Killing Rachel Corrie Again:
Making Murder Respectable
- by Michael Dempsey
They clung like burrs to the long expresses that lurch through the unjust lands,
Through the night, through the alpine tunnel; They floated over the oceans;
They walked the passes; they came to present their lives...
To-day the inevitable increase in the chances of death; The walks by the lake
The conscious acceptance of guilt in the fact of murder...
-W.H Auden, Spain 1937
In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell writes that "political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." In no case has this statement been truer than in the case of the Israel- Palestine dispute. For over a half a century an entire people have been denied not only the right of self-determination, but the more basic right of human recognition. It is ironic that a nation such as Palestine, with a rich history its best defense, has been forced to defend against the scurrilous accusation that it is without a history that it can call its own. Even stranger is the ease with which this epithet has been made to conform to the most contradictory positions. For example, it is common to hear some glib commentator talk about the danger posed to the state of Israel if the Palestinians are granted the right of return, yet at the same time deny that they, the Palestinians, have anywhere that's their to return to in the first place. This same type is usually quick to decry the corruption of the Palestinian Authority, without making any mention of the fact that it is the Palestinian Authority, who, in the service of Israel and its political pimp in Washington, has denuded the movement for Palestinian emancipation by reducing it to a plea for fewer checkpoints and more checks.
And more recently, the line has caught on that the American ruling class has committed itself to the implementation of what it calls the "road map" to peace. Part of this alleged peace plan was a cease fire which was supposed to have taken place last August. I was in Palestine last August, and so long as I was not totally deluded by sunstroke, I can tell you that there was no cease-fire. How astonished I was then to return home and hear people who had been thousands of miles away tell me how fortunate I was to have been able to visit the Holy Land during such a placid period.
Even more unnerving was the endless talk amongst the liberals about how much hope they had for the revived peace process. Meanwhile, the only concrete results to issue from this "peace process" 1) that it made it easier for the credulous in America to sleep at night, and 2) it made it easier for the people of Israel to sleep at night. No more, no less.
Most impressive, though, has been the way in which the "superstructure" of capitalist America has failed to notice the one year anniversary of the killing of Rachel Corrie, or indeed notice that she was killed to begin with. The good American patriots have had nothing to say about the killing of "one of their own" by an unknown member of a foreign clan, forcing one to ask disconcertingly: is jingoism really gone for good?
After all, it was to protect a handful of helpless American medical students, we were told, that the United States military felt compelled to invade the imposing Caribbean nation of Grenada, who at the time was supposedly colluding with Cuba to launch an aerial assault on Miami.
Likewise, it was to head off a Sandinista sponsored invasion of San-Antonio that the Reagan Administration financed a scorched earth proxy war in Nicaragua. It was to preempt the incineration of Manhattan that the heroic battle of Nassiriyah took place…
And, in a display of clairvoyance that only a conspiracy nut would mistake for prior knowledge, the Pentagon recently dispatched a squadron of American Marines to Haiti to protect a handful of already well guarded diplomats from a frenzied mob of dark skinned slum dwellers. If they hadn't, we were told, the defenseless peninsula state of Florida would have experienced a "blackout" of cataclysmic proportions. For if the year 2000 taught us anything, it was just how restive large numbers of black people can be when they suspect that they've been burnt by the torch of "democracy."
To answer my own question, no, jingoism is doing fine.
The point is that had Rachel Corrie's killing squared nicely with some higher propagandistic end, her name would be a national security cliché by now. But then noticing that this didn't happen is another of way recognizing that it never would.
Yet, considered obliquely Rachel's killing is significant for a less obvious but more than compelling reason, regardless of whether or not this reason is initially apparent to all: the killing of Rachel Corrie gives the lie to one of the most cynical and most successful propaganda axioms of modern history, namely, that the United States has been bleeding itself dry trying to impose peace on a skeptical Israel and on an untrustworthy and intransigent Palestine.
If this axiom were as solid as most politicians and pundits believe it to be, or pretend it to be, then Rachel Corrie would be just as much of a martyr in the United States as she is in Palestine.
Instead, she gets clumsily composed vitriol such as that printed on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal by Ruhama Shattan, in which Ms. Shattan blames Rachel Corrie for the bombing death of the State Department officials that occurred in Gaza last October. The officials killed were supposedly on site to interview potential candidates for the Fulbright scholarship.
Ms. Shattam is apparently so distressed by this that she laments, "There will be no new crop of Palestinian Fulbright Scholars this year," implying that she is a desperately committed proponent of higher education for young Palestinians.
