23 May, 2003
Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American
blondes, two destinies forever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private
Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel
Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.
Corrie was four years older
than 19-year old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer
in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March
23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organized a pen pal program with
a local kindergarten. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organized a pen
pal program between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and
children in Rafah.
Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier
loyal to her government. In the words of West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller,
"she approached the prospect of combat with determination rather
Corrie went to Gaza to oppose
the actions of her government. As a U.S. citizen, she believed she had
a special responsibility to defend Palestinians against U.S.-built weapons,
purchased with U.S. aid to Israel. In letters home, she vividly described
how fresh water was being diverted from Gaza to Israeli settlements,
how death was more normal than life. "This is what we pay for here,"
Unlike Lynch, Corrie did
not go to Gaza to engage in combat she went to try to thwart
it. Along with her fellow members of the International Solidarity Movement
(ISM), she believed that the Israeli military's incursions could be
slowed by the presence of highly visible "internationals."
The killing of Palestinian civilians may have become commonplace, the
thinking went, but Israel doesn't want the diplomatic or media scandals
that would come if it killed a U.S. college student.
In a way, Corrie was harnessing
the very thing that she disliked most about her country the belief
that American lives are worth more than any others and trying
to use it to save a few Palestinian homes from demolition.
Believing her fluorescent
orange jacket would serve as armor, that her bullhorn could repel bullets,
Corrie stood in front of bulldozers, slept beside water wells, and escorted
children to school. If suicide bombers turn their bodies into weapons
of death, Corrie turned hers into the opposite: a weapon of life, a
When that Israeli bulldozer
driver looked at Corrie's orange jacket and pressed the accelerator,
her strategy failed. It turns out that the lives of some U.S. citizens
even beautiful, young, white women are valued more than
others. And nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the opposing
responses to Rachel Corrie and Private Jessica Lynch.
When the Pentagon announced
Lynch's successful rescue, she became an overnight hero, complete with
"America loves Jessica" fridge magnets, stickers, t-shirts,
mugs, country songs, and an NBC made-for-TV movie. According to White
House spokesman Ari Fleisher, President George W. Bush was "full
of joy for Jessica Lynch." Lynch's rescue, we were told, was a
testament to a core American value: as Senator Rockefeller put it in
a speech to the Senate, "We take care of our people."
Do they? Corrie's death,
which made the papers for two days and then virtually disappeared, has
met with almost total official silence, despite the fact that eye-witnesses
claim it was a deliberate act. President Bush has said nothing about
a U.S. citizen killed by a U.S. made bulldozer bought with U.S. tax
dollars. A U.S. congressional resolution demanding an independent inquiry
into Corrie's death has been buried in committee, leaving the Israeli
military's investigation which conveniently cleared itself of
any wrong doing as the only official probe.
The ISM says that this non-response
has sent a clear, and dangerous, signal. According to Olivia Jackson,
a 25-year-old British citizen still in Rafah, "after Rachel was
killed, [the Israeli military] waited for the response from the American
government and the response was pathetic. They have realized that they
can get away with it and it has encouraged them to keep on going."
First there was Brian Avery,
a 24-year-old citizen shot in the face on April 5. Then Tom Hurndall,
a British ISM activist shot in the head and left brain dead on April
11. Next was James Miller, the British cameraman shot dead while wearing
a vest that said "TV." In all of these cases, eye-witnesses
say the shooters were Israeli soldiers.
There is something else that
Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie have in common: both of their stories
have been distorted by a military for its own purposes. According to
the official story, Lynch was captured in a bloody gun battle, mistreated
by sadistic Iraqi doctors, then rescued in another storm of bullets
by heroic Navy SEALs. In the past weeks, another version has emerged.
The doctors that treated Lynch found no evidence of battle wounds, and
donated their own blood to save her life. Most embarrassing of all,
witnesses have told the BBC that those daring Navy SEALs already knew
there were no Iraqi fighters left in the area when they stormed the
But while Lynch's story has
been distorted to make its protagonists appear more heroic, Corrie's
story has been posthumously twisted to make her, and her fellow ISM
activists, appear sinister.
For months, the Israeli military
had been looking for an excuse to get rid of the ISM "troublemakers."
It found it in Asif Mohammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif , the two British
suicide bombers. It turns out that they had attended a memorial to Rachel
Corrie in Rafah, a fact the Israeli military has seized on to link the
ISM to terrorism. Members of ISM point out that the memorial was open
to the public, and that they knew nothing of the British visitors' intentions.
As an organization, the ISM is explicitly opposed to the targeting of
civilians, whether by Israeli bulldozers or Palestinian bombers. Furthermore,
many ISMers believe that their work may reduce terrorist incidents by
demonstrating that there are ways to resist occupation other than the
nihilistic revenge offered by suicide bombing.
No matter. In the past two
weeks, half a dozen ISM activists have been arrested, several deported,
and the organization's offices have been raided. The crack down is now
spreading to all "internationals," meaning there are fewer
and fewer people in the occupied territories to either witness the ongoing
abuses or assist the victims. On Monday, the United Nations special
coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process told the Security Council
that dozens of UN aid workers had been prevented from getting in and
out of Gaza, calling it a violation of "Israel's international
humanitarian law obligations."
On June 5 there will be an
international day of action for Palestinian rights. One of the key demands
is for the UN to send an international monitoring force into the occupied
territories. Until that happens, many are determined to continue Corrie's
work, despite the risks. Over forty students at her former college,
Evergreen State in Olympia, have already signed up to go to Gaza with
the ISM this summer.
So who is a hero? During
the attack on Iraq, some of Corrie¹s friends emailed her picture
to MSNBC asking that it be included on the station's "wall of heroes,"
along with Jessica Lynch. The network didn't comply, but Corrie is being
honored in other ways. Her family has received more than 10,000 letters
of support, communities across the country have organized powerful memorials,
and children all over the occupied territories are being named Rachel.
It's not a made-for-TV kind
of tribute, but perhaps that's for the best.
(Naomi Klein is the author
of 'No Logo' and 'Fences and Windows'. This article first appeared in
The Globe and Mail.)