Corries push U.S. Government to investigate their daughter's death
PC(USA) probe into Caterpillar affirmed
by Alexa Smith, PCUSA News October 15th, 2004
LOUISVILLE - Craig Corrie isn't politically naC/ve. He served in Vietnam, after all. He's seen governments lie. Or cover up. He's seen armies be duplicitous. And political spin, he's seen that, too.
But it still takes him aback when officials duck questions.
Corrie and his wife, Cindy, are pushing the U.S. Congress to open a new investigation into the death of their daughter, Rachel, 23, who was crushed by a bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in March 2003 as she tried to block the demolition of a Palestinian physician's home. The army said it was wrecking homes in the Rafah refugee camp to create a "buffer zone" to prevent weapons smuggling from Egypt by building a high, steel wall.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reported that the driver of the bulldozer had not seen Corrie and did not run over her intentionally.
But international eyewitnesses - some of them U.S. citizens - said Corrie stood 100 feet in front of the more than 60-ton bulldozer and was within the sight of the two men who manned the heavy equipment as it moved closer. They contend that she even clambered on top of the pile of dirt the machine raked as it approached the house.
She was wearing the bright orange jacket that is the emblem of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a coalition of Palestinian and other international activists who volunteer to serve as human rights monitors in the occupied territories. Corrie was also using a megaphone.
Israel and the United States have repeatedly rejected attempts by the United Nations to put monitors in place.
"There's been no attempt [here] to record the testimonies of the international eyewitnesses. They all say Rachel was clearly visible," says Corrie, who is on the lecture circuit pushing for more international scrutiny of the IDF's actions in Gaza and of Caterpillar's complicity in what most international organizations call human rights abuses.
Corrie wants to know why the U.S. government can't get testimonies from the U.S. citizens who are now back on U.S. soil, a first step in taking a deeper look at his daughter's death, since the Israeli government is apparently unwilling to allow the U.S. government access to conduct its own investigation.
There isn't much Congressional support, either, to conduct an independent inquiry, although 77 members of the House have signed onto a bill introduced by Rep. Brian Baird of Washington State calling on the U.S. government to "undertake a full, fair and expeditious investigation" into the death of Rachel Corrie.
Neither the White House nor the Justice Department are pressing for further investigation.
According to Corrie the Israeli government has exonerated the two soldiers involved and closed the case. And it is refusing to release a complete report of the military investigation into the death - despite having promised what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told President Bush what would be a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation.
Even the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission in Tel Aviv told the Corries that the report contained several "worthy" inconsistencies. But the U.S. State Department has not received the actual details of the investigation.
What the Corries want is an inquest like that run by the London police into the death of a young Brit in Rafah within a few miles of the spot where Rachel died. Corrie wants the FBI to do the same.
Three internationals died near Rafah within a seven-week period in 2003.
As it turns out, the British investigation contradicted the IDF's inquest, revealing that soldiers at the site lied about how 21-year-old Thomas Hurndall was killed. He was reportedly helping small children avoid IDF fire and was shot in the head when he returned a second time to help another child who was paralyzed by fear and unable to run.
Hurndnall was also wearing the orange ISM vest. His lawyer father collected evidence that launched an investigation while his son lay in a coma in an Israeli hospital.
According to The Guardian, a London newspaper, the initial IDF report claimed that Hurndall was in camouflage and wielding a gun. Those statements were withdrawn in the face of testimonies by witnesses. A soldier is now charged with Hurndnall's killing.
The third death along the same border strip was that of British film producer James Miller, who was shot by an Israeli tank while he was completing work on the Gaza portion on his HBO film Death in Gaza, which chronicles the impact of violence and terrorism on three young Palestinian children.
Corrie was the first of the three to die.
"Apparently at the point that Rachel realized the bulldozer was not going to stop, it was already dropping dirt on her," says her father. As she climbed to the top of the dirt pile, eyewitnesses said the blade caught her legs and pushed her under it. Then the bulldozer reversed, dragging the blade over her body again.
She died about 20 minutes later in a Palestinian hospital.
The photograph of that March 17 scene was printed in major newspapers around the world: the Corries' crumpled daughter, her face covered with blood, being dug out of the rubble by other young people. That day, too, may mark the only time in history that the U.S. flag flew in the Gaza Strip, commemorating Rachel's death.
