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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.

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But the more you sit with this brazen colonel’s words, the more sense they make. Of course civilians should be protected in a war zone. Of course the Geneva Convention should be honored. But what good are these ethics, these laws, at a time when it feels like we are all mired in “total war?” Are they enforceable in any way? Do they retain any meaning?

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The Israeli colonel’s words may seem unacceptable, but they are honest.

Our unequal vulnerability

Of course, we are still far from equal in our vulnerability. The modern tools of war are lauded for their precise capacities. But then why have the civilian deaths in the Iraq War been so astronomically high? Iraq Body Count, a website that draws on data from cross-checked media reports, hospital, morgue, nongovernmental organizations, and official figures, estimates that between 97,939 and 106,895 civilians have been killed.

Just months before her death, Corrie wrote the following in her journal: “The surreal thing is that we are safe. White skinned people stand up in front of the tanks and they open their weird tank lids and wave at us.”

It’s understandable why she thought this. Those of us who are white, with relative economic stability, born in the first world, do tend to be more protected than our counterparts in other demographics and other parts of the world.

But as her untimely death demonstrates, as ongoing terrorist attacks and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change dramatize, we are all more vulnerable than ever before.

Shared global fate

Even our economic interconnections are too wide-ranging to grant any of us immunity from the world’s ills. The New York Times recently reported that a gel that could prevent HIV-infection in millions of women is on hold, in no small part, because of “tight finances in the West.” Only $58 million of the $100 million needed for follow-up research has been pledged – a gap that literally equals a death sentence for many. Suddenly, a risk-happy Wall Street millionaire pharmaceutical investor and a struggling single mother in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa are gravely connected.

Our cruel interconnections are devastating to consider, but there is also a powerful opportunity in this new era of globally shared fates. For if we are all vulnerable, then we all have cause to make the world less violent, unequal, and unjust. Our environmental, economic, and even ethical fates are tied up together.

Rachel Corrie understood this, even as a little girl. She wrote: “In second grade there were classroom rules hanging from the ceiling. The only one I can remember seems like it would be a good rule for life. ‘Everyone must feel safe.’ That’s the best rule I can think of.”

Courtney E. Martin is the author of “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” out this month on Beacon Press. “Do It Anyway” includes a profile of Rachel Corrie.