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Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie (April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003) was an American activist who was crushed to death when protesting Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip.

As a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), she traveled to Rafah during the Al-Aqsa Intifada and tried to block an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. She was fatally wounded during this incident.

Her death sparked controversy, with various advocates scrambling to blame it on the IDF, the ISM, "Palestinian terror", or on Corrie herself.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Arrival in Gaza
3 Fatal incident in Rafah
4 Reactions to Corrie's death
5 External Links


Corrie grew up in Olympia, Washington, and graduated from Capitol High School. She had been a senior at The Evergreen State College, where she studied the arts and international relations. She took a leave of absence to participate in resistance against the IDF as a member of the Palestinian-led ISM. In her home town, she was known in the local peace movement and was an active member of the Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace.

Corrie was the daughter of Craig Corrie, an insurance executive, and Cindy Corrie, a school volunteer and flutist.

Arrival in Gaza

Corrie burning a paper
US flag at protest (see text)

On January 18, 2003, Corrie left the United States for the Gaza Strip. Once there, she received two days of training in non-violent resistance techniques and philosophy before joining other ISM activists to participate in direct action. Through February and March she participated in a variety of actions including:

At a well

As well as participating in direct action, the ISM says Corrie was a human rights observer, attempting to document the actions of Israeli troops in the area. She documented the destruction of 25 greenhouses and the digging up of the road to Gaza City. She also documented shots fired at Rafah Municipal Water Authority workers attempting to rebuild the "Canada Well" and "El Iskan Well," which were bulldozed by the Israeli military on January 30. During her stay, she communicated by e-mail with "Danny," a reserve first sergeant in the IDF, who urged her to "document as much as you can and do not embellish anything with creative writing."

She also spent time speaking with local Palestinians - she spent several "home stays" sleeping with various families in Rafah. In e-mails to her mother, she mentioned activities such as watching Gummi Bears dubbed in Arabic and helping a Palestinian boy with his English homework. She was also involved in a children's pen pal program between Gaza Strip and United States. She wanted Olympia to become a "sister city" of Rafah, a city that straddles the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Fatal incident in Rafah

Corrie hours before incident

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was one of a group of seven ISM activists (made of three British and four Americans) who were attempting to disrupt IDF demolition operations where armoured bulldozers (Caterpillar D9)s are used to level buildings and vegetation along the security road near the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt at Rafah. According to the IDF, they are designed to uncover explosive devices and destroying smuggling tunnels. Palestinians are sometimes killed in demolition operations and they are perceived by some as a form of collective punishment.

On this particular day, two bulldozers, supported by a Nagmachon combat engineering vehicle (CEV), were either ripping up shrubbery (according to Israeli officials) or demolishing homes (according to the protestors). Corrie was wearing a red reflective jacket. Although she had been using a megaphone earlier in the day (see photo, right), she was not using it at the time she was run over. Corrie was standing in front of a house owned by her friend Samir Masri (some reports have his name as Samir Nasrallah), who is a Palestinian physician.

Corrie immediately after incident

The group had been attempting to disrupt the bulldozers for roughly two hours. These attempts consisted of physical obstruction, and shouting at the bulldozer operators through a megaphone. Roughly an hour before the fatal incident, the IDF used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse the ISM protesters, who then later regrouped.

As the bulldozers move slowly forward they push up a pile of soil and rubble in front of them. A standard technique of ISM disruption was for an ISM protester to climb on top of this pile, raising themselves above the bulldozer blade, and making themselves visible to the driver. Sometimes the driver would stop or change direction, and sometimes the protester would dive out of the way.

It appears that Corrie followed this technique, initially sitting or kneeling, and then standing to clamber up on the pile of debris in front of the bulldozer. For a while she was on top of this pile, looking at the driver. At some point, Corrie fell off the pile of rubble, possibly having lost her footing. This may have obscured her from sight of the driver. Corrie may have tried to scrabble out of the way at this point, but if she did so she was unsuccessful.

The driver continued forwards. The blade of the bulldozer passed over Corrie's body, but the tracks of the bulldozer did not, and the bulldozer stopped. The bulldozer then reversed clear of Corrie's body, causing the blade to pass over her a second time. Corrie suffered massive injuries. She may have been injured by contact with the blade of the bulldozer. She may also have been injured by the debris. In particular, the Israeli report claims that a concrete slab in the debris struck her head and upper torso and was the primary cause of her death.

The bulldozers and CEV withdrew, and Corrie was rushed by a Red Crescent ambulance to the local Al-Najar hospital where she died of suffocation due to her injuries (some reports have her dying in the ambulance). She became the first ISM volunteer to die in the conflict in over two years of ISM activities in the Palestinian territories, including many other attempts to obstruct Israeli operations. Her death was followed by the arrest of Shadi Sukiya, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad member, in ISM office in Jenin eleven days later, and the shooting of Thomas Hurndall, an ISM member, leaving him brain dead.

