The Pain Doesn’t Go Away – Rachel Corrie’s Parents on Reality Asserts Itself (1/3)

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003. On Reality Asserts Itself, Craig and Cindy Corrie tell Paul Jay, “we inherited from our daughter a cause”; her experiences “completely changed our view of the whole situation.”

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Story Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Cindy and Craig Corrie are the parents of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, about 12 years ago almost to the day. Rachel was undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. They’re also the cofounders of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice.

Thank you both for joining us.

CINDY CORRIE, THE RACHEL CORRIE FOUNDATION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE: Thank you.

CRAIG CORRIE, THE RACHEL CORRIE FOUNDATION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE: Thank you.

JAY: First of all, I know it’s been 12 years, but as a parent, the searing pain of a loss of a kid, twelve years probably does mean very much.

CRAIG CORRIE: No. I think you don’t get better; you get stronger. The pain doesn’t go away. You just get capable of handling it.

And one of the great things for us: we’ve gone around the country. We meet–there are–so many families have had losses like ours. But it’s good for us that Rachel was doing exactly what she wanted to do when she was killed. And she was telling us what we could do. You know, she said, come here, come here, and she wanted us to see Gaza. She wanted people to work up for the people of Gaza to try and make a better world there. So she really gave us–we inherited from our daughter a cause and some friends and something that we could do in her memory.

CINDY CORRIE: I think sometimes that Rachel’s story, when they meet us for the first time, people feel troubled, and a lot of the pain hits them in a way we’re living with it all the time. It’s something–was the worst day of our lives, March 16, 2003. And we continue to live with that.

And I remember there was a time when Craig and I were driving from Washington State, where we were living, to the Midwest to see our family. It’s a drive that our families took many, many times. And there was a beautiful moon over the mountains as we were going across the Cascade Mountains. And I wondered if anything would look as beautiful to me again as it had before Rachel was killed.

And then somehow–and I can’t tell you exactly the point when it happened–all the color came back into my life. And I think probably for any people that experience a loss, that there is, there are these periods that you have to go through. And I’m just grateful. I’m grateful that that color is back, that I enjoy life. And I am–I wish that some of the things that we’re working on, that the problems would go away so we could work on something else.

But we’re so supported and invigorated by the people who come and are joining in this work.

JAY: And the work we’re talking about is you’ve been pursuing a legal case, suing the Israeli government, the Israeli army. Just quickly, for people that don’t know the basic story, just tell us what happened.

CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah, that’s part of our work. And Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003. She went to the Gaza Strip with a group called the International Solidarity Movement. They’re a group of people that were formed because the Palestinians have wanted and the UN had called for some human rights observers to be in that area. The U.S. vetoed that. And so some people thought, well, if they don’t have to be with the UN, it could be anybody. And so people from around the world were going there. And Rachel wasn’t in the first wave, kind of the second or third. But she went then, in January 2003.

And she headed down to Rafah, I think partly because Gaza is one of the most forsaken places in the world, and Rafah in Gaza was one of the most forsaken. And she lived with those families. She was–often slept in their houses, in the house in front of which she was killed. She was standing in front of a wall as a bulldozer came at it. But she knew the family. She worked with the older boy on his English, and he tried to help her with her Arabic and stuff. So they were friends.

But the Israelis were clearing a swath of land between the Gaza Strip and Egypt–not Israel, but Egypt. And when I say clearing, they were pushing down people’s homes. And these homes have several extended–you know, one extended family, so they might have 30 people in one of these buildings.

But in the particular home that Rachel was standing in front of that day, there were two brothers and their five children and their wives, five children. And these bulldozers would come up that day to the activists’ feet, pushing–these are huge bulldozers, D9, D10 bulldozers, D9, in her case, armored, 65-ton bulldozers. The come right up to the activists’ feet, pushing their dirt, and then they would stop. But at five o’clock, a bulldozer came up towards Rachel, and right behind her was the Nasrallah house, and it didn’t stop. It went over her and, her friends say, without picking up its blade, backed up.

She somehow survived. For moments after that, she was between the tracks of the bulldozer. It was clear from pictures we’ve seen. And so she said to her friend Alice, I think my back is broken. But that was her last words.

JAY: What the Israelis were doing some people have described as collective punishment. And it’s important to say hundreds Palestinians were killed in the same area, and many of them were children.

