Remembering Rachel Corrie: Afterthoughts
March 27, 2021
A nation of people born from injustice
Causing great sorrow in all civilized among us
You claim your only concern to be your security
But your true intent is plain enough for everyone to see
There are Jews among you who detest what you do
But their voices are muffled and they seem to be few
You are proud and you’re arrogant, malicious and clever
You seem to think world sympathy is going to shield you forever
O but the bed is too short, and the covers too narrow
You can’t see the handwriting for your scope is too narrow
Aggressive you’ve been since the day you were born
From the anguish and misery of lives you have torn
Israel O Israel, where will you be
When the pages have dried on your history?
This poem (“Israel O Israel”) was composed in the aftermath of the Israeli siege on Lebanon in the summer of 1982. It constituted my formal awakening to the crisis of Palestine and its people on a far deeper and personal level.
What happened in short was that Israel launched an invasion into Lebanon code-named “Operation Pines” (aka, “Peace for Galilee“) with the stated intention of evicting PLO and Syrian influence from the territory, and then imposing Bachir Gemayel, head of the Christian Phalange Party, as president, in order to get Lebanon to sign a peace treaty with Israel and bring the country under Israel’s control.
After a weeks’ long siege – during which Israel attacked Beirut by air, land, sea, and clandestinely used operatives connected to the Mossad to conduct bombings against civilian targets (with the cumulative loss of thousands of civilian lives) – PLO fighters were persuaded to leave their base in Lebanon and take up residence in other countries as part of the ceasefire agreement. Following that US brokered agreement an estimated 2500 international “peacekeepers” arrived in Lebanon.
Bachir Gemayel was killed in Eastern Beirut a few weeks after the withdrawal of PLO forces. Shortly thereafter, Lebanese Forces (“Christian Phalangist”) entered the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps with the approval and support of Israeli forces (who reportedly illuminated the kill zone with flares) and proceeded to slaughter almost two thousand Palestinian civilians; primarily women, children, and elderly men. Israeli troops later provided bulldozers for mass burials of the victims. This Israeli approved and facilitated massacre gave birth to “Israel O Israel.”
I thought about this poem after the conversation with Cindy and Craig Corrie ended. I wished I had thought to share it during the broadcast; but that wasn’t my only regret. I regretted some of the more important things that were left unsaid by me, the host of that March 21st conversation; and I regretted being overly cautious in some of the things that I did say, out of a desire to protect my guests and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice from any opportunistic blowback. (I will come back to this later, in sha ALLAH.)
The conversation on Sunday, March 21st -via the Salaamedia broadcast network out of Johannesburg, South Africa – was another installment in the promise I made to them when we first met in March 2003. We were introduced at a large protest vigil outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. – just days after their daughter was murdered by an Israeli soldier in broad daylight. I promised that we would do everything in our power to help keep the memory of Rachel Corrie, and the enormous sacrifice she made, alive. Our first (and perhaps most significant) installment toward that end was a small book that we published later that same year titled, The Message of Rachel Corrie.
The conversation (18 years and five days since Rachel’s martyrdom) was informative on many levels. From the tidbits of personal information the Corries shared about Rachel’s creative and questioning personality growing up, to the varied influences that helped to shape and hone that uniquely beautiful personality. We also briefly examined Israel’s arrogant response to the quest for accountability and justice.
The final verdict from the Israeli high court in February 2015 concluded, “An explicit legislative directive of the Knesset takes precedence over directives of international law.” Craig Corrie noted that while we all know Israel acts as if international law doesn’t apply to it, “It was extraordinary that the [Israeli] high court would just come right out and say it.” (Exemplifying what the late US Senator J. William Fulbright termed, “The arrogance of power.”)
What follows is a short list of key elements from the Salaamedia broadcast:
The program featured three video clips of Rachel. The first video was of her describing the appalling conditions in Gaza. She decried witnessing “the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive.” This is the working definition of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Today these conditions are even more appalling. As I write these words, another large swath of the Palestinian population are scheduled to lose their homes, in gross violation of clearly defined international law – and during a global pandemic, which takes the definition of “unconscionable” to a whole new level.
(We are once again reminded of the Qur’anic verse that reads, “Oppression is worse than slaughter.”)
2. Rachel’s March 2003 critique (just days before her death) of the US political establishment’s description of then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a “man of peace,” was also on point. It is also worth noting that Sharon was the Israeli defense minister during the 1982 slaughter in Sabra and Shatilla.
3. The second video clip that aired in the program is even more graphic. It begins with a letter Rachel wrote to family and friends two weeks into her arrival in Occupied Palestine; and concludes with her brutal murder at the hands of an IDF soldier as she tried to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian family’s home in the Rafah refugee camp.