Corrie's death was foreshadowed by an e-mail she had sent a month earlier where she wrote "We stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house. The bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house with us inside."

Reporting errors

A photo taken on the day by an ISM member and published by the Associated Press was mistakenly titled. This gave the impression that it was taken immediately prior to the incident, whereas in fact it was taken between one and four hours earier.

Did the driver see Corrie?

The bulldozers had been in the area for two hours, and were certainly aware of the protesters and their activities. What is less clear is whether the bulldozer saw Corrie immediately prior to killing her.

Witness statements by fellow ISM protesters indicate that Corrie would have been clearly visible to the driver while she was standing on top of the pile of rubble in front of the driver. She was wearing a red reflective jacket at this time.

According to those who have been permitted to read it, the unpublished IDF report and the unpublished report by a branch of the Israeli judiciary both state that the driver never saw or heard Corrie. It is not clear what timeframe these statement might refer to.

A further complication is that the bulldozer driver should have been directed in part by other IDF soldiers at the scene. Caterpillar D9s have a restricted field of vision, limited by the small armored windows, with a number of blind spots. In theory the other soldiers should have covered these spots.

The IDF commander of Gaza Strip, in an interview to Israeli Channel 2 actualia research broadcast Uvda with Ilana Dayan told that soldiers were bound to stay in their armoured vehicles and could not get out to direct the bulldozer or to arrest the protesters due to the threat of Palestinian snipers. He also added that Corrie was facing the bulldozer alone, while the rest of her friends were away, probably forcing the APC to handle them instead of watching over the bulldozer.

Was Corrie "run over"?

The blade of the bulldozer passed over Corrie's body (twice), and may have additionally dragged her along the ground, but its tracks did not. If they had done, she would have died sooner, and her body would have been more extensively damaged. Both Israeli reports interpret this as meaning that the bulldozer did not run over Corrie. The ISM interprets this as meaning that the bulldozer "ran over" Corrie.


An initial autopsy was performed at the National Center of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv. The Olympian reported that it concluded on on March 20 that her "death was caused by pressure on the chest from a mechanical apparatus".

The Jerusalem Post issue of June 26, 2003 reported that "An autopsy found that the cause of Corrie’s death was falling debris".

Reactions to Corrie's death

the neutrality of this photo is disputed
Palestinian memorial

Peace vigil in Olympia

Capt. Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the Israeli army, called the incident a "regrettable accident," but said Corrie and the other ISM activists were "a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger - the Palestinians, themselves and our forces - by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone."

On March 17, Amnesty International USA condemned the death and called for an independent inquiry. Christine Bustany, their Advocacy Director for the Middle East, said that "US-made bulldozers have been 'weaponized' and their transfer to Israel must be suspended".

On March 18, there was a memorial service at the place where Corrie died, attended by between 40 and 100 people, including Samir Masri. The service was interrupted by an Israeli APC which fired tear gas and stun grenades. A Palestinian couple (Salah and Rania Noureddine) named their newborn child Rachel Corrie saying that their daughter would be "a symbol for them and all honest people in the Arab world."

On April 25, 15 people, including British citizens Asif Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif, met at an ISM apartment in Rafah, Gaza and then proceeded to the site of Corrie's death. Hanif and Sharif along with the other attendees placed a flower at the site. Five days later the two Britons carried out a suicide bombing of the Mike's Place restaurant in Tel Aviv, killing three persons. The Israeli government then imposed new restrictions on ISM activities based upon the presence of the two bombers at the Corrie memorial.

In Rafah and elsewhere in the Palestinian territories, portrait posters of Corrie were plastered to walls, with accompanying slogans such as "Rachel did not die. She lives in our hearts". She is one of the few non-Arabs to be treated in this way. On 15 July 2003, the Chicago Tribune reported that "to the people of Rafah, Rachel Corrie will always remain a very special martyr, their American martyr".

An official investigation of the event by IDF in mid April found that Corrie and other ISM members had engaged in "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous" behavior, and that Israeli forces were not at fault. The IDF said that it intends to implement changes to avoid future accidents, including arresting activists or forcing them to disperse, and installing video cameras on bulldozers to cover blindspots. The report has not been made public. Corrie's parents were permitted to read it, but not to receive a copy. The description of the conclusions of the report in this article are therefore based on secondary sources.

External Links

Here are some reports with quotes from the various Israeli reports into Corrie's death (the reports themselves have not been made public):

Lists of links of news, opinions, editorials, and comment, relating to Corrie's death:

Further opinions on the causes of Corrie's death: