the high note of helplessness,
the ragged beat of despair.
Shrouded body with its blur of blood.
The quiet hands of mourners
bearing her, flag-sheathed, across the town.

And why was she there?
Ask the ones whose truths she saw
and sought to speak. Ask the child
sitting atop slanting slabs
of concrete, debris of his demolished home.
Ask the husband of the pregnant woman
trapped beneath crushing rubble,
the neighbor’s bulldozed house
bringing their own walls down,
who cradled her toddler as she died.
Ask the families—hundreds
huddled in wind-ripped tents
homes wrecked without warning
to make way for the separation wall.
Ask the ones who aren’t American
and don’t make the morning news.

Whatever words we have are useless
against this cruel weight. The bird’s cry
keens from every crack in the edifice
of history. Before she died, Rachel Corrie wrote
of the privilege granted her, an outsider,
but denied to those under occupation.
"I have a home.
I am allowed to go see the ocean."

Hilda Silverman is a writer and member of Visions of Peace with Justice in Israel/Palestine (VOPJ), an association of Jews in Greater Boston working to promote a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The above poem was written in memory of Rachel Corrie, 23 years old, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to prevent demolition of a Palestinian family’s house.

Rachel, Full of Life
By Brooks Berndt

At the age of 23, Rachel Corrie was full of life. At the age of 23, she was a senior in college ignited by a passion for justice. At the age of 23, she traveled to the Gaza strip as an activist for peace. And, it was at the age of 23 that Rachel Corrie knelt to the ground wearing an orange fluorescent jacket as a 9-ton Caterpillar bulldozer came toward her, knocked her down, crushed her with its blade, ran her over, backed up, and ran her over again. At the age of 23, Rachel Corrie was loved by family and friends who would never see her radiant life again.

Rachel was killed trying to prevent the demolition of a civilian home by the Israeli army. Thousands of homes had been demolished, and Rachel along with her companions from the International Solidarity Movement were seeking to prevent further destruction. Through non-violence, this group of international activists was following the lead of Palestinians struggling to end the occupation of their lands.

Activists such as Rachel lived in Palestinian homes with Palestinian families hoping to help fend off attacks and destruction. They used their bodies to send a clear message of solidarity and resistance spelled in the alphabet of arms and legs, torsos and necks, hands and feet. It is this unmistakably human language that Rachel chose to speak in the face of machines programmed for death and devastation.

Of course, Rachel was not the first to die from the angel of death demolition policies carried out by Israel in occupied territories. Far from it, Rachel's life was only one of many cut short by the sword of this oversized angel which feeds at the trough of US aid. Still, Rachel's death garnered particular attention because US citizens take note when other US citizens die in the jaws of a winged monster who previously flew in other worlds, not ours. The previous victims were darker and of a foreign people. Our moral radar did not extend to their land and hue.

So, Rachel was not singular in her death, but this does not diminish her bravery. Nor should it diminish what her life can mean to us now. On March 16th, it will have been two years from Rachel's death, and it is on this day that the memory of Rachel's life can infuse our own lives with humanness. It is on this day that we can realize our world is also the world of Palestinians. It is on this day that we can realize that our world is also the world of Iraqis and Afghanis. It is on this day that we can look past the small horizons of our small worlds and see the stark, chilling reality of a sky filled with angels of death descending again and again, devouring our world, our humanity.
When we see this death-filled sky, we may choose to look away. We may choose to rationalize a way of focusing our vision elsewhere closer to home. We may say to ourselves, "I can do nothing" or "This problem is too big for me" But this is why Rachel's life is yet again so important. Rachel's life continues to this day to serve as proof that you and I can do something.

Yes, Rachel died in doing something, and we need not seek martyrdom. But, what is important is the manner of Rachel's life before her death. Rachel died doing something that made her fully alive. As long as you or I believe that we can't pursue peace and justice, we are only partially alive. We are only partial citizens of the planet. We are only sometimes concerned about some people. We are only sometimes loving and compassionate to some humans. In truth, to be only partially alive is to be one's own angel of death.

Ultimately, I believe Rachel's death should not be cause for despair. It should be cause for hope, a hope that each of us can choose to be more fully human despite grim forecasts of probabilities and risks. If we instead remain captive to our doubts and fears, we will only imprison our greatest potential. We will kill our own heroism by handing the keys of fate over to the angels of death.

On March 16th, let us not only remember the life of Rachel Corrie but let us also remember the possibilities of our own life. On March 16th, let us remember that Rachel Corrie at the age of 23 was full of life, a life that can continue to live through us.

