Thursday, 22 May 2003

On rescuing Private Lynch and forgetting Rachel Corrie

The Israeli army got away with murder - and now all activists are at risk

by Naomi Klein


Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies for ever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Corrie was four years older than 19-year-old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organised a pen-pal programme with a local kindergarten. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organised a pen-pal programme between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.

Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier loyal to her government. Corrie went to Gaza to oppose the actions of her government. As a US citizen, she believed she had a special responsibility to defend Palestinians against US-built weapons, purchased with US aid to Israel. In letters home, she described how fresh water was being diverted from Gaza to Israeli settlements, how death was more normal than life. "This is what we pay for here," she wrote.

Unlike Lynch, Corrie did not go to Gaza to engage in combat: she went to try to thwart it. Along with her fellow members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), she believed that the Israeli military's incursions could be slowed by the presence of highly visible "internationals". The killing of Palestinian civilians may have become commonplace, the thinking went, but Israel doesn't want the diplomatic or media scandals that would come if it killed a US student.

In a way, Corrie was harnessing the very thing that she disliked most about her country: the belief that American lives are worth more than any others - and trying to use it to save a few Palestinian homes from demolition.

Believing her fluorescent orange jacket would serve as armour, Corrie stood in front of bulldozers, slept beside wells and escorted children to school. If suicide bombers turn their bodies into weapons of death, Corrie turned hers into the opposite - a weapon of life, a "human shield".

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