The Paw Print
From an early age a profound sense of justice personified the essential characteristics of Rachel Corrie’s life. Her willingness to question the statuesque and capitalist elite lead her to a continual state of social action and awareness. With a traveler’s soul, Corrie continually confronted the boundaries of what it meant to be an activist, guiding her to international solidarity work. Corrie’s struggle represents a unique but familiar dichotomy for white American activists, how to effectively use the immense privilege afforded to them while working to break the bonds of social and class oppression that this very privilege fosters.
Bringing Corrie’s story to life, Assistant Professor of Theatre Jenna Neilsen, performed a one woman show chronicling Corrie’s quest from local Washington State activist to an international solidarity leader in the Gaza strip. Neilsen displayed the simplistic yet intricate passions of the college aged Rachel Corrie by using first hand documents form the Corrie family and letters from Corrie to her mother.
In the context of the play, Corrie has arrived at a decisive point in her activism. Reaching an epiphany through her somewhat successful local activist work, she understands that in order to make an impactful change in favor of social justice she must engage with those who experience the brute force of oppression of powerful governments and corporations first hand. Her decision to leave Washington for Palestine marks her transformation from a mere activist to a revolutionary. She grew into someone who was willing to struggle alongside the oppressed and marginalized, using non-violent and civil disobedience tactics to achieve basic goals of human rights. The immense passion and solidarity that she felt for oppressed peoples not only in Palestine but throughout the world galvanized her influential role in the human rights struggle.
Upon arriving at the occupied territories in Gaza, Corrie began to work for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) helping organize house and water well defense actions. While in Gaza, Corrie’s scope of international politics was sharpened. She described the overwhelming power of the Israeli Military and government, who with the support of the US has systematically destroyed Palestinian land and livelihood.
On March 16, 2003 Corrie did what she did every day in Palestine; struggle for a just and sustainable future, but her struggle that day would be transformed into something that she could have not imagined. While defending a Palestinian home that was being bulldozed by the Israeli Military, she was crushed and died from her injuries a short time later. Much controversy surrounds her death, the official stance of the Israeli Military is that Corrie was in a “dangerous war zone” and should have not been there, basically denying any responsibility for her death. However, eyewitness accounts blame the bulldozer driver for not stopping, claiming he could clearly see Corrie in front of the bulldozer but chose not to stop.
The play examined some of the key issues of the Palestine, Israeli Conflict, namely the use of violence in name of self-defense and the Zionist movement of conservative Israel. Drawing from the diaries of Corrie, Neilsen explains the power of the Israeli military compared to the practically non-existent Hamas rebel movement. Hamas fighters have outdated weapons and the Israeli Military, who is funded by the only superpower in the world, has the fourth largest Military in the world. Essentially, Hamas is no match militarily for the Israelis. Therefore, the use of violence by Hamas against the Israeli Military is expected and should not be considered something wrong or terroristic, but rather an act of self-defense against a foreign aggressor.
The play also shined light on Zionism and the Israeli people, explaining that in fact the Zionist government of Israel is quite different from the Israeli people. Many Israelis, especially students are against the illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and participate in actions in order to bring attention to the occupation.
Despite the reasons for Corrie’s death, the legacy she leaves the world especially those in America is one of self-discovery and the responsibility to make the world we live in a better place. Through her own self-discovery, Corrie found her passion for justice which moved her to act in a revolutionary manner. She understood the world has it was in order to change it to what it should be, which is something that all engaged peoples of the world should take to heart. Ultimately, Corrie’s death is just one of countless that have occurred during the prolonged occupation of Palestine, which is bound to continue in vain unless the future generations decide to make collective change.