On a Friday 19 years ago, a 23-year-old American woman was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in the southern town of Rafah in the Gaza Strip. Since then, she has become an icon of solidarity with the Palestinians, Anadolu News Agency reports.
Born on April 10, 1979, in Olympia, Washington, Rachel Corrie had dedicated her life to human rights, defending Palestinian rights, in particular.
She was the youngest of three children of Craig and Cindy Corrie, who described their family as “average American, politically liberal, economically conservative and middle class.”
In 2003, she travelled to Palestine for her senior-year college assignment — to connect her hometown with Rafah, as part of a sister cities project.
During her stay, she engaged with members of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian NGO.
There, on March 16, she stood in front of an Israeli bulldozer, staging a peaceful protest to protect the home of a Palestinian family from demolition. She was crushed to death when the bulldozer driver ran her over, according to witnesses.
Gazans received news of her murder with grief and horror, describing her as a “martyr” and staging a massive funeral for the American activist.
Near the home that Corrie was protesting to save, Palestinians launched an annual sports championship in her memory.
Yearly memorial sporting events
It was launched in 2010 by a football match between the two teams from that neighbourhood and evolved into an official championship with more than 32 competing sports teams from all parts of Gaza.
Nearly two decades on, the championship is still held every year with several sports including football, table tennis and martial arts, attended by thousands of Palestinians, according to Mohammad Gharib, the event’s Information Coordinator.
Officials print and distribute posters, pictures and leaflets to tell Corrie’s story, why she came to Gaza, and how she was killed, quoting her words on Palestinian rights.These materials are put up in the streets and handed out to all the people who attend the game.
“We aim to keep Corrie’s name alive in the minds of the Palestinians in the city of Rafah, where she came to defend their rights of life and peace,” Gharib told Anadolu Agency.
He said her family attended the championship in 2013 and is in constant contact with the officials.
“She is a part of the history of our city, and of Al-Salam neighbourhood, where she was killed. Even the young children in the city who were born after her death know her and her story because everyone here still remembers her,” he explained.
Her name and memory are also present at the Return Social Centre, also known as the Rachel Corrie Centre, which serves tens of thousands of Palestinian women, children and teenagers with skills training programs, economic empowerment and psychological support, and as a safe space for victims of violation.
The Centre’s administration also joins locals annually to honour the activist’s bravery.
“Her family visited the Centre twice in the past several years and supported it. Now, we’re keeping contact with them to make them feel how she is still in our minds,” said Iyad Abu-Louli, the Director of the Centre.
It was named after her in 2004, due to her friendly relations with the Centre and its team members at the beginning of her stay in Gaza.
None held responsible
An Israeli investigation into her death concluded that it was an accident.
Neither the international community nor Corrie’s parents have bought the Israeli explanation.
In 2005, Corrie’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against Israel, asserting that she had either been intentionally killed or that the soldiers had shown criminal negligence.
They sued for a symbolic one US dollar in damages.
An Israeli court rejected the lawsuit in a 2012 ruling that the Israeli government was not responsible for her death.
The ruling was slammed by human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as activists.
Corrie has since been one of the symbols of the Palestinian cause.
An Irish aid ship that set out for Gaza in 2010 named itself after Rachel and her story has been told in several documentaries depicting the plight of Palestinians.
In the years since her death, Palestine has continued to languish under Israeli occupation and alleged human rights violations, while the homes of hundreds more Palestinian families have been razed.
In a letter sent to her family from Gaza shortly before her death, Corrie described the Palestinian suffering she witnessed.
“No amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word-of-mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here,” she wrote. “You just can’t imagine it unless you see it.”