Every year we remember 16th March. We remember a kind, insightful, talented person committed to the plight of the Palestinian people, who genuinely had the courage of her convictions. Her name was Rachel Corrie. This year, the anniversary of her death comes in the wake of Israel’s massive assault on the Gaza Strip. We believe Rachel would want the world to remember the 1,400 Palestinians killed before she is remembered herself. Now, six long years after her death, the situation in Gaza is even more desperate than when Rachel bore witness to it. Six years on we still demand justice. We still demand that the international community hold the Israeli military and government responsible for the murder of Rachel and so many Palestinian civilians. We also demand that the US justice system holds responsible the Caterpillar company which continues to provide the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) with the military D-9 bulldozers, which killed not only Rachel but a number of Palestinians and have demolished thousands of Palestinian homes.
It wasn’t possible for ISM volunteers to enter the Gaza Strip for several years due to the clampdown of the Erez crossing, so today was the first time ISM activists managed to commemorate the anniversary in Gaza itself. Some of the activists who volunteered with ISM Rafah in 2003 were able to compare the situation then and now. Different facets of occupation are manifest in 2009 - the oppressive wall along the Rafah border with Egypt has been cut down but has been replaced by siege and blockade; the brutality endured by the residents of Rafah’s border areas has now touched every single person throughout the Gaza Strip. From 2002 to 2005 over 3,000 Palestinian homes were bulldozed in Rafah. Now, in just 22 days, thousands more were destroyed throughout the entire Gaza Strip. 100,000 Palestinians have been left homeless by air missile strikes and shelling with many families now living in tents on the rubble of their homes.
This is a highly poignant day for us, so to mark it in a positive and inspiring way, we joined five young Palestinian artists to create a mural on one of the few remaining sections of the Israeli wall on the Rafah-Egypt border strip. The same wall whose construction saw the creation of a buffer zone hundreds of metres deep, which gnawed away at vast swathes of residential neighbourhoods, including the one Rachel died trying to safeguard. The same wall from where fellow ISM activist, Tom Hurndall, was shot in the head by an Israeli soldier from a watchtower less than a month after Rachel was killed. The same wall that for years was intended to imprison Palestinian people. The same wall that was finally destroyed by the Palestinian people.
As the artists began painting the wall, enlivening it with colourful symbols of defiance, Israeli F-16 fighter jets were heard flying over Rafah. Despite Israel’s announcement of a “unilateral ceasefire” on 18th January, the Israeli Air Force continues to unilaterally bomb Rafah and other areas in the Gaza Strip almost daily.. Most of the international journalists have left and the international community considers the war as being over, but Palestinian civilians are still being killed and injured by Israeli attacks on a regular basis. Fortunately, today we weren’t bombed by Israeli aircraft. Maybe because we were protected by the “Palestinian Air Force”. Palestinian children from the Lifemakers Center along with kids from the nearby al-Barazil refugee camp responded to the Israeli military flying F-16s by flying kites! 14 kites were flown in memory of the 14 hundred Palestinians killed recently in Gaza. Another kite sent our love to Rachel.
This was also a symbolic action against the crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade. Gaza has been under siege for nearly two years now and can aptly be described as the world’s largest open-air prison with over 1.5 million people locked in by land, sea and air. After the Free Gaza Movement voyages challenged the blockade by sea last year, followed by the Viva Palestina convoy challenging the siege by land last week, Palestinian children symbolically broke the control of Gazan airspace today.
A delegation from Code Pink also succeeded to gain entry recently and celebrated International Women’s Day with the courageous women of Gaza on 8th March. Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie joined them, commenting on their visit, “Despite the pain, we have once again felt privileged to enter briefly into the lives of Rachel’s Palestinian friends in Gaza. We are moved by their resilience and heartened by their song, dance, and laughter amidst the tears.”
Maybe the soaring kites were seen by some of the internationals protesting today on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, against the Egyptian authorities’ denial to allow them access to Gaza. They included Jordanian parliamentarians and Greek engineers aiming to assist reconstruction efforts in Gaza. However, all of this is not enough. We must call again on the international community to mobilise against the genocidal siege on Gaza.
The Israeli Occupation Forces attempted to kill another American ISM activist, Tristan Anderson, three days ago in the stalwart West Bank village of Ni’lin. Tristan, our thoughts and prayers are with you. Just as today we stood at the destroyed wall of Rafah, commemorating the sacrifice of Rachel, one day we will stand together with Tristan at the destroyed wall of Ni’lin to commemorate the sacrifice of Ahmed Mousa (10), Yousef Amira (17), Arafat Rateb Khawaje (22) and Mohammed Khawaje (20), the four civilian martyrs of Ni’lin. Despite the murders of Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, despite the attempted assassinations of Brian Avery and Tristan Anderson, despite the injuries, abductions, illegal deportations and denials of entry that we suffered, we are back. ISM is still here, and will continue to support Palestinian non-violent resistance.
Today, six years after the martyrdom of Rachel; three days after the shooting of Tristan; two months after the Palestinians ousted the IOF from the Gaza Strip; 42 years after the occupation of West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; 61 years after the Naqba; we still say free Palestine! End the occupation! Peace with justice and dignity! We should remember Rachel and all that she stood for. Similarly we must never let the world forget all the innocent Palestinian souls who perished without mercy. Their fate is already slipping from the collective memory of the international community, fading from the headlines of a fickle corporate media. It is time this manufactured catastrophe ends so that Rachel’s death and the deaths of countless Palestinians were not in vain.
International Solidarity Movement