4. We began our conversation with the question of “Who was Rachel Corrie?” – beyond the public image that many of us have come to know. The response to that question was both tender and deeply evocative.
5. Cindy Corrie’s description of Rachel’s first international trip to the former Soviet Union is also quite revelatory. It showcased Rachel’s evolving personality and served as a reminder of a sterling quote of the noted 18th century freedom fighter Frederick Douglas: “A man [or woman] is worked on by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.”
6. The response of the Israeli government to Rachel’s March 2003 death speaks volumes – then and now. The case didn’t begin to be heard by an Israeli court until 2010. At the end of the day there was no legal accountability for her brutal murder.
7. We had a warm and enlightening discussion about the work of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice. At the heart of this elevating work is “education, advocacy, and maintaining connections.” This description brought to mind a prophetic hadith (a transmitted saying of Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him): “When the son [or daughter] of Adam dies nothing will be of greater benefit to him than three things: a continuous charity; some useful knowledge he has left behind; and a goodly child who will pray for him [or her].”
8. The Corries haven’t been back to Gaza since 2012 because they no longer “meet the criteria” for entry. (Interesting to say the least.)
9. On March 16, 2021, the Foundation hosted an informative webinar titled, “Remembering Rachel,” featuring prominent voices from the Gazan community. Among other things they spoke about what inspired the 2018-19 “Great March of Return” – a human rights initiative that resulted in the serious injury and death of unarmed Palestinians.
10. Reference was also made to the interconnected Black Lives Matter and Native American struggles.
11. A special surprise guest in the final 15 minutes of the program was Dr. Sami Al-Arian, who spoke of what Rachel’s life and legacy has meant to many Palestinians. He also shared the poem that he wrote when he was in solitary confinement, following her death.
It should be noted that Apartheid-Zionist Israel is one the leading human rights violators in the world today; but unlike most violators Israel is accorded a political air of bi-partisan legitimacy (and outright protection), in large part by its bullyish use of propaganda and threats, and the support that it receives from western governments and institutions of all stripes.
Case in point: “Saturday Night Live” came under recent fire for a comedic commentary on Israeli “vaccine policy.” (The date was Feb 20th, if I’m not mistaken.)
Comedian Michael Che reportedly said, “Israel is reporting that they vaccinated half of its population. I’m gonna guess, it’s the Jewish half.”
The results of Israel’s vaccine policy are pretty well known. It’s been reported throughout mainstream media, through a largely complimentary lens. A few alternative media outlets have referred to Israeli policy as “vaccine apartheid,” stemming from its willful neglect of occupied Palestinians.
Nevertheless, Zionist led condemnation against SNL was swift. A former Israeli military spokesperson remarked, “It’s all fun and games until you start promoting anti-Semitic myths.”
“Anti-Semitic myths” he called it. Following the backlash, executives at both SNL and NBC reportedly apologized. But for what?! For getting singled out for bringing discomforting attention to Israel’s “vaccine apartheid” policy in a humorous skit? This is the immoral absurdity of it all. When it comes to sacred political cows within a corrupt political system the message is loud and clear. You are not permitted to see what you see!
(Or as the old saying goes, “Hear no evil; see no evil; speak no evil.” This is what led me to mildly censor myself on March 21st. To avoid drawing my friends into a deeper critique on the evils of Zionism.)
In conclusion, on November 10, 1975, the United Nations General Assembly passed UN Resolution 3379, which determined “Zionism” to be “a form of racism and racial discrimination.” The resolution referenced the 1963 UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the 1973 Resolution condemning “the unholy alliance between South African racism and Zionism” (it’s worth noting that our recent conversation took place during “Israeli Apartheid Week” in South Africa); and the August 1975 Conference for Foreign Affairs of Non-Aligned Countries, which called Zionism “a threat to world peace and security,” and urged world capitals “to oppose this racist and imperialist ideology.”
On December 16, 1991 – after Israel agreed to engage the Palestine Liberation Organization at the so-called “Madrid Peace Conference” – the UN voted to repeal the resolution. An observation reportedly made by one of the repeal’s critics has proven to be prophetic.
Former Lebanon Ambassador Khalil Makkawi opined that the vote was a gift to the “Israeli extremists wishing to pursue their policy of creeping annexation.” He predicted that it would “fuel the passions” of Arabs “who believe the whole peace process is an exercise in futility that gives Israel more time to expand and achieve its revisionist Zionist project.”
How prophetic indeed. This is why the struggle against oppression must continue. May the martyrs of this struggle be blessed! Ameen.
El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan serves as Director of Operations for The Aafia Foundation, a Muslim led human rights-oriented education and advocacy organization based in Metro-Washington, DC.
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