(This speech was delivered at a toastmasters club in Berkeley, California. For those living in Berkeley, there will be a celebration of Rachel's life on March 16th. See www.norcalism.org  for details. Brooks Berndt can be reached at brooksberndt2466@yahoo.com .)

Rachel Corrie's emails from Palestine

February 7 2003

Hi friends and family, and others,

I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I’m not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here, and many of the children murmur his name to me—Ali—or point at the posters of him on the walls. The children also love to get me to practice my limited Arabic by asking me, “Kaif Sharon?” “Kaif Bush?” and they laugh when I say, “Bush Majnoon”, “Sharon Majnoon” back in my limited arabic. (How is Sharon? How is Bush? Bush is crazy. Sharon is crazy.) Of course this isn’t quite what I believe, and some of the adults who have the English correct me: “Bush mish Majnoon” … Bush is a businessman. Today I tried to learn to say, “Bush is a tool,” but I don’t think it translated quite right. But anyway, there are eight-year-olds here much more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago.

Nevertheless, no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it—and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed US citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean. Ostensibly it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this because I am a white US citizen, as opposed to so many others). When I leave for school or work I can be relatively certain that there will not be a heavily armed soldier waiting halfway between Mud Bay and downtown Olympia at a checkpoint with the power to decide whether I can go about my business, and whether I can get home again when I’m done. So, if I feel outrage at arriving and entering briefly and incompletely into the world in which these children exist, I wonder conversely about how it would be for them to arrive in my world.

They know that children in the United States don't usually have their parents shot and they know they sometimes get to see the ocean. But once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place, where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, and once you have spent an evening when you haven't wondered if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward waking you from your sleep, and once you've met people who have never lost anyone once you have experienced the reality of a world that isn't surrounded by murderous towers, tanks, armed “settlements” and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years of your childhood spent existing—just existing—in resistance to the constant stranglehold of the world's fourth largest military—backed by the world’s only superpower—in its attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew. As an afterthought to all this rambling, I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately 60% of whom are refugees—many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Rafah existed prior to 1948, but most of the people here are themselves or are descendants of people who were relocated here from their homes in historic Palestine—now Israel. Rafah was split in half when the Sinai returned to Egypt.

Currently, the Israeli army is building a fourteen-meter-high wall between Rafah in Palestine and the border, carving a no-man's land from the houses along the border. Six hundred and two homes have been completely bulldozed according to the Rafah Popular Refugee Committee. The number of homes that have been partially destroyed is greater.

Today, as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border, “Go! Go!” because a tank was coming. And then waving and “What’s your name?”. Something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the path of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peek out from behind walls to see what’s going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously—occasionally shouting and also occasionally waving—many forced to be here, many just aggressive—shooting into the houses as we wander away.

In addition to the constant presence of tanks along the border and in the western region between Rafah and settlements along the coast, there are more IDF towers here than I can count—along the horizon, at the end of streets. Some just army green metal. Others these strange spiral staircases draped in some kind of netting to make the activity within anonymous. Some hidden, just beneath the horizon of buildings. A new one went up the other day in the time it took us to do laundry and to cross town twice to hang banners.

Despite the fact that some of the areas nearest the border are the original Rafah with families who have lived on this land for at least a century, only the 1948 camps in the center of the city are Palestinian controlled areas under Oslo. But as far as I can tell, there are few if any places that are not within the sights of some tower or another. Certainly there is no place invulnerable to apache helicopters or to the cameras of invisible drones we hear buzzing over the city for hours at a time.

I’ve been having trouble accessing news about the outside world here, but I hear an escalation of war on Iraq is inevitable. There is a great deal of concern here about the “reoccupation of Gaza”. Gaza is reoccupied every day to various extents but I think the fear is that the tanks will enter all the streets and remain here instead of entering some of the streets and then withdrawing after some hours or days to observe and shoot from the edges of the communities. If people aren’t already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region then I hope you will start. I also hope you‚ll come here. We’ve been wavering between five and six internationals. The neighborhoods that have asked us for some form of presence are Yibna, Tel El Sultan, Hi Salam, Brazil, Block J, Zorob, and Block O. There is also need for constant nighttime presence at a well on the outskirts of Rafah since the Israeli army destroyed the two largest wells.

According to the municipal water office the wells destroyed last week provided half of Rafah’s water supply. Many of the communities have requested internationals to be present at night to attempt to shield houses from further demolition. After about ten p.m. it is very difficult to move at night because the Israeli army treats anyone in the streets as resistance and shoots at them. So clearly we are too few.

