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Tuesday, March 16, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
By Steve Niva
A year has passed since Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist from Olympia, was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer while nonviolently trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian house in the city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli government has refused to release its entire June 2003 military police investigation report to the United States but continues to claim that her death was simply an "unfortunate accident," despite the testimony of six eyewitnesses who claim that Corrie, with her bright orange jacket, was clearly visible to the bulldozer drivers, and that the bulldozer lifted her up and drove over her repeatedly with its plow down.
It is no wonder that the Corrie family is urging Congress to pass House Concurrent Resolution 111, which calls upon the "United States government to undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie."
Yet, while questions remain about the details of her death, there should be no question about its ultimate cause. Corrie was killed by Israel's wall.
Most Palestinian homes in Rafah, including the one Corrie was killed defending, are being demolished daily by Israeli bulldozers to make way for a massive, 6-meter-high, steel wall Israel is building along the Egyptian border with Rafah.
According to United Nation's officials, over the past three years, Israel has destroyed nearly 900 houses in Rafah in order to create a 100-meter "buffer zone" between Palestinian homes and the wall. Daily shelling and armed raids have killed nearly 300 Palestinians and have left more than 8,600 people homeless. Israeli soldiers also killed British activist Tom Hurndall and BBC cameraman James Miller in Rafah.
This wall is the Gaza link to the massive wall and fence barrier that Israel is building deep within Palestinian lands in the West Bank. The International Court of Justice is widely expected to declare this barrier both illegal and unwarranted by the end of this month.
The Israeli army's specious justification to the international community for the systematic degradation of Rafah has been the ongoing search for tunnels across the Egyptian border, which it claims are used to smuggle weapons for Palestinian militants to kill Israeli civilians. Some Israeli sympathizers even claim that Corrie was knowingly defending these tunnels and, thus, supporting suicide bombers.
While no one disputes the existence of a small number of tunnels that funnel weapons to militants, Israeli security justifications for destroying Rafah in order to find these tunnels cannot be taken at face value. Nor can unsupportable claims that Corrie was defending tunnels and suicide bombers.
First, the Israeli army has never claimed that any tunnels were found under Dr. Samir Nasrallah's home, which Corrie was defending, nor any others in that area along the Egyptian border.
Second, weapons that get through tunnels are primarily used in attacks against soldiers and settlers within the Gaza Strip, not against civilians within Israel. One of the main arguments Israeli officials use to justify building the barrier in the West Bank is the fact that no Palestinian suicide bombers have come from Gaza in the past three years due to the heavily monitored 30-mile electrified fence that keeps its 1.3 million impoverished Palestinians isolated from the world, and Israel.
Third, Israel possesses ample equipment to discover and unearth these tunnels without resorting to widespread destruction and violence.
The governor of Rafah, Majid Ghal, rejects Israel's claims about tunnels as diversionary. "What they are doing is to carve out a buffer zone between Rafah and the border. The Israelis have always said they do not want Palestine to control its borders or to have borders with other countries. They are trying to drive people out."
The wall that killed Rachel, and has destroyed the lives of thousands of Palestinians in Rafah, is being built for one reason: to protect the security of the 7,000 Israeli settlers who illegally occupy 30 percent of Gaza's scarce land. The wall and home demolitions in Rafah, as elsewhere, are merely an ongoing land grab masquerading as a security policy.
While Israel has every right to defend itself against horrific and unjustifiable suicide bombings inside Israel's 1967 borders, it has no right to kill civilians and destroy homes in order to secure its illegal settlements inside Palestinian land. As Amnesty International stated in October 2003, Israeli actions in Rafah constitute war crimes; a reign of terror on innocent civilians unwarranted by security concerns.
Corrie's death reminds us of the need to unite and demand an immediate end to violence against all citizens, whether Israeli, Palestinian or, in this case, American.
Steve Niva teaches international politics and Middle East studies at The Evergreen State College in Olympia and worked with Rachel Corrie before she was killed.
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