CINDY CORRIE: The Human Rights Watch report Razing Rafah reported that from 2000 to 2004, a tenth of the population of Rafah in southern Gaza lost their homes. There were over 1,600 homes demolished.

And this was more than collective punishment. It was a–certainly, many, many, many people suffered. But it was a very deliberate policy to take control of more of that area. As Craig said, it was along the Egyptian border with Gaza, not the Israeli border. The Philadelphi Corridor is a very narrow route that by treaty the Israeli military had access to. But it was very narrow, this Philadelphi Corridor, but plenty large for their equipment to move through it. But what they kept was to take row after row of houses. This was not directed at families that particularly had any violence towards the military at all, although you’ll read that sometimes.

JAY: Well, certainly that’s what the Israelis have said, that there were snipers and there were various other people shooting at Israeli soldiers.

CINDY CORRIE: Yeah.

JAY: And this is why the were knocking down houses.

CINDY CORRIE: This was during the height of the Second Intifada. And certainly there was resistance there and there was violence there. But it gets–I think it gets very distorted in the reports, actually, because there were actually more Israeli soldiers, for example, killed in the West Bank during that period than there were in Gaza.

The clearing that was happening, you have to remember that there were 8,000 settlers in Gaza at the time, and I forget the number, but between 20 and 22 settlements, I think around 22 settlements. And a lot of them were in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.

One of the things that made Rachel really sad was that children that she lived with who were living under the most terrible conditions, many of them hadn’t seen the ocean. Craig and I have been there. The Mediterranean Sea is very nearby. It’s beautiful. And when I went there, when–emotionally it was just really, really hard. When I would finally get up north and be able to see the Mediterranean, it was like a breath of fresh air.

And Rachel felt sad because the children she was living with hadn’t seen it. They’d be five, six, seven years old. But because the settlements had access to the ocean, not the families, not the Palestinian families, there was this limitation.

So Israeli policy at the time was to take more and more of this area. There’s a famous quote from a colonel, I believe, Yom-Tov Samia, on Israeli Army Radio that said, no matter what happens, each time there’s any resistance, we need to take another row of houses. So there was definitely an expansionist plan with that whole area at the time.

I just think it’s important for people to know that it wasn’t like they targeted one house and took down that house for punitive reasons. They were taking all the houses in the area.

In our court case in Israel, our attorney asked the deputy battalion commander, how far did the Philadelphi Corridor go? And he said–up to the next row of houses was his response.

JAY: Means it keeps getting bigger as we knock down houses.

CINDY CORRIE: It keeps getting bigger. Yeah. Exactly.

CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah, yeah. I think one of the things, as you say, they would like you to think they’re terrorists in those homes, that the home that Rachel stood in front of, the one she was killed in, that family later came to United States, or the younger brother, his wife, and a baby that was born after Rachel was killed. Well, to get here, they had to go to Tel Aviv to get a visa. And so, after–sometime later, after Rachel was killed–the house has been knocked down. But even after that, the Israeli military give a pass to this family that was in the house go walk freely in Tel Aviv for a day, go to the U.S. Embassy. And, of course, the U.S. Embassy does not give a pass to a Palestinian male 34 years old easily to come to the United States. But they got that. They traveled in the United States.

And so Israel and the United States have nothing against the family that Rachel stood in front of their house. But Rachel was killed.

JAY: When Rachel left to join the–it was under the auspices of the International Solidarity Movement, right?

CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah.

JAY: What motivates her to go? I mean, a lot of people on the left and generally who see what’s wrong with what’s going on, not just with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but many such things, they don’t get up and go and they don’t get up and put their body on the line.

CRAIG CORRIE: Rachel, I think, from a very early age was somebody I thought was really remarkable as I look back on it, in that she refused to look away from marginalized people. So she wrote, as a 12-year-old, about the homeless in Olympia, our hometown, and how we would give them a dollar so we didn’t really have to look at them, how we would support them from afar but didn’t want to be close enough to smell their breath. You know. And she worked with mentally ill people when she was in high school and through college.

And so I think that it makes, in a very broad sense, some sense for her then to choose to go, because there really is nobody more marginalized than somebody in Rafah. Specifically, I think the attacks on September 11, she realized that there was something going on. She’s aware of the world, like most of us, and she didn’t buy George W. Bush’s excuse that they hate us for our freedom. So what she literally said is, I would like to go somewhere and see what it’s like to be on the other side of my tax dollars in U.S. foreign policy.