I continue to believe that my home, Olympia, could gain a lot and offer a lot by deciding to make a commitment to Rafah in the form of a sister-community relationship. Some teachers and children’s groups have expressed interest in e-mail exchanges, but this is only the tip of the iceberg of solidarity work that might be done.

Many people want their voices to be heard, and I think we need to use some of our privilege as internationals to get those voices heard directly in the US, rather than through the filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself. I am just beginning to learn, from what I expect to be a very intense tutelage, about the ability of people to organize against all odds, and to resist against all odds.

Thanks for the news I’ve been getting from friends in the US. I just read a report back from a friend who organized a peace group in Shelton, Washington, and was able to be part of a delegation to the large January 18th protest in Washington DC.

People here watch the media, and they told me again today that there have been large protests in the United States and “problems for the government” in the UK. So thanks for allowing me to not feel like a complete Polyanna when I tentatively tell people here that many people in the United States do not support the policies of our government, and that we are learning from global examples how to resist.

My love to everyone. My love to my mom. My love to smooch. My love to fg and barnhair and sesamees and Lincoln School. My love to Olympia.

Rachel

February 20 2003

Mama,

Now the Israeli army has actually dug up the road to Gaza, and both of the major checkpoints are closed. This means that Palestinians who want to go and register for their next quarter at university can’t. People can’t get to their jobs and those who are trapped on the other side can’t get home; and internationals, who have a meeting tomorrow in the West Bank, won’t make it. We could probably make it through if we made serious use of our international white person privilege, but that would also mean some risk of arrest and deportation, even though none of us has done anything illegal.

The Gaza Strip is divided in thirds now. There is some talk about the “reoccupation of Gaza”, but I seriously doubt this will happen, because I think it would be a geopolitically stupid move for Israel right now. I think the more likely thing is an increase in smaller below-the-international-outcry-radar incursions and possibly the oft-hinted “population transfer”.

I am staying put in Rafah for now, no plans to head north. I still feel like I’m relatively safe and think that my most likely risk in case of a larger-scale incursion is arrest. A move to reoccupy Gaza would generate a much larger outcry than Sharon’s assassination-during-peace-negotiations/land grab strategy, which is working very well now to create settlements all over, slowly but surely eliminating any meaningful possibility for Palestinian self-determination. Know that I have a lot of very nice Palestinians looking after me. I have a small flu bug, and got some very nice lemony drinks to cure me. Also, the woman who keeps the key for the well where we still sleep keeps asking me about you. She doesn’t speak a bit of English, but she asks about my mom pretty frequently—wants to make sure I’m calling you.

Love to you and Dad and Sarah and Chris and everybody.

Rachel

February 27 2003

(To her mother)

Love you. Really miss you. I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house and you and me inside. Sometimes the adrenaline acts as an anesthetic for weeks and then in the evening or at night it just hits me again—a little bit of the reality of the situation. I am really scared for the people here. Yesterday, I watched a father lead his two tiny children, holding his hands, out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers and Jeeps because he thought his house was going to be exploded. Jenny and I stayed in the house with several women and two small babies. It was our mistake in translation that caused him to think it was his house that was being exploded. In fact, the Israeli army was in the process of detonating an explosive in the ground nearby—one that appears to have been planted by Palestinian resistance.
This is in the area where Sunday about 150 men were rounded up and contained outside the settlement with gunfire over their heads and around them, while tanks and bulldozers destroyed 25 greenhouses—the livelihoods for 300 people. The explosive was right in front of the greenhouses—right in the point of entry for tanks that might come back again. I was terrified to think that this man felt it was less of a risk to walk out in view of the tanks with his kids than to stay in his house. I was really scared that they were all going to be shot and I tried to stand between them and the tank. This happens every day, but just this father walking out with his two little kids just looking very sad, just happened to get my attention more at this particular moment, probably because I felt it was our translation problems that made him leave.

