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Cindy and Craig Corrie continue Rachel's legacy
"Giving voice to the Palestinian people"

March 10, 2006 | Pages 6 and 7

ON MARCH 16, 2003, Rachel Corrie stood her ground before an Israeli bulldozer in the city of Rafah in southern Gaza.

Corrie, a Palestinian rights activist working with the International Solidarity Movement, was among a group trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home. The standoff had lasted for three hours.

Then, according to witnesses, the bulldozer driver drove straight at Rachel. She was covered with sand and heavy debris, and then pushed to the ground. The bulldozer drove directly over her--and then went into reverse to drive over her again. Rachel died of the severe injuries she suffered.

CINDY and CRAIG CORRIE, Rachel's parents, took up their daughter's mission of solidarity with the Palestinian people. They traveled to the Occupied Territories, visiting Rafah, where Rachel died. They organized an effort to rebuild the home of the Nasrallahs, which Rachel was trying to save. Last year, the Corries and Nasrallahs toured the U.S. together to raise funds for the project, which is now almost complete.

Last December, the Corries traveled to the Occupied Territories again.

Their trip came on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Under the eyes of the international media, Israeli settlements in Gaza were emptied--but Gaza remains in the stranglehold of Israeli control, and subject to military attack at any time. What's more, the other side of the Gaza pullout was Israel's renewed commitment to settlement building in the West Bank--and the construction of an apartheid wall running the length of the territory that cuts off whole Palestinian towns.

Shortly after the Corries left, the radical Islamist party Hamas--denounced as a "terrorist" organization by the U.S. and Israel--won a resounding victory in Palestinian elections.

After their return, Socialist Worker's NICK HART spoke with the Corries about what they saw on their recent visit--and how they view the future of the struggle for Palestinian rights. Here, we print excerpts from the interview, which was transcribe by Lonnie Lopez.

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CAN YOU talk about what things look like on the ground since Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, compared to what it was like when you visited in 2003?

Gaza is still hermetically sealed. It's got walls on all sides. There now seems to be more ability to get in and out through Egypt, but internationals still have to come almost entirely through Israel, and so Israel holds a vise-grip over who comes in and out.

In 2003, there was a lot of violence in Gaza. Every night, there was machine gun fire from the Israeli tanks and armored personnel carriers over the city of Rafah. You'd see the tracers and hear that rat-a-tat-tat of machine guns firing over the city, and it's got to land somewhere.

And every once in a while, in the morning, you'd hear them blow up a house or something. You'd hear the children going to school, excited, and then a house blowing up in the background--if you can imagine those sorts of sounds that it's normal to wake up to in the morning.

This time, for the brief time that we were in Rafah, that wasn't happening. Up in Gaza City, you still hear the shelling of Israeli artillery coming into northern Gaza, and they're trying to keep people away from the northern border with Israel. When we were there, it was clearly artillery coming our way, and that was just an awful part of the night.

Traveling down the length of Gaza was a lot easier this time because the Israeli settlements are pulled out, and that also means the roads that go through to those settlements and the checkpoints are gone.

The most infamous checkpoint was the Abu Ghabah checkpoint, where the road for Palestinians going north and south met the road for the settlers going east and west. So they'd only let the Palestinians pass at certain points in time. We never knew whether it'd be open or closed.

That's over with, so we traveled along the coast between miles and miles of open area where settlements homes had been destroyed.

Rachel wrote about how she loved the sea, and how these Palestinian children in Gaza hadn't ever seen the sea, yet they lived right next to it--because the settlements were right there.

Now, the destroyed settlement houses have been taken out of there, and I think the overarching feeling was just how much land was taken up by the settlements. Because we just kept going along, and it was rather surreal to see all this cleared land.

Everywhere, you see the destruction of the economy. That was pretty clear three years ago in Gaza. In the West Bank, it seems much more obvious now because of the existence of that wall.

I've got some pictures of Bethlehem, where we were speaking. Bethlehem is a tourist spot, and we were there at the height of the tourist season. We got there December 27, and we're near Manger Square, and there's nobody there. There were about four or five people, and there ought to be thousands. The tourism is just destroyed because of this wall that goes around it.

The most striking thing to me when you get to Palestine and you see the oppression is how incredibly nonviolent the opposition is, and how nonviolent the people are. If you tell an American that someone is going to come and bulldoze their house, they'll have their deer rifle out. We're not nearly this nonviolent--we can't hold a candle to these folks in that regard.

LAST YEAR, you were touring the U.S. and raising funds to rebuild the home of the Nasrallahs in Rafah. How is that going?

We didn't get to go there for the amount of time we wanted to, but we did see it, and it's almost finished. They pointed it out as we were going to Rafah, and it was on our schedule to go later, and, of course, we had to leave early.

YOU LEFT Gaza a couple weeks before the Palestinian elections, where the radical Islamist party Hamas won a huge victory. What did people tell you about the elections?

There was a lot of anticipation about the elections. We talked to several people who were candidates, which is different than here. If you're walking around here, you wouldn't run into that many candidates.

I think people viewed Hamas differently there than they do here. Here, we're conditioned to think of Hamas as this terrorist organization, and there, Hamas is a party. More so in Gaza, but certainly in other places, and they certainly have a reputation for meeting some of the basic needs of people better than the Palestinian Authority.

