addressing the Peace and Justice conference. Note the batik hangings,
which feature anti-globalization images.Naomi Klein addressing the
Peace and Justice conference. Note the batik hangings, which feature
anti-globalization images.Naomi Klein addressing the Peace and Justice
conference. Note the batik hangings, which feature anti-globalization
FOSTERING ALTERNATIVES TO VIOLENCE
Annual Conference of the
Peace and Justice Studies Association [PJSA] October 9-12 in Olympia,
The Evergreen State College [TESC]. The mission of the PJSA is
promotion of peace studies for all ages – from pre-kindergarten to
university level and beyond. Their work is based on forging alliances
between peace practitioners, participating in wider activities of
“education, research and action” and discovering “innovative solutions to
violence whether it manifests itself in our home, schools, streets and/or
The title of
the event, “Fostering Alternatives to Violence,” was deeply felt by the
participants whose talk frequently turned to the post-September 11th world,
the Bush administration and the conflicts in Iraq and the Occupied
Territories [OT]. International educators, students, artists and activists
joined to discuss progress and problems within the movement, challenges in
politics and policy and the rampant resurgence of war and militarism.
REMEMBERING RACHEL CORRIE
subject on many minds was the legacy of
Rachel Aliene Corrie, the Olympia native crushed to death in Rafah in
Occupied Gaza on March 16th. Her influence was undeniable, her spirit never
far away as she was talked about, given tribute to and physically present as
her parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, joined in several events.
conference organizers and participants had personally known or worked with
Rachel and had been touched by her. Rachel’s name and image was invoked out
of a collective pride and grief that was homegrown as opposed to the
government and media manufactured story of Jessica Lynch.
LIVE FROM RAFAH
There was a
direct physical connection to the city of Rafah as well during the
conference. Over the weekend, the Israeli Defence Forces [IDF] raided Rafah
with 80 tanks along with armored bulldozers and Apache gun ships. In a
disproportionate show of force codenamed Operation Root Canal, the military
sealed Rafah off in all directions, initiating strict curfew while
commandeering and illegally demolishing over 100 Palestinian homes.
News of the
incursion and the subsequent destruction filtered throughout the conference.
Saturday afternoon, during the speech by Naomi Klein, Craig Corrie and Emma
Pearlman [of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project [ORSCP]] were in the PJSA
offices live on the phone with friends in Rafah. Dr. Simona Sharoni,
Executive Director of the PJSA, interrupting the conference, said “These
things happen all of the time – they just don’t happen as we are gathered
and in near real time as we get eyewitness reports.”
shaken as he updated the audience with news of the devastation. He had been
in Rafah just weeks before when the Corries had visited Israel and the OT to
learn more about Rachel’s experiences.
spoke of hearing the fear in his new Palestinian friend’s voice, a man he
said was not easily upset. Craig described the unending sound of the bullets
in the background of their conversation. He also sadly informed the audience
that Raja Salah Omer, the medic who had taken Rachel to the hospital, had
come under fire and was seriously injured. They had also befriended this man
in their travels.
of the difficulty obtaining medical help for the injured; they were not
being allowed to leave Rafah under any circumstances and there weren’t
adequate resources to care for them. Emma reported on the lack of
electricity and water and that
ISM international Laura Gordon was attempting work to get water and
OLYMPIA’S SISTER CITY
Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project, envisioned by Rachel Corrie, has fast
become a reality because of the hard work of a small group of dedicated
residents. The mission of the project is to ‘actively promote and foster
friendships between the people of Olympia, Washington, and Rafah, Palestine,
for the purpose of strengthening cross-cultural awareness and understanding,
international cooperation, justice and peace.’
The point of
ORSCP is to make the conflict human, intimate, not just a foreign policy in
a distant land. This person-to-person activism is key to raising awareness
in the United States of the situation in Palestine, as the picture from the
people on the ground is quite at odds with portrayal of the situation by the
BLOOD IS BLINDING
Naomi Klein, author of
No Logo and
Fences and Windows: Dispatches From the Front Line in the Globalization
Debate received a standing ovation for her talk on the privatization of
Iraq. Speaking to Olympia directly, Ms. Klein spoke of Rachel Corrie and
her popularity in Argentina, where Ms. Klein has been on location working on
a film project. She said that the people there consider Rachel to be a
‘hero’ and ‘a martyr of the movement.’
on Rachel to illustrate her point that activists should try to ‘not be
blinded by the blood’ because ‘blood is blinding.’ Ms. Klein explained that
we must not forget the fundamentals, the ‘softer’ issues and root causes.
in Gaza to protest the brutality of the occupation but two of her goals were
protecting the water supply and building a pen pal program between the
children of Rafah and Olympia. She did not completely turn from the mental
and physical traumas of war, after all, she died on the front line. The
point was that she was also interested in the less sensationalistic stories
of connecting children and economic domination.
