Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Rachel Corrie - A Middle East Tragedy

Yesterday a judge in Haifa cleared the Israel Defense Forces of wrongdoing in the death of Rachel Corrie, a 23-year old non-violent activist affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, who was killed in 2003 by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to physically stop the IDF from razing Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip.  The issue has been extremely sensitive for the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities, and with good reason: It is emblematic of so many of the conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians.  Everyone is part right, everyone is part wrong, and as they argue it out, real humans suffer elsewhere.  That is the reason why discussions yesterday of the Corrie verdict quickly morphed into discussions of the Gaza flotilla incident of 2010 and other incidents where both sides are right and wrong all at the same time.

Rachel Corrie was killed in a closed military zone, which she and other ISM protesters refused to leave.  The danger of being in such a space in the Gaza Strip during the height of the second intifada is evident, even if some understand the designation of that zone to be unjust.  While non-violent protesters have no practical expectation of safety in a designated military zone, the IDF should and has learned from this and prior experiences by, for example, arming soldiers with non-lethal means of population control and taking more seriously the presence of civilians in most zones in which the IDF operates. The bereaved Corrie family, assisted by the U.S. Department of State, availed themselves of Israel's judicial system, one of the most integral and respected branches of the Israeli government.  While there have been questions about the availability of evidence, and broader questions about due process for charges brought against IDF soldiers, the fact that yesterday's verdict came down on the side of the IDF is not itself evidence of injustice.  The questions of procedure are substantial and important enough to warrant further inquiry, but not enough to be conclusive evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the court.

At the same time, the response from the pro-Israel community has been generally apathetic, with some attempts to link Rachel Corrie herself to questionable actions taken other ISM members or the terrorism against Israel was reacting.  For a community which touts Israel's respect for humanity, this standpoint is dubiously effective.  It also comes across as apathetic to pro-Palestinian constituents who see it as emblematic of Israeli apathy towards basic Palestinian rights and those of their supporters.  But more importantly, the outcry over yesterday's verdict reveals the extent to which non-violent resistance, from BDS to active interference in IDF operations, has become seen as more and more legitimate in the international community as a tactic against Israel's government and military.  Non-violence is dangerous and part of its power is that its practitioners accept that danger.  However, Israel must respond to the fact that it will face increasingly strong international sanction for its role in creating danger for people protesting activities that many less radical people see as unjust.  

The fact that support exists for people who jump in front of IDF bulldozers is for many in the pro-Israel community frustrating and in certain ways unfair.  It is also a reality of Israel's military presence in Palestinian territories.  And no amount of frustration should blind any analyst of Israeli-Palestinian politics to the tragedy of Rachel Corrie, for a radical human being is still a human being.  The Rachel Corrie issue is delicate and explosive all at the same time.  But it is also one with which all sides should respect the pain, grief, and frustration so deeply embedded from all sides within its fabric.