If this were the case, then, by induction, Shattam would have written instead a column condemning the erection of Israel's Apartheid Barrier, which by itself threatens to prevent millions of young Palestinians from receiving a remedial education by making it impossible for them to complete even the commute to school.
What makes the appearance of this editorial so remarkable isn't the disingenuousness of its author. Rather, it's that this same piece of slanderous sludge was published in the Jerusalem Post a short while ago, and was thought to be so repulsive that even an official from the American embassy in Tel Aviv, Paul Patin, said so in a letter to the editor.
Sir, - I want to pass on the US Embassy's reaction to the article "A 'tribute' to Rachel Corrie" (March 2). This article is nothing less than hateful incitement. The author's disgusting abuse of the anniversary of the death of this American citizen is inexcusable. The article reflects a level of discourse unbefitting any serious newspaper.
We're disappointed that you chose to publish this article.
Not only did the editors of The Wall Street Journal choose to publish a column so vile and so vituperative that the American embassy in Israel- not known for its equanimity when it comes to choosing sides in this conflict- felt obliged to protest, but they also colluded in Ms. Shattan's subterfuge by prefacing her piece with a short "editor's note" that reads:
On March 16, 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie died in a bulldozer accident [my emphasis] in the Gaza town of Rafah.
Died in a bulldozer accident? Are we to believe that she was killed while installing a swimming pool?
The only party claiming that Ms. Corrie's death was accidental is the Israeli government. But then they also maintained that the house Rachel Corrie was protecting was part of an underground gun smuggling operation, a claim which was dispelled upon inspection after the house was destroyed and no tunnels were discovered traveling beneath it.
Of course, the casuist would respond, "But how would the army have known there were no tunnels unless they destroyed the house?" But then casuists always try and justify the unjust after the fact.
But why not just admit that, yes, there were indeed tunnels in Rafah. And they were being used to smuggle aid to the Palestinian guerillas- aid to which they are entitled. But, as was noted by former Israeli Colonel, now retired, Yom Tov Samya, the practice of home demolitions in Rafah is not the ancillary effect of a much broader military mission to discover and destroy the underground catacombs of the village. Rather, the demolishing of homes, he says, is commissioned so that Israel can plough out of rubble the border it would like to establish (and is establishing) with Egypt.
"The IDF has to knock down all the houses along a strip of 300 to 400 meters. It doesn't matter what the future settlement will be, this will be the border with Egypt."
But, to be sure, The Wall Street Journal is staffed by journalists, and journalists, be it out of laziness or out of licentiousness, rarely if ever, tell the truth. So it is no surprise that this unpleasant fact- that the Israeli military destroys homes and levels neighborhood as a matter of policy- has yet to be absorbed by a newspaper as widely read and respected as The Wall Street Journal. But then only the superstitious would expect otherwise.
Not that the liberal flank of the media is any less mendacious. I was told by someone closely connected to these affairs, that after agreeing to publish an op-ed by Cindy Corrie, The New York Times insisted that it contain some sentences about tunnels, and Mrs. Corrie was opposed. In other words, the Times wasn't comfortable printing the piece without it including the suggestion that although the Israeli's may have done something "bad" in killing Rachel, they did so accidentally while attempting to carry on with a policy that was otherwise perfectly permissible.
This is the same as a defense attorney arguing that his client, the arsonist, is innocent of murder because he only meant to burn down the house and not kill the owner sleeping inside.
This line of defense- if the Times in fact intended it as a defense, which it wouldn't be egregious to suspect that they did- is in fact no defense at all. Rather, apart from not only failing to mitigate the accusation of murder, it, on the contrary, serves to aggravate it.
And if it is true, as I have been told it is, that Mrs. Corrie declined the invitation to join in the insidious campaign of innuendo directed against her beloved daughter, who, I wonder, aside from the Jerusalem Post and The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times, could blame her?
In an effort to uproot whatever illusions I may have sown, let me say that I don't expect to see any serious investigation undertaken into the murder of Rachel Corrie by any arm of the Executive Branch any time soon. Nor, correspondingly, do I anticipate the Congress to act with any great haste to rescue the Rachel Corrie resolution from stagnation. Thus far the resolution introduced by Congressman Brian Baird (H Con Res 111) calling for an investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie has done nothing but languish in a somnambulist House of Representatives.
I spoke with Congressman Baird's press secretary, Mr. Matthew Beck, (I was told that Mr. Baird was unavailable for an interview, both now and in the foreseeable future) who, while assuring me that Baird has been a stalwart on behalf of the Corrie family- a dubious claim- explained to me that unfortunately, due to the entrenched opposition of Tom Lantos and others, the resolution has gone nowhere.
