My favourite writer got crushed by an Israeli bulldozer

A true hero – Rachel Corrie

It’s easy to hate the Israeli state. They do bad stuff and don’t even give enough of a shit to  create coherent excuses.

The Israeli state is like the little brother in year seven whose bigger brother is in year eleven and is Mike Tyson. They aren’t that hard, but they can do whatever they like and get away with it.

It’s such an obvious, acknowledged truth that very few people bother to point it out, or pay attention.

I rarely pay attention. I’m too busy being incredibly witty and ironic to worry about Israel. And in any case, the kind of people who worry about Israel have nothing better to do than worry about stuff they can’t change.

I certainly wasn’t paying attention when Rachel Corrie was crushed to death in 2003 at the age of 23 by an Israeli bulldozer when she tried to stop it destroying a Palestinian home.

I wouldn’t have paid attention at all, but it turned out that Rachel Corrie, in writings which amout to a few diary notes and emails home to her parents in Washington state, was one of the most brilliant, funny, honest and idealistic writers I have ever come across.

Her story was told in a play produced by the Royal Court theatre, which I had the privilege to see a few years back. Remarkably, it was almost entirely produced from her own writing.

Here is a sample:

When we graduated fifth grade we had a list of questions for our yearbook. One of them was, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Everyone wrote something like ‘doctor’ or ‘astronaut’ or ‘Spiderman’ and then you turned the page and there was my five-page manifesto on the million things I wanted to be, from wandering poet to first woman president. That was real cute in fifth grade but when it’s ten years later, I’m a junior in college, and I still don’t have the conviction to cross Spiderman off my list – well, you can imagine it gets a little nerve-wracking.

This is a woman who was so aware of her own ridiculousness that she could inherently spot the ridiculousness in others, such as the Israeli state. So when she learnt, with horror, about the type of stuff that was going on in Gaza and the West Bank at the turn of the century, she didn’t just sit back and take comfort in her small-town environment in the US. She tried to raise awareness locally; and, when that wasn’t enough for her, she went over there to bear witness. And when she does so in her writing it is with the same humanity and candour as Vasily Grossman at the Battle of Stalingrad.

Diary entry:

7th February 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. I don’t know if many of the children here have ever existed without tank-shell holes in their walls. I think that even the smallest of these children understand that life is not like this everywhere.

They love to get me to practice my limited Arabic. Today I tried to learn to say ‘Bush is a tool’, but I don’t think it translated quite right. But, anyway, there are eight-year-olds here more aware of the workings of the global power structure than I was just a few years ago – at least regarding Israel.

A month later, her somewhat jolly descriptions have turned inescapably darker. The place has changed her and, perhaps, she foresees an endgame.

An email from March:


I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers outside our house, and you and me inside. Sometimes the adrenaline acts as an anaesthetic for weeks – and then at night it just hits me again a little bit of the reality of the situation.

I am really scared for the people here. Yesterday I watched a father lead his two tiny children holding his hand out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers because he thought his house was going to be exploded.

Of course, that endgame was played out and Rachel Corrie was killed. And then it was the role of her parents – those parents who she had bullied and cajoled into becoming more aware – to take up her fight.

Her writings were shared and turned into a show – a  show that was sold out night after night. And beyond this, they set up a foundation in their daughter’s name to carry on her work.

Today, Rachel’s parents were in an Israel court where – surprise, surprise – it was found that the Israeli state was in no way responsible for her death.

In their public statements, Cindy and Craig expressed their dismay that all of their carefully compiled evidence had come to nothing. But perhaps, just like their daughter, they were aware enough to understand that this was the only possible result considering who was making the judgement. And, knowing this, they thought it was still worth it to claim some headlines and raise awareness of the injustices of the Israeli state, and to wake up a few self-satisfied people out of their slumber.