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Rachel Corrie: who was she?

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Earlier this week an Israeli court ruled the death of activist Rachel Corrie an accident. But who was she, what did she stand for - and why is she such a symbolic figure?

Rachel was a 23-year-old American activist who travelled to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to protest the demolition of houses in the Gaza Strip.

The Strip is part of land that has long been disputed by Israelis and Palestinians, in a conflict which has taken the lives of thousands of people, many of whom were civillians, on both sides.

Both Palestine and Israel view the land in the region as an inherited birthright and attempts to create a two-state solution have thus fair proved fruitless. Although the Olympic Committee acknowledge the Palestinian state, it is not recognised by the United Nations, whilst Israel is recognised by both.

Rachel had been protesting the Israeli occupation of Gaza by using herself as a human shield against the Israeli military bulldozers trying to knock down Palestinian homes. Placing herself between a house and the demolition team on March 16th 2003, she was fatally injured and died en-route to the hospital.

Her family insist that her death was the fault of the man driving the bulldozer and by extension, the Israeli army whose operation was behind the demolitions. Last year they took a claim to the civil courts in Israel but a ruling this week declared her death an accident, absolving the Israeli military of any blame for the incident.

Accusations have been made that her death received unfair coverage, relative to the Palestinians who also died that day in the Gaza Strip - nine people, including a four-year-old girl.

However she is still seen today as a symbol of the movement and her photograph is carried on rallies – the Chicago Herald Tribune said after her death: “To the people of Rafah, Rachel Corrie will always remain a very special martyr, their American martyr.”

Whether Rachel's death was a brutal murder or a horrible mistake, it was underpinned by the fact she felt she needed to be there. Regardless of whether she was right or wrong, her death drew the world's attention to the painful, drawn-out mess that is the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

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