This ordeal has been long for the Corries, who have visited the site of their daughter's death, talked with the families who housed her in Rafah, met her friends there, seen the nursery school, the youth center and the women's center in Rafah that have been named after Rachel.
Cindy is painfully aware that Palestinians die daily without the furor that Rachel's death has caused.
"Rachel is the not the only person who has been killed there," says Cindy, mentioning the name of a woman who was nine months pregnant when her house collapsed on top of her as soldiers bulldozed the house next door. An elderly gentleman died in a similar incident. She says too that she watched women be cut off from their olive groves by the steel barrier.
"The bulldozer is the symbol of the occupation in that part of the world - a symbol of oppression," her husband says, matter-of-factly, but with a tinge of incredulity that the U.S. manufacturers of the equipment can somehow divorce themselves from how it is being used.
Several campaigns are now under way aimed at getting Caterpillar to stop selling bulldozers to the military. The most notable of these is the Stop Cat Coalition, which held a demonstration that the Corries attended in Peoria, IL, last April.
Some stickers and buttons have nicknamed the company "Caterror Pillar."
Cindy's sister testified at the 2003 Caterpillar Inc. shareholders meeting during which a group of nuns attempted to require the corporation to investigate when its sales to the IDF violated its own corporate code of conduct. The resolution got clobbered.
It is being reintroduced this year with backup support from the PC(USA).
"Our point is not to cause harm to Caterpillar. It's just that what they're doing is wrong," Corrie says, adding that the company can't separate its sales to the IDF through a U.S. government weapons program from how the equipment is used. "We're all responsible for our actions, . . . for the foreseeable consequences of our actions."
Which is why Cindy took heart when she heard that the PC(USA) may tackle holding Caterpillar more accountable - but she warns those climbing onto the bandwagon that this is not an easy job.
"Craig and I have become very close to this movement in the last couple of years. We're heartened to see a group that has the weight that the PC(USA) has take a stand of this magnitude, to lead the way when I know it is difficult.
"(It is heartening) for all of us who want so much to get the word out and (get) the policies of this country changed so that all people - Israeli and Palestinian - can have a future."
Her husband speaks up - again with a tone of surprise in his voice - about how much conflict can be generated by asking a single question.
"All the PC(USA) is doing is taking a look at how its investments line up with what their values are, with the stands they've taken in the past," he says. He describes the PC(USA)'s actions as restrained - only researching where its investments go and what those companies do on the West Bank and in Gaza.
"[You're] only asking a question," he says. "The church hasn't said it will divest of anything. They're just looking at the actions that are going on and at what the values are."
Corrie believes pressure to force more ethical corporate behavior can only be of long-term benefit if it can change the cycle of violence in a tortured spot like Rafah. "And that's better for Caterpillar. Better for Israel. And better for the people who are losing their homes," he says."
But it can ignite controversy, as Corrie is well aware. His own questions - to the Israeli government, to see the complete report, and to his own government, to launch an independent investigation - have done so.
"People act like you shouldn't even ask the question. Like you shouldn't find out. And that's absolutely wrong. We have to find out. We have to know what goes on in the world around us. We can't just pull the wool over our own eyes," he says. There is a hint of incredulity in his voice.
Despite her commitment, Cindy is still stunned by the intensity of the grief that has propelled her into this work, such as when she traveled to lectures on Midwestern roadways, where Caterpillar equipment is visible everywhere. It is on the highways, in the fields, parked near the barns. "I have an emotional response when I see it, an involuntary response," she says.
"It's a powerful corporation, and in this country we see the equipment building roads and planting fields. But in the West Bank and Gaza . . . what we saw was the rubble that remained after Caterpillar was used to destroy. Caterpillar equipment is used to demolish homes, wreck orchards and vegetable gardens. All kinds of things that provide people with the ability to sustain themselves." Cindy holds back despair by becoming a bit of the activist that her daughter was.
Rachel's Gaza journals may be read online (read Rachel's e-mails by linking to www.rachelcorrie.org). And both her mother and her father often quote from their daughter's writings when they speak publicly.
"Having a job to do has been helpful to me, at least at this point, in dealing with the personal loss," Cindy says. It's given me a focus and helped me through the darker, more difficult days."
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