I thought a lot about what you said on the phone about Palestinian violence not helping the situation. Sixty thousand workers from Rafah worked in Israel two years ago. Now only 600 can go to Israel for jobs. Of these 600, many have moved, because the three checkpoints between here and Ashkelon (the closest city in Israel) make what used to be a 40-minute drive, now a 12-hour or impassible journey. In addition, what Rafah identified in 1999 as sources of economic growth are all completely destroyed—the Gaza international airport (runways demolished, totally closed); the border for trade with Egypt (now with a giant Israeli sniper tower in the middle of the crossing); access to the ocean (completely cut off in the last two years by a checkpoint and the Gush Katif settlement). The count of homes destroyed in Rafah since the beginning of this intifada is up around 600, by and large people with no connection to the resistance but who happen to live along the border. I think it is maybe official now that Rafah is the poorest place in the world. There used to be a middle class here—recently. We also get reports that in the past, Gazan flower shipments to Europe were delayed for two weeks at the Erez crossing for security inspections. You can imagine the value of two-week-old cut flowers in the European market, so that market dried up. And then the bulldozers come and take out people’s vegetable farms and gardens. What is left for people? Tell me if you can think of anything. I can’t.

If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled, lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew, because of previous experience, that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment and destroy all the greenhouses that we had been cultivating for however long, and did this while some of us were beaten and held captive with 149 other people for several hours—do you think we might try to use somewhat violent means to protect whatever fragments remained? I think about this especially when I see orchards and greenhouses and fruit trees destroyed—just years of care and cultivation. I think about you and how long it takes to make things grow and what a labour of love it is. I really think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best they could. I think Uncle Craig would. I think probably Grandma would. I think I would.

You asked me about non-violent resistance.

When that explosive detonated yesterday it broke all the windows in the family’s house. I was in the process of being served tea and playing with the two small babies. I’m having a hard time right now. Just feel sick to my stomach a lot from being doted on all the time, very sweetly, by people who are facing doom. I know that from the United States, it all sounds like hyperbole. Honestly, a lot of the time the sheer kindness of the people here, coupled with the overwhelming evidence of the willful destruction of their lives, makes it seem unreal to me. I really can’t believe that something like this can happen in the world without a bigger outcry about it. It really hurts me, again, like it has hurt me in the past, to witness how awful we can allow the world to be. I felt after talking to you that maybe you didn’t completely believe me. I think it’s actually good if you don’t, because I do believe pretty much above all else in the importance of independent critical thinking. And I also realise that with you I’m much less careful than usual about trying to source every assertion that I make. A lot of the reason for that is I know that you actually do go and do your own research. But it makes me worry about the job I’m doing. All of the situation that I tried to enumerate above—and a lot of other things—constitutes a somewhat gradual—often hidden, but nevertheless massive—removal and destruction of the ability of a particular group of people to survive. This is what I am seeing here. The assassinations, rocket attacks and shooting of children are atrocities—but in focusing on them I’m terrified of missing their context. The vast majority of people here—even if they had the economic means to escape, even if they actually wanted to give up resisting on their land and just leave (which appears to be maybe the less nefarious of Sharon’s possible goals), can’t leave. Because they can’t even get into Israel to apply for visas, and because their destination countries won’t let them in (both our country and Arab countries). So I think when all means of survival is cut off in a pen (Gaza) which people can’t get out of, I think that qualifies as genocide. Even if they could get out, I think it would still qualify as genocide. Maybe you could look up the definition of genocide according to international law. I don’t remember it right now. I’m going to get better at illustrating this, hopefully. I don’t like to use those charged words. I think you know this about me. I really value words. I really try to illustrate and let people draw their own conclusions.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Just want to write to my Mom and tell her that I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. 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 still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my coworkers. But I also want this to stop. Disbelief and horror is what I feel. Disappointment. I am disappointed that this is the base reality of our world and that we, in fact, participate in it. 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 the world you and Dad wanted me to come into when you decided to have me. This is not what I meant when I looked at Capital Lake and said: “This is the wide world and I’m coming to it.” I did not mean that I was coming into a world where I could live a comfortable life and possibly, with no effort at all, exist in complete unawareness of my participation in genocide. More big explosions somewhere in the distance outside.

When I come back from Palestine, I probably will have nightmares and constantly feel guilty for not being here, but I can channel that into more work. Coming here is one of the better things I’ve ever done. So when I sound crazy, or if the Israeli military should break with their racist tendency not to injure white people, please pin the reason squarely on the fact that I am in the midst of a genocide which I am also indirectly supporting, and for which my government is largely responsible.

I love you and Dad. Sorry for the diatribe. OK, some strange men next to me just gave me some peas, so I need to eat and thank them.

Rachel

February 28 2003

(To her mother)

Thanks, Mom, for your response to my email. It really helps me to get word from you, and from other people who care about me.