So she found out about the International Solidarity Movement. Some of her professors had been to Israel. One was Israeli, had been in the Israeli military, and also then was one of the founders of Women In Black, who in Israel stand silently in black trying to bring attention to the occupation. So she had some knowledgeable people. She learned Arabic–she took that in school before she went. So she knew people that were knowledgeable in that area and young people that had been before her. But eventually she went.

JAY: Did you have a sense of how dangerous it might be?

CINDY CORRIE: You know, Craig and I were living in Charlotte, North Carolina, at the time because of a job change for Craig, and I remember when Rachel first told me that this is what she was thinking about doing. I went to the internet and started to look for some other options. We have family connections in India.

I knew that she had a really strong need to do meaningful things in her life. And she had an international focus of–international bent when she was very privileged; I mean she felt like a very privileged person, growing up in Olympia, Washington, and in a middle-class family where she had lots of opportunity. She was able to travel to Russia as a high school student. She was there for six weeks. We had exchange students in our home. And we had–after the Soviet Union broke up, we had a student from Russia that came with her teacher and several other students. And then Rachel was one of several high school students that went back and spent six weeks in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk in Eastern Russia. And so she had that experience, and that really changed her outlook, because here there was all this negative in our media and so forth and coming from our government about the Soviet Union and about Russia, and then Rachel met the people and fell in love with the people there. And after that, she spent some time in Belize. She had a high schools trip to Eastern Europe. You know. So her perspective at a very young age had become pretty global, and she just had a strong need to be out there in the world.

That said–and she didn’t want to frighten us. She did educate us. I think Rachel really brought us to the issue. I think we were like a lot of American families who had always heard about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was always in the news, particularly the Jewish-Israeli perspective. And that’s the one that we identified with. I read stories to the kids about young people during the Holocaust who were hidden away and survived and about the ones who didn’t. So that’s where we were coming from, and the Palestinians were really removed from our experience. So she was educating me, even across the country. Before she traveled, she was sending me links to websites and that kind of thing.

But I remember her writing at one point, if you look at this, you might become a little fearful. And I know she didn’t want us to be afraid. But she said nobody in the International Solidarity Movement had been killed. There had been an injury or so, but nobody had died in that. And so she was trying to help us along.

And I remember her first phone call to us in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I think that was a point when Craig and I really couldn’t even talk about it with each other, after that call, because I could hear the trembling in her voice when she was in Rafah and she said, can you hear that? Can you hear that? And it was tanks that were going up and down this Philadelphi Corridor. And she was actually in the house that she stood in front of when she was killed, making that phone call, and it was nighttime. And I remember feeling worried then.

But also, as she was there longer, what we saw happening through her writing and through her communications is she was okay. And people were–he was telling wonderful stories about the people that she was staying with. And we saw her confidence grow in her ability to be there and to do the work that needed to be done. And she was working with the Children’s Parliament. She went, connected with women’s organizations, was living with these families and working with other internationals who had come for the same reasons that she had come.

I remember when we finally made it to Gaza in September 2003 and we went to the General Union of Palestinian Women, and Fatimah [spl?], the woman who was there, so proudly pulled out for me a note that Rachel had left on International Women’s Day. We went and visited families. And we have, actually, in a book of Rachel’s, /rɑːni ˈnaɪlɑ/’s letter, a young Palestinian woman, that Rachel had written a letter into her journal. And it was all about how the world should be ashamed of this and how /ˈnaɪlɑ/ should hold on to her dreams, and how she had all this ability to be any of these things that she wanted to be, and how much Rachel was learning from /ˈnaɪlɑ/ and people like her about the human spirit and about dignity, just how much Rachel had learned there.

So I think, in terms of our anxiety about it all, of course we were concerned. I was particularly concerned when the war with Iraq was starting and there was a lot of uncertainty about what that would bring. But we saw how meaningful this was.

And we were learning from her. I told you that we had heard about this issue forever, but all of a sudden here’s our daughter. We know what a careful observer she is. We know how careful she is about her words. And this is what she’s sharing, this is the picture that she’s sharing with Craig and me, and also with our extended family and her friends, that just completely change our view of the whole situation.

JAY: Okay, we’re going to continue talking. Please join us for the next segment of our interview with Craig and Cindy Corrie on Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network.

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