I attempted to provide the Congressman and his dutiful staff a way out of this supposedly insuperable impasse by suggesting to his aide that in the meantime Mr. Baird might want to visit Rafah and do some fact-finding of his own. Such initiative is not without precedent, I reminded him. I instanced the example of the late Congressman Joseph Moakley. Moakley, under the influence of a suspicion that the Pentagon-then headed by Dick Cheney- was obstructing the investigation into the murder of six Jesuit priests by the American backed regime in El Salvador, traveled to that hemispheric heart of darkness and elicited from the killers the admission that when they shot to kill, they did so only after being issued the order from on high.
And, concretely, the words "on high" describe the camarilla of military compradors groomed and trained at the School of the Americas, in Fort Benning, Georgia.
American military aid to the regime was subsequently arrested and the Congress, at the behest of then Speaker of the House Tom Foley, convened a full inquiry into the atrocities committed by Washington's clients. (The civil war was formally ended in 1992, though, the class war that birthed it, has continued unabated)
Mr. Beck did not respond well to my suggestion, if only because he didn't respond at all. At one point I actually thought the phone line may have been disconnected, or that maybe some other extraneous interference had rendered him mute.
"I thought I lost you."
"No, I'm here."
"Well, does Mr. Baird have any plans to do that?"
"To do what?"
"To travel to Gaza and investigate, like Joe Moakley did in El Salvador?"
"What does he [Congressman Baird] think happened to Rachel Corrie? Does he think her death was deliberate, as all the eyewitnesses present at the time have testified?"
"He'd like more clarification."
When I asked if the Congressman had read the affidavits filed by the witnesses, his response was that he, and presumably the Congressman, was unaware that there were any affidavits.
When I asked if the Congressman received any money from AIPAC, he explained to me that fundraising did not fall under his purview.
It turns out that Baird has not received any money from AIPAC, but has received a pithy $1, 454 from the National Jewish Democratic Council. No crime in this, and certainly not an amount of money large enough to induce a politician to adopt a particular position on a matter of policy. However, it is worth noting that on its website, the NJDC condemns former Representative Cynthia McKinney for stating that Jewish members of congress have a conflict of interest when it comes to voting on Israel. Then, on the same page, there is posted an article criticizing Ralph Nader for his support for the Palestinian right of return in which it is mentioned that Nader is "a first generation Lebanese American who speaks fluent Arabic…"
Alas, the hypocrite is never shy in showing his wares.
Guilt in the fact of Murder
As I write, the people of Gaza are erupting in anger. Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the "spiritual" leader of Hamas, was assasinated in a missile attack personally supervised by Ariel Sharon. The Palestinian Authority has decried the assassination as deplorable and incendiary, while the Palestinian people have vowed a campaign of revenge the likes of which no Israeli government has ever seen. In an unprecedented move, spokesmen for Hamas have called on Islamic militias throughout the world to attack Israel and America as a retaliatory measure.
I recall a conversation I had late one evening with a Palestinian man named Saleeh. He and I were sitting atop his roof in the West Bank village of Jayyous, sipping tea and chain smoking cigarettes, laughing profusely about something I am now unable to recall. Saleeh had a good laugh. At night, my apartment would become unbearably hot and the hordes of the most vicious mosquitoes would come pouring in. I explained my ordeal to Saleeh, and he suggested that I sleep with him on his roof, where there was a nice breeze and where the mosquitoes never flew.
As I was saying, one night we were sipping tea and smoking Imperial cigarettes, and I heard the sound of a helicopter in the distance. Due to the darkness I couldn't see it, but it sounded as if it was coming closer and closer. "Apache", Saleeh murmured.
I chuckled guiltily. "My father's company makes those you know," I said. "Really?" asked Saleeh.
Saleeh inhaled a drag of his cigarette and held the smoke in his mouth. Maybe he was thinking about my father making Apache helicopters. Maybe he was thinking about someone else's father who was killed by one. I don't know. A concerned frown then fell upon his face, and he looked at me, exhaling the smoke from his cigarette, and said, "You know if things don't get better for us here, I fear what will happen to America. I fear that."
So did Rachel, and that is what the Patriots will never understand.
Michael Dempsey, 23, is a staff writer for The Raw Story, contributor to Justice(the newspaper of Socalist Alternative), and member of Boston to Palestine. He can be reached here: firstname.lastname@example.org.