DISPATCHES: THE KILLING ZONE
Dispatches: The Killing Zone films the aftermath of Rachel’s killing,
the subsequent injury to ISM peacemaker Tom Hurndall and the murder of
British cameraman James Miller all by the IDF. This documentary is rarely
shown in the US but has gained grass roots person-to-person distribution in
the Northwest. This showing was special as it was hosted by Rachel Corrie’s
parents along with Will Hewitt, an Olympian who was on the ground with
Rachel in Rafah. Emma Pearlman also gave photo presentations of her recent
trip, which occurred during the relative peace of the hudna.
Zone is haunting and disturbing work that doesn’t flinch in showing the
trauma of war. The intimacy is unsparing as you watch a Palestinian girl
awake from unconsciousness to find out she is blind or the tension in the
hospital as Tom Hurndall’s friends fight to get him the medical care that
might save his life. The ambulance wants a written guarantee from the
British embassy that it will not be fired on, the medics fear risking their
lives for a patient whose brain is exposed and is not likely to live.
scenes the sound of the gunfire in the background of the interviews is like
popcorn, relentless, persistent. Reporter Sandra Jordan comes under fire and
tear gas while shooting Rachel Corrie’s memorial and, while visiting a
school, a tank shell blast is felt. She was at the school to investigate
the death of a girl who the IDF recently shot in the head as she sat at her
desk. Her mother shows Sandra the bullet hole in the girl’s bloodied
interviews an IDF spokeswoman who suggests Rachel Corrie was killed by a
falling slab of concrete and it is shocking to hear such a blatant lie. The
explanations for other deadly events are just as at odds with eyewitness
accounts as this one. ‘People get in the line of bullets.’
CORRIES THREATENED IN RAFAH
In his talk
before the film, Will Hewitt stressed to the audience that this conflict
should not be viewed as a distant affair that holds little concern for
Americans but that this occupation is being made possible only because of
American aid. He made note of the economic benefits that accrue to US
companies that supply the IDF with weapons and technology that are used
daily against Palestinians.
film, Craig Corrie reiterated that connection, expressing dismay that
despite his tax dollars funding Israel, the Corries were stonewalled by
their own government as they pressed for truth and justice on Rachel’s
behalf. He noted that individuals he had met had shown them “much respect”
and had been quite “sympathetic, but powerless” to help, they did not have
the authority or resources to take further legal or diplomatic action. He
has not yet received a full, unedited report on Rachel’s death and,
furthermore, he has found “problems with sourcing and inaccuracies” in the
materials he has reviewed.
their trip to Israel and the OT he spoke of the people who took a ‘career
risk at the State Department to get them in.’ Craig said that they received
‘incredible privilege’ on their journey and that they had direct phone
numbers for officials in the IDF. Incredibly, despite this special
treatment, while visiting the house Rachel was saving from demolition,
bulldozers and armored personal carriers approached the home and stationed
themselves nearby in a threatening manner for the duration of the Corrie’s
attendees also received an update on the medical status of Tom Hurndall. He
has never regained consciousness and his parents plan to remove him from
life support in the near future. They have promised to keep the community
informed and plan for international memorials to be held 48 hours after his
Wall of photos at
the memorial for Rachel Corrie at The Evergreen State College.
memorial for Rachel Corrie
Evergreen State College.
reminder of Rachel Corrie is the room-sized memorial in a corner meeting
area in the Library Building on the TESC campus. This tribute is a shrine
for the community to show its love and respect and has evolved as visitors
add to it -- photos, writings, artworks, candles, origami peace doves.
donated photographs of Rachel from baby to punk rocker, dance diva to
teacher. Someone has made color copies of Rachel’s Palestinian sha’hiid
[martyr] posters. There is the news article when Rachel, as a 5th grade
schoolgirl, worked on a campaign for children’s rights and gave a
presentation before the Washington State legislature.
A copy of Rachel's
ambitions from the 5th grade. This list was read at her memorial
service in March. This was posted on the wall of photos at Rachel's
memorial space at The Evergreen State College.
Educational materials on Rachel, the occupation, ISM and ORSCP fill a
literature display rack. Fresh flowers are placed in several places. A dove
costume and other dove artwork and ephemera from the
Procession of the Species parade are displayed. Baskets hold papers
bearing messages to Rachel and there is a lovely blank book for visitors to
read and contribute to.
There is a
moving display of artwork done by local children on the first anniversary of
September 11th. Rachel had led the group in peace and tolerance
activities. Underneath this grouping of art is another group of pictures by
the same children, expressing their grief when they learned Rachel had died.