After I wrote to you I went incommunicado from the affinity group for about 10 hours which I spent with a family on the front line in Hi Salam—who fixed me dinner—and have cable TV. The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole family—three kids and two parents—sleep in the parent’s bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all shared blankets. I helped the son with his English homework a little, and we all watched Pet Semetery, which is a horrifying movie. I think they all thought it was pretty funny how much trouble I had watching it. Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching Gummy Bears dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons. Then I walked some way to B’razil, which is where Nidal and Mansur and Grandmother and Rafat and all the rest of the big family that has really wholeheartedly adopted me live. (The other day, by the way, Grandmother gave me a pantomimed lecture in Arabic that involved a lot of blowing and pointing to her black shawl. I got Nidal to tell her that my mother would appreciate knowing that someone here was giving me a lecture about smoking turning my lungs black.) I met their sister-in-law, who is visiting from Nusserat camp, and played with her small baby.

Nidal’s English gets better every day. He’s the one who calls me, “My sister”. He started teaching Grandmother how to say, “Hello. How are you?” In English. You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me. When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resister. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them—and may ultimately get them—on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity—laughter, generosity, family-time—against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances—which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will.

February 8, 2003

I got a number of very thoughtful responses to the email I sent out last night, most of which I don’t have time to respond to right now. Thanks everyone for the encouragement, questions, criticism. Daniel’s response was particularly inspiring to me and deserves to be shared. The resistance of Israeli Jewish people to the occupation and the enormous risk taken by those refusing to serve in the Israeli military offers an example, especially for those of us living in the United States, of how to behave when you discover that atrocities are being committed in your name. Thank you.

Received by Rachel on February 7, 2003

I am a reserve first sergeant in the IDF. The military orisons are filling up with conscientious objectors. Many of them are reservists with families. These are men who have proven their courage under fire in the past. Some have been in jail for more than six months with no end in sight.

The amount of AWOLS and refusals to serve are unprecedented in our history as a nation as well as are refusals to carry out orders that involve firing on targets where civilians may be harmed. In a time now in Israel where jobs are scarce and people are losing their homes and businesses to Sharon’s vendetta, many career soldiers—among them pilots and intelligence personnel—have chosen jail and unemployment over what they cold only describe as murder.

I am supposed to report to the Military Justice department—it is my job to hunt down runaway soldiers and bring them in. I have not reported in for 18 months. Instead, I’ve been using my talents and credentials to document on film and see with my own eyes what the ISMers and other internationals have claimed my boys have been up to.
I love my country. I believe that Israel is under the leadership of some very bad people right now. I believe that settlers and local police are in collusion with each other and that the border police are acting disgracefully. They are an embarrassment to 40% of the Israeli public and they would be an embarrassment to 90% of the population if they knew what we know.

Please document as much as you can and do not embellish anything with creative writing. The media here serves as a very convincing spin control agent through all of this. Pass this on letter to your friends. There are many soldiers among the ranks of those serving in the occupied territories that are sickened by what they see.
There is a code of honor in the IDF—it is called “tohar haneshek” (pronounced TOWhar haNEHshek). It’s what we say to a comrade who is about to do something awful, like kill an unarmed prisoner or carry out an order that violates decency. It means literally “the purity of arms”.

Another phrase that speaks to a soldier in his own language is “degle shachor” (DEHgel ShaHor)—it means “black flag”. If you say, “Atah MeTachat Degle Shahor” it means “you are carrying out immoral orders”. It’s a big deal and a shock to hear it from the lips of “silly misguided foreigners”.

At all times possible try to engage the soldiers in conversation. Do not make the mistake of objectifying them as they have objectified you. Respect is catching, as is disrespect, whether either be deserved or not.

You are doing a good thing. I thank you for it.

Peace,
Danny

February 28 2003
Continuation of her email to her mother ...

I think I could see a Palestinian state or a democratic Israeli-Palestinian state within my lifetime. I think freedom for Palestine could be an incredible source of hope to people struggling all over the world. I think it could also be an incredible inspiration to Arab people in the Middle East, who are struggling under undemocratic regimes which the US supports.

I look forward to increasing numbers of middle-class privileged people like you and me becoming aware of the structures that support our privilege and beginning to support the work of those who aren’t privileged to dismantle those structures.

I look forward to more moments like February 15 when civil society wakes up en masse and issues massive and resonant evidence of its conscience, its unwillingness to be repressed, and its compassion for the suffering of others. I look forward to more teachers emerging like Matt Grant and Barbara Weaver and Dale Knuth who teach critical thinking to kids in the United States. I look forward to the international resistance that’s occurring now fertilizing analysis on all kinds of issues, with dialogue between diverse groups of people. I look forward to all of us who are new at this developing better skills for working in democratic structures and healing our own racism and classism and sexism and heterosexism and ageism and ableism and becoming more effective.

