What Rachel Corrie gave me

I was with Rachel Corrie on 16th March 2003 when she was killed by the military industrial complex, or more proximally by the Israeli army via a soldier driving a bulldozer who was just one cog of that particular machine.

This is something I only bring up with close friends before, because it is ridiculously narcissistic to be talking about what the ending of such an incredible life as Rachel’s meant for me, still able to walk and talk and love and laugh and fight for a better world.

But now more than ten years on, I’m going to write this on my personal blog.

That day was like a pivot that I swung around and everything changed. I remember even just a couple of days afterwards looking with this fresh new clarity and certainty at what I’d thought before and feeling astonished. It wasn’t that I was naive about what occupation, war and capitalism could do, but that before my role in changing this was more like somebody playing an engrossing game – after Rachel was killed it became my life’s purpose. Afterwards this is what I can and do give my life for, whether that means because I die directly fighting for what I believe in, or because its what I dedicate the hours and days and years I have alive for.

Here’s a not too gruesome picture of just after she was run-over by the bulldozer.  I’m on the left with bleached hair. About now she says her final words “my back is broken” and all pictures from this scene show me holding her head, stabilising her spine as I was trained to by uncle Doc Rosen.

Who was Rachel to me that her killing was so pivotal? A friend, but not a close one. I attach to folks slowly and we’d only known each other about 7 weeks. I liked her well enough, but she was not someone who’s personality I instantly felt an affinity and close bond with. I imagine that that would have changed as time does to relationships especially in such intense surroundings. As I said, I did like her but she was not so close that her death would have changed things as much as they did.

A patient? Well yes, she was one of my first patients. And now, with ten years of caring for people as first aider and nurse, there is a particular hard to describe feeling, like a mixture of responsibility and mission and protection and advocacy, towards my patients, but I had yet to develop that back then.

No, it was because she was trying to make the world a better place. She had taken herself to Gaza, knowing it was dangerous and uncomfortable and scary, in order to try and change things.

My original motives were less clear and altruistic to be perfectly honest. Yes I wanted to make a difference, but I also wanted to experience a different culture and travel some more. I was curious and interested. And I hoped to also help some people. But it was a bit of an adventure as well.

And then the Israeli state apparatus killed Rachel in front of me. And the next day, in partnership with the USA government, tried to physically claim to her body whilst she was in the Rafah morgue.

I was with some other internationals in an internet cafe desperately emailing and reporting on what had happened. The media storm was in full swing. And I was informed that the Israeli army had given an ultimatum that either Rachel’s body was handed over to them, or that there would be a military operation (with scores of Palestinians inevitably killed in the process) in order to recover it.

And that’s when I felt it. No, no the people who’d killed her were not going to take her body. Not without getting through me first. And that was not going to be an easy thing for them to do.

I found this strength solidifying in me. Something I had felt before on occasion but never to this extent. Resolve. Like an iron rod running from the crown of my head, down through my spine and grounding me. I had power. Power to say No and for that to mean something. For me to be able to prevent something happening. That I was strong and capable enough to stand up to both the Israeli and USA states.

We all agreed it was wrong. A violation that the Israeli army should take the body of the person they had killed. I felt a surety that Rachel would not want this, and I knew I wouldn’t had it been the other way around. I also knew that we didn’t want anyone else to be killed, but I felt absurdly confident that it wouldn’t come to that, and I was right!

I don’t want to just now write again about the practical details of what happened, and the twists and turns, the wranglings, the intense cunning we needed, the taking chances and resourcefulness but Will, Greg and I somehow did it, and successfully arranged for Rachel’s body to not be taken by the Israeli soldiers, but to travel safely to Tel Aviv in a civil ambulance with one of us (Will) with her all the way. It was a few hours of focus and belief and determination and creativity that I just don’t think I would have been capable of before.

A crisis like that is a fire hotter than anything I would wish on anybody else, but within it swirling, confused, contradictory parts of me forged into purposeful solidity. Within it I changed at an essential level. The trauma of it all has taken years to get over, and like anything with a half-life, will never totally leave me. But that profound purpose and power and resolve will not only never leave me, but has only grown stronger over the years.

Those people and systems that poison and degrade precious life and beauty and environment? Each new wound that you inflict has an unpredictable, inverse effect that will lead to your deposition. Within each of us that witness and experience the depths that you will sink to, purpose and focus develops and resonates. And even still now, over a decade since she was killed, I will still meet new people who will find out that I was with Rachel Corrie and tell me how they were shocked and angered by her killing and took up or deepened their struggles for a better world because of it.

So, this then was the narcissistic version of Rachel’s death. And sheepish as I feel in posting it, this is my personal blog. And this was the effect that 16th March 2003 had on me. It was a fulcrum. You killed Rachel, and that created in me a strength and lifemeaning and clarity that is part of a growing global, timeless movement for a decent world.

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