Seeking answers from Israel
A YEAR AGO this week, my daughter Rachel Corrie was killed in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She was run over by an Israeli bulldozer manned by two soldiers. The Israeli government exonerated the soldiers, closed the case, and refuses to release to the US government the complete report on the military police investigation into Rachel's killing.
Only the "conclusions" of the report have been released. In them, the soldiers are identified by their initials: Sergeant Y.F. and Sergeant E.V. Their initials are nearly all we know of them. I wonder about Y.F. and E.V. I wonder whether they will pause this week and remember.
Rachel was an unarmed peace activist trying to prevent the demolition of the home of a Palestinian pharmacist, his wife, and three children. She believed that nonviolent direct action against the Israeli occupation would make Palestinians, and also Israelis and Americans, more secure. Rachel stood there to protect a home and family in Gaza because the United States and Israel rejected a UN proposal to send international human rights monitors there. International activists went instead. Rachel stood there protesting illegal home demolitions that the United States opposes on the record yet fails to stop -- destruction that we support with billions in annual military aid to Israel for bulldozers, Apache helicopters, F-16s, and more.
Rachel wrote to me from Rafah: "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."
On March 17, 2003, President Bush spoke with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about Rachel's killing. Sharon assured Bush that the Israeli government would undertake a "thorough, credible, and transparent investigation" and would report the results to the United States.
On March 19, 2003, Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department, noted in reference to Rachel: "When we have the death of an American citizen, we want to see it fully investigated. That is one of our key responsibilities overseas, to look after the welfare of American citizens and to find out what happened in situations like these."
In Congress, Representative Brian Baird of Washington state introduced a bill calling on the US government to "undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie." Others warned that passage was unlikely because of strong sentiment in Congress to avoid any legislation that appears critical of Israel. Nevertheless, 56 House members have signed the bill.
Despite promises of a transparent investigation, only two American Embassy staff members in Tel Aviv and my husband and I were allowed to "view" the full document. While it refers to evidence gathered by the Israeli military police, no primary evidence is included. Commenting on the report on July 1, 2003, Richard LeBaron, US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv, stated, "there are several inconsistencies worthy of note."
For our family, the report raises questions and fails to reconcile differences between Israeli soldiers who say they could not see Rachel and seven international eyewitnesses who say she was clearly visible. Despite lingering concerns, there has been no move by the White House, the State Department, or the Justice Department to initiate a US investigation. Some ask if a precedent exists for investigating in another country without being "invited." The Israeli government has apparently not extended such an invitation.
The London Metropolitan Police, however, are now conducting inquests into the deaths in Rafah of British nationals Tom Hurndall and James Miller. In a seven-week period in 2003, Tom, James, and Rachel were all struck down in the same area, where the Israel Defense Forces are building a high steel wall and demolishing Palestinian homes. Remarkably, the London police recently transferred the Hurndall and Miller cases to one coroner, reasoning that a series of similar deaths in a short time could indicate "a more complex systematic problem" within the Israeli military.
Our family continues to call for a US investigation into Rachel's death. As we wait, I still wonder about Y.F. and E.V. I wonder whether they, too, see images of Rachel lying before the bulldozer. I wonder whether they, too, are suffering, or whether March 16, 2003, was for them just another day on the job. I wonder.
Cindy Corrie, a former educator and music teacher, lives in Olympia, Wash.
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