The political economy of white settler colonialism is organized around murder, or its threat: forcing Africans to work at gunpoint; raping and stealing indigenous land at gunpoint; herding Palestinians into open-air jails, at gunpoint; overthrowing elected leaders at gunpoint are all part of the colonial and neocolonial blueprint. In this series, Black Republic Media explores what it means when a junta of homicidal maniacs governs a nation, or a network of nations, across the world.
Twenty years ago today, an Israeli soldier drove a bulldozer over Rachel Corrie, crushing her to death. The 23-year-old from Olympia, Washington was part of an international team of peace activists who had volunteered to protect Palestinian homes from demolition by Israeli settlers. Mother Jones magazine gave this account of her final hours:
At two o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday, March 16, Rachel Corrie received a cell-phone call from a comrade in the International Solidarity Movement. “The Israelis are back,” she told Corrie. “Get over here right away. I think they’re heading for Dr. Samir’s house.” The news alarmed Corrie. Samir Nasrallah was a Palestinian pharmacist who lived with his wife and three children a few hundred yards from the battle-scarred Egyptian border in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah. Corrie and other pro-Palestinian activists based in Rafah had frequently spent the night in Nasrallah’s house, acting as human shields against the Israeli tanks and bulldozers, clearing a security zone around the border. Almost every other structure in the area had been knocked down in recent months; Nasrallah’s abode now stood alone in a sea of sand and debris.
Certain that the pharmacist’s house was about to be razed, Corrie caught a taxi to the Hai as-Salam neighborhood. The paved roads of downtown Rafah gave way to sandy tracks lined with scrabbly olive groves, mosques, modest houses, and dirt pitches where Corrie often played soccer—badly but enthusiastically—with local youths. At 2:30, a neighbor of Nasrallah’s named Abu Ahmed caught sight of the activist hurrying past his house. Slight, hazel-eyed, with high cheekbones and dirty blond hair pulled back in a ponytail, she carried a megaphone in one hand and an orange fluorescent jacket in the other. “Come inside and have some tea,” he urged her. But Corrie told him she didn’t have time, and he watched as she disappeared around the corner of his house, heading toward the roar of machinery.
This much has never been contested: placing herself in the path of an Israeli bulldozer that she believed was about to flatten Nasrallah’s house, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death—her skull fractured, her ribs shattered, her lungs punctured. But the bitter accusations and violent recriminations that followed obscured almost everything else about the incident. Palestinians hailed her as a martyr of the Intifada. Several eyewitnesses charged that the bulldozer operator ran her down deliberately and called her killing “a war crime.” The Israeli government, which rarely acknowledges the deaths of Palestinian civilians killed during its military operations, went into damage-control mode. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President Bush a “thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.” Later Israel declared the killing a “regrettable accident” and blamed it on overzealous Corrie and the other activists working as human shields. Charges and countercharges flew back and forth until, like Rashomon, the facts of Rachel Corrie’s death dissolved into a half-dozen competing versions of the truth, none of them fully convincing.
Maybe, maybe not. But if there were any doubts that Israel deliberately killed Corrie, they were surely erased by the fatal shooting last spring of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist who had worked for the Arabic language channel, Al Jazeera, for 25 years at the time of her death.
On May 11, 2022, while covering a raid by Israeli soldiers on the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, Abu Akleh was standing with a group of colleagues, wearing a vest clearly marked “PRESS,” when she was shot in the head by sniper fire. Israel initially blamed the shooting on Palestinians, but separate investigations by the Washington Post, the New York Times, Bellingcat, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. State Department concluded that the fatal shot was fired by an Israeli soldier; CNN went a step further and asserted that Abu Akleh was targeted by Israel Defense Forces.
Rachel’s death was eerily similar to Abu Akleh’s. She was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket with reflective stripes and had been on the scene for hours with other activists from the International Solidarity Movement, standing in the path of the bulldozer and occasionally speaking into a megaphone. According to witnesses, Rachel climbed onto a mound of dirt to be clearly visible as the driver pushed the bulldozer forward. When she fell to the ground, the dirt engulfed her, but the driver continued to move forward, and after running over her the first time, monstrously, put the bulldozer in reverse and did it again. It would be revealed later that a spotter accompanied the driver of the bulldozer that killed Rachel and that his sole function was to report any obstructions in the machine’s path.