Even people who feared Israel would take advantage of the international focus on Iraq to increase repression in the occupied Palestinian territories were surprised when a young American became one of the first casualties of this strategy.
She came from the ranks of United States and European pacifist groups that sent human-rights monitors to the region. These volunteers took great risks for peace by placing their bodies between the antagonists after the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for the placement of unarmed human rights monitors in the occupied territories.
Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old student at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash. Like many volunteers, she expressed concerns about the Israeli practice of bulldozing Palestinian homes and orchards. The practice violates UN Security Council resolutions that call upon Israel to abide by this legally binding international human rights covenant.
The Bush administration, like the Clinton administration before it, aimed to stop the United Nations from enforcing its resolutions when they were directed at a strategic ally such as Israel, even as the United States prepared to invade Iraq in the name of enforcing UN resolutions.
On March 16, in the Rafah refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli occupation forces were planning to destroy the home of a Palestinian physician and his family. Rafah is supposed to be under the exclusive control of the Palestinian Authority, according to a series of disengagement agreements brokered by the United States. Though the United States is supposed to be the guarantor of the accords and UN Security Council Resolution 1435 calls upon Israel to withdraw to its September 2000 zones of control, the Bush administration has refused to insist that Israel end its re-occupation of Rafah and other parts of designated Palestinian territory.
Rachel was one of several international observers who stood in front of a bulldozer on March 16. Palestinian and United States eyewitnesses said Rachel stood in plain sight of the bulldozer’s driver in a fluorescent orange jacket and had engaged the driver in conversation. After an initial pause, the bulldozer surged forward anyway.
The bulldozer trapped her feet under the dirt. She could not get out of the way and the machine ran over her. The bulldozer then backed up, running Rachel over a second time, mortally wounding her. She died in a nearby hospital a short time later. The Israeli government claims this was an accident. Incredibly, the Bush administration has accepted this interpretation. This response to Rachel’s murder isn’t surprising.
While Amnesty International and other reputable organizations, including Israeli groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights, have condemned widespread attacks by Israeli occupation forces against the civilian Palestinian population, leading members of Congress, such as House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, have insisted that Israeli military actions have been aimed “only at the terrorist infrastructure.”
Four months ago, the United States vetoed a UN Security Council resolution criticizing Israel for the murder of three UN workers in two separate incidents in the occupied territories in December. Among these was British relief worker Iain Hook, who was assisting in the reconstruction of Palestinian homes destroyed during an Israeli military offensive last spring. This veto signaled to Israel’s government that it could literally get away with murder, even if it meant killing foreign nationals.
President George W. Bush is preparing to increase aid to Israel by $1 billion despite these deaths and enormous cutbacks in domestic spending for education, health care and housing. The administration is also proposing an $8 billion loan guarantee to Israel’s government. Israel already receives more than a quarter of all U.S. foreign aid, even though it’s a relatively affluent country.
It appears that the Democrats will be joining the Republicans in support for this additional aid package that will further militarize the already militarized Middle East. Indeed, Pelosi and most Democrats in Congress have praised Bush’s “leadership” in his unconditional support for Israel’s policies in the face of widespread international condemnation.
In short, both Republicans and Democrats give short shrift to the lives of Americans who work for justice in impoverished conflict areas.
Stephen Zunes is associate professor of politics and chair of the Peace and Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. He is Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project (www.fpif.org) and author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism.