Friday, April 23, 2010

Rachel Corrie and her family: a light shining in the darkness

Today I was privileged to hear Craig and Cindy Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie, speak at a breakfast meeting of Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP). Rachel Corrie was a 23-year old peace activist from Olympia, WA, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003 when undertaking nonviolent direct action to protect a Palestinian home from demolition. According to eye witnesses, she was standing on a small mound of rubble in plain sight when the bulldozer drove over her. Her parents have established a foundation to carry on her work for peace and justice (See As this website explains: "Since her killing, an enormous amount of solidarity activities have been carried out in her name around the world."

Cindy and Craig are amazingly committed people. They have just returned from Ramallah where they took part in an event celebrating their daughter's memory--a street is being named after her.

They are also suing the Israeli government for either negligence or deliberate murder. The Israeli government's defense is that they were at war, and therefore anything they did is justifiable. The Israelis apparently do not ascribe to the Geneva Convention that makes it a war crime to target civilians and non-combatants even during times of war. Nor is the US following the Leahy Amendment, first introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) as an amendment to the 1997 Foreign Operations Appropriations Act, which prohibits U.S. security assistance to foreign military or security units “against whom exist credible allegations of gross violations of human rights.”

"We are suing not just for our own sake, but for the sake of many Palestinians whose family members have been killed in the same way through house demolitions," explained Cindy. "As Americans, we have the right to sue. But Palestinians do not."

It was very moving to hear what the Corries have witnessed in Gaza--the terrible devastation that the seige of Gaza has caused, and the incredible suffering that the Gazans have experienced. Rachel also documents this suffering in her emails, which you can read online, and in her book.

I was reminded of my own trip to Israeli-Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project in 2004.

I was pleased to learn that the Corries know Leah Green, the founder/director of the Compassionate Listening Project, who did a screening of the film based on the play about Rachel Corrie. Leah had hoped that this event would be an opportunity to hear both sides of the issue, but several pro-Israeli zealots showed up and dominated the event.

It is very hard indeed for people to listen to both sides of this conflict, particularly in the US. Yet such compassionate listening is necessary to build trust and establish a foundation for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

It is also crucial to speak out against the injustices being committed in this region, particularly the violations of human rights and war crimes described in the Goldstone Report.

We need those who are willing to speak out boldly and prophetically, and we also need people willing to listen compassionately and build bridges.

When I came back from my trip to Israel/Palestine in 2004, I dedicated an issue of Friends Bulletin to those who are working for peace in this troubled area. In my editorial I wrote:

“Things are the worst they’ve ever been” is what you often hear when you talk with Israelis and Palestinians these days. As I discovered this fall during my two-week trip to Israel/Palestine with the Compassionate Listening Project, the situation on the ground looks pretty hopeless. After four years of senseless bloodshed, over 4,000 people have been killed, many of them children. (Taking into account the difference in population between Israel/Palestine and the USA, it would be as if 120,000 Americans had been killed.) In the face of such violence, it’s tempting to throw up one’s hands in despair and say, “What’s the use? These people have been fighting and killing each other for over 50 years. They will probably be fighting and killing each other for the duration of my lifetime.”

Such pessimism is understandable, but it would be a betrayal of our Quaker faith in Divine and human goodness as well a betrayal of those in Israel/Palestine who are working for peace, justice and reconciliation. That’s why I have included pictures of many of the wonderful people I met in Israel/Palestine and have come to appreciate and admire, people who are taking great risks to be peacemakers. I regard many of them as my friends. Some are Friends. Because the United States and its misguided policies are a big part of the problem in the Middle East, they are counting on us to be a part of the solution. There are things that we can do to help, but we must act quickly..."

Since then, things have continued to worsen. When the Palestinians elected leaders from Hamas in one of the freest and fairest elections in the Middle East, Israel and the United States launched a seige against the people of Gaza. Duly elected Palestinian officials were arrested and thrown into prison by the Israelis. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and their homes destroyed. When the Gazans retaliated with their ineffectual rockets (which killed only 19 Israelis in ten years), the IDF invaded Gaza killing over 1200 people, half of them women and children. The cost of damage to Gazan schools, hospitals, and homes has been estimated to be in the billions of dollars. And the seige goes on, largely subsized by US foreign aid.
In the wake of such tragedy, it is well to remember the words that Rachel wrote to her parents:
"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."– Rachel Corrie, in an email to her mother, February 28 2003.

I am glad I had the chance to connect with some of the Palestinian people, as well as Israeli Jews, who are working for peace and justice in this region. These people deserve our support, as does the wonderful work of the Corrie family. As John wrote in his gospel, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not extinguish it...."

I am also grateful to my friends at ICUJP for standing in solidarity with the Corries and others working for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine.

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