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Rachel Corrie, an Israeli bulldozer, and our shared global fate

Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while defending a Palestinian home in Gaza in 2003. Today, for all the fierce division the Corrie family's recent civil suit against Israel rekindles, her story speaks more than ever to our interconnections.

By Courtney E. Martin / September 30, 2010

New York

Last month, several state witnesses took the stand in a Haifa District Court to testify in the civil law suit filed by Rachel Corrie’s family against the state of Israel. Many may still recall the disturbing photographs that wallpapered the world’s media outlets of Ms. Corrie, a 23-year-old activist from Walla, Walla, Washington, being crushed under a military bulldozer while trying to defend a Palestinian home in Rafah, Gaza under threat of demolition.

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You may not immediately relate to Corrie’s story, but you should. We live in a world where we are all implicated in war, where we are all vulnerable to the violence that emerges out of poverty, segregation, and oppression. We are all Rachel Corrie standing in front of a bulldozer, and yet we are also all the Israeli soldier who was driving it, just trying to do his job.

The forces of globalization have woven us together in a violent, inescapable tapestry from which there is no escape. But this shouldn’t paralyze us. Rather it should awaken us to the fact that, in this painful, tense connection, we have the opportunity to heal, to progress, and at least dialogue together.

'No civilians in a war zone'

The story of Corrie’s life and death have proven to be electric – bringing out the most righteous and rabid reactions from people. Many Palestinians claim her as a martyr, some Israelis say she was brain-washed, and more than one young, privileged American understands the impulse, albeit dangerous, to put oneself in a place where it feels like there’s an unequivocal opportunity to help people. In her journal Corrie herself wrote “I am hungry for one good thing I can do.”

While Corrie stopped writing her own life on March 15, 2003, the world continues to add new volumes of meaning to her passing. Indeed, last month in court, a colonel in the Engineering Corps of the Israeli army, a witness to Corrie’s death, testified repeatedly that there were no civilians in a war zone. Reportedly, those in attendance gasped.

No civilians in a war zone? At first, the notion seems preposterous, even inhumane. But when one considers how ubiquitous and complex war has become, it’s actually not all that far-fetched a notion.

Of course, the Fourth Geneva Convention, adopted in August 1949, specifically outlaws the practice of “total war,” advocating for the human rights of civilians unlucky enough to find themselves in war zones. In 1993, the United Nations Security Council adopted a report which concluded that the Geneva Conventions had passed into the body of “customary international law,” making them binding for absolutely everyone, not just those who had initially signed on.