May 28, 2010
For those who don’t recall, Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American student activist killed in a tragic accident in 2003 while attempting to block an IDF bulldozer.
Corrie arrived in Israel as part of an independent study program during her senior year at Evergreen State College. It was there that Corrie first heard of going to Gaza with the loosely affiliated assortment of left-wing radicals known as the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Evergreen’s faculty also displayed gross negligence in allowing her to spend a semester abroad, for course credit, in the West Bank and Gaza during the height of the second intifada. After a mere two days of ISM “training,” Corrie and her fellow activist trainees were sent to the Rafah crossing, described by IDF spokesman Capt. Jacob Dellal as “the most dangerous area in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Ironically however, Corrie is perhaps a more apt reference than the FGM organizers realize. The tragedy of her death is that it was completely avoidable. Moreover, her behavior, flouting local and international law, raises the question of what role, if any, small groups of extremist activists have in interfering in the counterterrorism measures of a democratic state.
Despite dishonest testimony by the ISM, subsequent developments revealed that the driver of the bulldozer likely couldn’t even see Corrie. The most startling discovery was the recklessness of the ISM in dealing with its volunteers. They were encouraged to prevent the demolition of buildings and smuggling tunnels by using their bodies as shields against trucks and bulldozers. Although the volunteers were provided with visibility vests and megaphones, it was only a matter of time before the folly of the ISM led to catastrophic results.
If playing chicken with cars is suicidal, doing so with an armored bulldozer, more difficult to control and with less visibility, borders on insanity. Yet that is exactly what the ISM advocated, while making sure to record all their encounters for use in the event of just such an accident. As one of Corrie’s colleagues stated, “Several times we had to dive away at the last moment in order to avoid being crushed. This continued for about two and a half hours.”
WHILE THIS may not have been exactly what Evergreen College envisioned as Corrie’s independent study, the ISM was complicit in these dangerous antics, having promoted activism that would “more directly challenge the Israeli military.”
The ISM views its volunteers as pawns in a political game, fully aware that some gambits require the loss of a pawn. Corrie’s death, a terrible accident for the IDF, became a propaganda weapon for the ISM.
ISM is an organization that recognizes a Palestinian “right” to resistance via “legitimate armed struggle.” Its “accolades” include preventing IDF demolition of bomb-making factories and weapons-smuggling tunnels as well as the aiding, abetting and protecting of terrorists. In addition, the ISM also encouraged confrontational, reckless resistance by its international volunteers.
In 2002, in the midst of a violent takeover of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem by Palestinian terrorists, 10 ISM members ran in to act as human shields. The same year as Corrie’s death, a popular bar in Tel Aviv, Mike’s Place, was attacked by two suicide bombers who had had tea with ISM members only five days earlier.
The ISM’s behavior is typical of such radical groups. Purporting to protect human rights, they are often callous toward human life in general. What legitimacy is warranted by NGOs that have no respect for the lives of their volunteers?
Additionally, these groups fail to recognize that Israel abides by both local and international law. It has a well-developed judicial system, with the authority and will to limit its executive and legislative branches, one that has already delineated Israel’s commitments, obligations and rights in Gaza. The potential harm to local interests and stability caused by the audacious interference of a handful of people from other continents is tremendous. Individuals in Europe or North America may read about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza and wish to help, but chartering boats to sail to foreign waters is a misguided effort.
To promote their personal delusions, the ISM and FGM neglect any legal, judicial, diplomatic or otherwise politically palatable routes. While their personal risks are less than those taken by activists illegally entering Iran, North Korea or China, they still choose to waste public and private resources while violating domestic and international law.
The Rachel Corrie ironically represents a seaborne version of the organizational callousness and disregard that led to Rachel Corrie’s death in 2003. With such dubious priorities, these activists continue to be a part of the problem, not a legitimate attempt at a peaceful solution. Instead of being embarrassed by their role in Corrie’s death, these radical groups are hijacking her name for their current efforts to help Hamas dominate Gaza.
Let Rachel Corrie rest in peace.
Justus Reid Weiner is an international human rights lawyer who graduated from Berkeley Law School. He is a member of the NY and Israel bar associations, a scholar in residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a lecturer at the Rothberg Overseas School at Hebrew Universary, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Law Forum. Ittai Eres researched and edited this article as an intern with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The authors wish to thank Steven Aiello, Zach Lewis and Dimitri Teresh for their efforts in the preparation of this article.