Monday, February 16, 2009

The Journals of Rachel Corrie: First-Hand View of Gaza Violence

oh rafah. aching rafah.
aching of refugees
aching of tumbled houses
bicycles severed from tank-warped tires
and aching of bullet-riddled homes
all homes worm-eaten by bullets and then
impregnated through bullet holes by birds.
... from a poem by Rachel Corrie

Over at the Feministing blog, they've got a fabulous feature called "Not Oprah's Book Club," where Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie was recently covered. After that recommendation, I knew I'd have to read it because Rachel Corrie was a humanitarian and environmentalist activist who was killed by the Israeli military in Gaza. I knew she'd be the kind of person I would have loved and I was totally right.

Reading Rachel's collected journal entries, poems, letters and e-mails, I felt even more plainly how much I would have loved this woman. Like me, she knew she wanted to be a writer at a young age and it forms the way we view the world. We have similar values and she writes so beautifully about even things that are tearing her apart.

The Journals covers her personal growth through elementary and high school on into college. It also covers two trips she took outside of the US, once to Russia and once to Brazil, before she went to Gaza to try and stop the tanks there. The final half of the book focuses more on war and tragedy, specifically on the events of 9/11, the beginning of the Iraq war and the ongoing conflict in Gaza.

It was extremely difficult for me to read her thoughts and feelings about 9/11 and the Iraq war because they so closely mirrored how I felt then and that is still an ache that has yet to heal in my heart (and I don't know why or how so it's no good asking right now). It was a relief when she started to focus instead on Gaza although her description of being immersed in a war zone is powerful and saddening. I'm going to leave you with her words and the sources she suggested as ways to find out more about this ongoing situation:

February 7, 2003
I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what's going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury. I don't know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls and the towers of an occupying army surveying them constantly from the near horizons. I think, although I'm not entirely sure, that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere. An eight-year-old was shot and killed by an Israeli tank two days before I got here [note: Rachel was killed by the Israeli military just over one month after this email was written], and many of the children murmur his name to me: Ali-or point at the posters of him on the walls.
I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing, and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it- and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown. I have a home. I am allowed to go see the ocean [note: the ocean is off-limits to Gaza residents]. Ostensibly, it is still quite difficult for me to be held for months or years on end without a trial (this is because I am a white U.S. citizen, as opposed to so many others)...

As an afterthought to all this rambling -- I am in Rafah: a city of about 140,000 people, approximately sixty percent of whom are refugees - many of whom are twice or three times refugees. Rafa existed prior to 1948, but most of the people here are people-or descendants of people-who were relocated here from their homes in historic Palestine - now Israel.
Today as I walked on top of the rubble where homes once stood, Egyptian soldiers called to me from the other side of the border: "Go! Go!" because a tank was coming. And then waving and "What's your name?" Something disturbing about this friendly curiosity. It reminded me of how much, to some degree, we are all kids curious about other kids. Egyptian kids shouting at strange women wandering into the paths of tanks. Palestinian kids shot from the tanks when they peek out from behind walls to see what's going on. International kids standing in front of tanks with banners. Israeli kids in the tanks anonymously - occasionally shouting - and also occasionally waving - many forced to be here, many just aggressive - shooting into the houses as we wander away.
I've been having trouble accessing news about the outside world here, but I hear an escalation of war in Iraq is inevitable. There is a great deal of concern here about the "reoccupation of Gaza." Gaza is reoccupied every day to various extents - but I think there fear is that the tanks will enter all the streets and remain here - instead of entering some of the streets and then withdrawing after some hours or days to observe and shoot from the edges of the communities. I went to a rally a few days ago in Khan Younis in solidarity with the people of Iraq. many analogies were made about the continuing suffering of the Palestine people under Israeli occupation and the upcoming occupation of Iraq by the United States - not the war itself - but the certain aftermath of the war. If people aren't already thinking about the consequences of this war for the people of the entire region, then I hope they will start.
I want to suggest a few resources for people who may be new to the issue-or who are solely reliant on the US media-everything always of course through the lens of critical thought:
  • - This is the website of the International Solidarity Movement.
  • - Website of a daily English-language Egyptian newspaper
  • - The Middle East Report
  • - Palestinian-produced website provides thorough accounting of the impact of occupation on the people of Palestine
Related posts:
Just Pull Out
Planet, Not Politics
Human Rights are Meaningless in America

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1 comment:

Stacey K said...

I am going to have to read this one.