This was also a referendum on U.S. foreign policy. Plus, the U.S. was seen as trying to interfere at the last minute in the elections. There was a sort of lip service given to supporting [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas during the past year, but really, nothing changed for the Palestinians. And then, to see the U.S. at the last minute try to throw out a few carrots that might encourage people to vote for Fatah, it was clear to people what was going on, and they weren't going to buy into that. So, it really backfired.

For the last year, I've heard over and over again from people that they don't agree with the violence that some people in Hamas commit, but then they explain some of the things that Cindy is saying. That's a different statement than "I would never vote for them."

So I was kind of thinking these people were telling me why they were going to vote for Hamas, or at least why they thought a lot of their neighbors would. So for that reason, I don't think it was particularly surprising.

What Americans should understand is that Hamas was the one party that made a difference to people's lives, in Gaza particularly.

WHAT DO you think about the U.S. and Israeli claims that Hamas needs to renounce violence?

I think I agree with asking Hamas and anybody to renounce violence against civilians. And I'd like to see the Israeli government renounce violence against the Palestinian people. Those of us who know this issue know that many, many more innocent Palestinian children and families have been killed.

I would like to see all of these people renounce human rights violations against the others, but I think it's a bit disingenuous to ask Hamas to renounce all violence when the Israeli government's military is still there, with all of their weapons, which they are continuing to use, and when all of the things that caused that violence are continuing.

The occupation is continuing. There's a tighter stranglehold on the Palestinians than ever as far as I can see, having walked there.

It seems to me that what you need to call for is a total ceasefire in the Middle East. And that means no targeted assassinations, you don't get to build a wall, you don't get to attack somebody's land and take it away from them. You don't get to bulldoze houses. You don't get to blow yourself up in a bar. It means a ceasefire.

If we don't support movements for nonviolence, then, as Rachel taught us in the beginning, we have to ask what we are supporting.

And if we're going to support nonviolence, then we have to keep attacks from happening to people who are resisting violence. Otherwise, we're asking them to be roadkill, and there's nobody I know who's willing to do that. We wouldn't be willing to put ourselves in that situation--disarm and be totally helpless in front of someone who's willing to kill us or destroy our home. People need to understand that.

IN RESPONSE to Hamas' election, Israel cut off transfers of $50 million a month in revenues that belong to the Palestinian Authority. What do you think this move is going to accomplish?

I think this will have a very bad effect. I've had Palestinian friends say, "So, what are they going to do, starve us to death?" Almost like saying, "Okay, bring it on!" There's a feeling that it's so onerous.

I really expect there to be an almost opposite reaction on the part of the Palestinian people from what Israel and the U.S. are hoping to accomplish by these threats.

First of all, this is a democratically elected government. There needs to be some chance for the Palestinian people to work with it and see what evolves, so I'd encourage the Israeli government and other governments to be very cautious about using punitive responses.

I think it's hugely punitive with the economy dried up. If the government can't make payroll, that's a huge part of what would drive the economy in Gaza, so the ramifications are that it could close down a government--really a whole economy.

I think one of my biggest concerns is that we saw Sharon use the Gaza disengagement to camouflage what he was doing in the West Bank. It was a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza with plans to really set the borders with the West Bank with the wall.

I think the election of Hamas gives them an excuse to say that there's nobody to talk to, so therefore go ahead. In fact, [acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert said recently that his intention was to proceed with consolidating the three largest settlements in the West Bank into Israel, and going all the way to the Jordan River.

HOW CAN regular people in the U.S. help the Palestinian people?

I certainly think that giving voice to the Palestinians in whatever ways we can is important, because the Palestinians are a very informed people, with a lot of self-knowledge about their situation. I think we have to have a lot of respect of that.

I think we also have to recognize that the U.S. is kind of isolated on this issue. In other places, there are people who are hostile to the Palestinian people, but not to this degree. What Craig and I find in traveling in other countries is that there's much more awareness of this issue--a lot of understanding of the injustices that are happening to the Palestinians.

I think now it's a matter of working to get our government to be responsive. Overall, the people are ahead of the politicians, so I think a lot of our work needs to be focused on changing U.S. policies and giving voice to the Palestinian people. For Americans, it's making sure that more of us understand our role and responsibility in all of this.

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Play about Rachel canceled
"It's censorship born out of fear"

A NEW York theater company abruptly canceled plans to stage a one-woman play about Rachel Corrie--and the reasons are explicitly political. James Nicola, artistic director of the New York Theatre Workshop, said the decision to drop the play came after "our talking around and listening in our communities in New York."

The theater has a reputation for producing controversial works, such as the musical Rent. But not in this case. "We found that our plan to present a work of art would be seen as us taking a stand in a political conflict that we didn't want to take," Nicola said.

The play, called My Name Is Rachel Corrie, consists of the activist's diary entries and e-mails, edited by British actor Alan Rickman and journalist Katharine Viner. Rickman directed the premier of the play at the Royal Court Theater in London, where it was performed to sold-out audiences and critical approval.

"I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theater company in New York, but calling this production 'postponed' does not disguise the fact that it has been canceled," Rickman said in a statement. "This is censorship born out of fear, and the New York Theatre Workshop, the Royal Court, New York audiences--all of us are the losers."

Viner wrote in the Guardian that the cancellation was "personal proof that the political climate is continuing to shift disturbingly, narrowing the scope of free debate and artistic expression, in only a matter of weeks. By its own admission the theater's management had caved in to political pressure."

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