“You shall neither wrong a stranger, nor oppress him: for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21
Nine years ago, a friend of mine who I attended elementary school with decided to take a semester off of college to travel to Israel-Palestine. I knew little about what was going on in this region. Quite honestly, I avoided the topic. I knew that it was complex and controversial, and I had never found the time or energy to try to understand it. It seemed confusing, and so far away.
My friend had taken the previous semester to learn about the conflict there, and she was moved to connect more personally by visiting, and finding some ways to help as an international. While visiting, she stayed with Palestinian host families in Rafah, including a local pharmacist and his family. My friend spent time getting to know children in the area, and was deeply distressed by the conditions they lived in, under Israeli occupation. She began planning to set up long-term humanitarian and peace work with the community where she was staying. She also felt called to nonviolent civil disobedience to disrupt the violence and oppression she was witnessing.
During her visit, the pharmacist’s home came under threat of demolition. The Israeli military was demolishing much of the area, and international activists were participating in actions attempting to disrupt the demolitions of wells and family homes. On March 16, 2003, my friend took part in one of these actions, standing in the way of a bulldozer, in front of her host family’s home. Tragically, the bulldozer operator did not stop, and my friend was crushed beneath the machine and killed.
My friend was Rachel Corrie, and her death changed my life and the lives of many other people I know. After her death, Israel was no longer just a “current events” issue to me. It became urgent. I wanted to understand what had moved my friend to such dangerous action. I am sorry that it took the life of my friend to make me willing to learn and understand this conflict. As Christians and Quakers, it should not require a personal friend’s death to call us to understand the complicated, controversial concerns of peace and justice in the world. It is so easy for us to see our friend’s concerns, but so often hard to remember the stranger’s concerns. Rachel’s death reminded me that my life is intertwined with every other life on this planet.
It is nine years later, but oppression continues in Israel-Palestine, no less urgently. Human lives, no less precious than my friend’s, are daily casualties. Two weeks ago, an Israeli court ruled that the military had no responsibility for Rachel’s death. The judge stated, “The deceased had put herself in a dangerous situation. The death was caused by an accident that the deceased brought upon herself, despite all the attempts of the IDF force to distance her and her friends from the place.”
After the verdict, a reporter asked Cindy Corrie if her daughter should have moved out of the area, as the judge suggested. She said, “I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her.”
Contributed by Jade Souza, Reedwood Friends