One other thing—I think this a lot about public protest—like the one a few weeks ago here that was attended by only about 150 people. Whenever I organize or participate in public protest I get really worried that it will just suck, be really small, embarrassing, and the media will laugh at me. Oftentimes, it is really small and most of the time the media laughs at us. The weekend after our 150-person protest we were invited to a maybe 2,000 person protest. Even though we had a small protest and of course it didn’t get coverage all over the world, in some places the word “Rafah” was mentioned outside of the Arab press. Colin got a sign in English and Arabic into the protest in Seattle that said “Olympia says no to war on Rafah and Iraq”. His pictures went up on the Rafah-today website that a guy named Mohammed here runs. People here and elsewhere saw those pictures.

I think about Glen going out every Friday for ten years with tagboard signs that addressed the number of children dead from sanctions in Iraq. Sometimes just one or two people there and everyone thought they were crazy and they got spit upon. Now there are a lot more people on Friday evenings.

The juncture between 4th and State is just lined with them, and they get a lot of honks and waves, and thumbs ups. They created an infrastructure there for other people to do something. Getting spit on, they made it easier for someone else to decide that they could write a letter to the editor, or stand at the back of a rally—or do something that seems slightly less ridiculous than standing at the side of the road addressing the deaths of children in Iraq and getting spit upon.

Just hearing about what you are doing makes me feel less alone, less useless, less invisible. Those honks and waves help. The pictures help. Colin helps. The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly.

I also think it’s important for people in the United States in relative privilege to realize that people without privilege will be doing this work no matter what, because they are working for their lives. We can work with them, and they know that we work with them, or we can leave them to do this work themselves and curse us for our complicity in killing them. I really don’t get the sense that anyone here curses us.

I also get the sense that people here, in particular, are actually more concerned in the immediate about our comfort and health than they are about us risking our lives on their behalf. At least that’s the case for me. People try to give me a lot of tea and food in the midst of gunfire and explosive-detonation.

I love you,
Rachel

Rachel’s last email

Hi papa,

Thank you for your email. I feel like sometimes I spend all my time propagandizing mom, and assuming she’ll pass stuff on to you, so you get neglected. Don’t worry about me too much, right now I am most concerned that we are not being effective. I still don’t feel particularly at risk. Rafah has seemed calmer lately, maybe because the military is preoccupied with incursions in the north—still shooting and house demolitions—one death this week that I know of, but not any larger incursions. Still can’t say how this will change if and when war with Iraq comes.

Thanks also for stepping up your anti-war work. I know it is not easy to do, and probably much more difficult where you are than where I am. I am really interested in talking to the journalist in Charlotte—let me know what I can do to speed the process along. I am trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I leave here, and when I’m going to leave. Right now I think I could stay until June, financially. I really don’t want to move back to Olympia, but do need to go back there to clean my stuff out of the garage and talk about my experiences here. On the other hand, now that I’ve crossed the ocean I’m feeling a strong desire to try to stay across the ocean for some time. Considering trying to get English teaching jobs—would like to really buckle down and learn Arabic.

Also got an invitation to visit Sweden on my way back—which I think I could do very cheaply. I would like to leave Rafah with a viable plan to return, too. One of the core members of our group has to leave tomorrow—and watching her say goodbye to people is making me realize how difficult it will be. People here can’t leave, so that complicates things. They also are pretty matter-of-fact about the fact that they don’t know if they will be alive when we come back here.

I really don’t want to live with a lot of guilt about this place—being able to come and go so easily—and not going back. I think it is valuable to make commitments to places—so I would like to be able to plan on coming back here within a year or so. Of all of these possibilities I think it’s most likely that I will at least go to Sweden for a few weeks on my way back—I can change tickets and get a plane to from Paris to Sweden and back for a total of around 150 bucks or so. I know I should really try to link up with the family in France—but I really think that I’m not going to do that. I think I would just be angry the whole time and not much fun to be around. It also seems like a transition into too much opulence right now—I would feel a lot of class guilt the whole time as well.

Let me know if you have any ideas about what I should do with the rest of my life. I love you very much. If you want you can write to me as if I was on vacation at a camp on the big island of Hawaii learning to weave. One thing I do to make things easier here is to utterly retreat into fantasies that I am in a Hollywood movie or a sitcom starring Michael J Fox. So feel free to make something up and I’ll be happy to play along. Much love Poppy.

Rachel

The HyperTexts