Girl writing in book
at memorial for Rachel Corrie at The Evergreen State College. Note the
display of memorabilia from the Procession of the Species, that is
Rachel in her dove costume from the first year the doves converged. Also
note the copy of one of Rachel's Palestinian martyr's posters in the
center of photograph.
poster of Rachel Corrie at the Evergreen State College memorial.
LIVE FROM PALESTINE
An author’s reception included Laurieann
Aladin, editor of the book
Live From Palestine: International and Palestinian Direct Action Against the
Israeli Occupation a collection of essays containing first person
accounts of life in the war zone. This book contains a selection by Rachel
Corrie, other notable contributors include Noam Chomsky, electronic
intifada’s Arjan el Fassad and Ali Abunimah, and scholar Edward W. Said.
WHEELS OF JUSTICE
night there was a tribute to “our beloved community activist” that featured
members of ORSCP, ISM Olympia and the
Wheels of Justice [WOJ] national bus tour.
mission is “to build upon and reassert the massive domestic opposition to
the war in Iraq and the occupation of the Palestinians” and do “education,
outreach, nonviolence/action training, active resistance and
community-building.” The tour includes members from ISM, Voices in the
Wilderness, Palestine Right to Return Coalition and the Middle East
Olympians present from ORSCP/ISM had all traveled to the Israel/OT in 2003
and have been eager to share their experience with their community in words,
works and art.
The Wheels of
Justice tour bus.
Pearlman and Mr. Hewitt were joined by Lucas Claussen and Sam Tsohonis, who
was shot in the leg by the IDF on July 28th while protesting the apartheid
wall near Anin, West Bank, OT. Sam is an artist/activist who was deeply
inspired by Rachel Corrie and sought financial backing from the community to
enable his travels. In recent months Olympia has contributed moral support
and travel expenses and for several ISM volunteers.
OUR SISTER CITY IS BEING INVADED
to the conference, quickly organized by ORSCP in two days, was a six-hour
convergence on October 14th in downtown Olympia to protest the invasion of
Rafah. The goal of the event was education and outreach and was, by many
measures, quite successful. The next day the Olympian newspaper gave the
event front page, above the fold coverage, the headline reading “Standing
With a City Under Siege.”
banner read “Olympia’s
Sister City is Under Attack” and other signs stressed the effects of the
illegal home demolitions, the 1500 left homeless and the funding of these
abuses by US tax dollars. Thousands of cars passed by, those expressing
support far outnumbered those who shouted criticism.
engaged in conversation with activists and took the materials the ORSCP
provided, including sets of troubling yet beautiful photographic postcards
explaining the project’s mission and work. The group gained at least
another sheet of names to add to their mailing list.
Rachel's mother, participating in a conference session.
and Cindy Corrie lent support, both speaking and standing in solidarity.
The Olympian quoted the Corries extensively in their article as they talked
about Rachel, human rights in Palestine, suicide bombers and US policy.
Craig again talked of being on the phone with friends, the bullets again
constant in the background, the Olympian reported, “The conversation left
Corrie feeling more powerless, but his friend felt a lift just knowing that
people in the United States were watching and paying attention.”
convergence was a genuine display of commitment and energy from the
activists who were willing to drop everything and take the time to really
care about the people in Rafah, to not be blinded by the blood.
another effort to not treat the conflict in abstract terms but to connect
with people as individuals as opposed to wartime statistics. This effort at
humanism works. This is why Olympia has grown such warm feelings for the
people in Rafah, Olympia visitors have all been met with great respect,
warmth and kindness when in Gaza so those feelings are returned to Rafah.
There is a
trust in the witness when she is a member of the community, the truth coming
from her mouth is more tangible, more valid than the truth in the typical
news cycle. Her words may not be agenda free, obviously she cares deeply
about her cause but she is earnest and, most importantly, she is not lying
about what she has seen. She can prove it with her photos. It makes the
pain of a house demolition a bit more real when you have even the smallest
personal connection, even secondary, to the occupants.
This is the
ultimate goal of all of the actions that were engaged in this week in
Olympia, to make a difference in world affairs, to be a part of the best of
what America can be, not the worst. In the first days after September 11th
there was tremendous good will expressed to the United States by the world
community. The Bush administration squandered that feeling, it is the now
the mission of the people in the US peace community to win it back by
letting the world know that they are awake, aware and taking action.
Wall of children's
artwork at the Rachel Corrie memorial at TESC. The art on the yellow
paper were done under Rachel's direction on the first anniversary of
September 11th and the art underneath is in response to her death.
is a writer/artist/activist who lives in Olympia, WA. She is from “back
east” and has written for many alternative presses and arts newspapers. Her
art has been found in galleries, museums, international collections and
sometimes on the street. She is currently home schooling for her PhD by
writing a book about trauma related illness and recovery.
Photographs and article
copyright 2003 candio. All rights reserved.