May 2004 Olympia, WA — One year after the murder of activist Rachel Corrie by the Israelis in Gaza, her local community has not forgotten her. Ms. Corrie continues to inspire and lead in Olympia, it may even be possible that she has become more powerful in death than in life. There is some solace in this ability to affect change postmortem, to have truly achieved martyr status, but it is an aching solace tinged with loss.At the same time, there is this harsh and parallel realization that Olympia has lost but one life to the Occupation. It is sobering and hard to truly imagine the sorrow of the Palestinians who have lost so many and so much. Each new report from Rafah breaks hearts here. For some in Olympia, Rachel and Rafah are forever entwined, inherent in thinking about and remembering Rachel is thinking about and remembering Rafah.
To think about Rafah requires one to learn about Rafah. It is a rough learning curve, but one of the most valuable gifts Rachel gave. Rachel Corrie has been a window into a reality that is far from Olympia — physically and psychologically. To become aware of the genocide in Rafah is to be repulsed, angered, shamed and moved to action to “just make it stop” as Rachel said in one of her last e-mails. “I don’t think it is an extremist thing to do anymore.”
Her intelligence and the way she was killed forces people to pay attention to what she was saying and whom she was speaking for. It is as if when Rachel died her soul exploded and shrapnel lodged in the hearts of her followers. An anonymous quote left at her memorial space says it well: “Rachel, I did not know you but you are my child and my best self. Thanks for living inside all of us….We can transform the world together.”
THE OLYMPIA RAFAH SISTER CITY PROJECT
Olympia residents dedicated to furthering her work locally and internationally have formed the Olympia Rafah Sister City Project [ORSCP] with the goal of establishing a long term alliance with Rafah, an objective of Ms. Corrie’s. ORSCP has also attracted hundreds of diverse supporters who are there for events, fundraising and general helping out. Rachel Corrie may have been the impetus, but at this point the ORSCP has gained momentum beyond Ms. Corrie.
The sister city relationship is not yet formally codified by the Olympia city government but there is hope that Olympia, with its strong progressive base, will be able to see through the politics to connect with Rafah. It is a partnership that could prove enriching for both cities, particularly for Americans, who are generally ignorant of Arab custom and culture.
ORSCP has had some successes in raising money, notably a Holiday Celebration, which generated nearly $10,000 — $4,000 of which was sent to Rafah for medical supplies. Small grants are also provided to delegations. Money has been set aside for a yet unnamed publication that will be heavy with cross cultural coverage. There are still many projects that remain unfunded and underdeveloped at this time, this is inherent for such an ambitious project that is only one year old.
CONNECTING WITH RAFAHDifficulties facing the project include the restriction on traveling to Israel and Gaza. Given that core problem, the ORSCP is forced to go much slower than it might were activists able to freely visit Rafah. Delegates have not given up, many have been doing their best to get there.
Rochelle Gause, an ORSCP founder, traveling with the Middle East Children’s Alliance [MECA], was allowed 6 hours in the entire Gaza Strip [two others from MECA were also randomly chosen to be allowed in, the rest waited — nervously — on the bus at the checkpoint]. She felt blessed and privileged to have made it down to Rafah, the experience meant a lot to her and will inform her work deeply.
Another activist, Neal Ahern, spent a month trying to get into Gaza/Rafah before shifting his attention to protesting the wall in Biddu.  Because of the current IDF closure in Rafah, it seems unlikely that the present delegates will make it in. It is unfortunate because they are leaders of ORSCP and are prepared to organize as effectively as possible while in Rafah. 
“VITAL SHARD OF EMPATHY”
One of the most difficult and dangerous ways to express Palestinian solidarity is to travel to the war zone. This decision is not easy, it is fueled by both deep feeling and deep thought. If there are any stereotypes about those that go it is that they are professional humans, they cannot just sit and watch, they must act, help, work. It is their way of using emotion productively. Action is empowering.
Many outside of the solidarity movement consider it ridiculous that delegates are willingly putting themselves into such a deadly situation. Some place full blame on Rachel Corrie for being there in the first place, and furthermore, for being so “stupid” as to stand in front of a bulldozer.
There is, of course, truth to abstinence, if you do not go to Gaza you will not die in Gaza. Fear obviously does keep many away, those who go are going despite their fear and that is an honest indicator of their passion for human rights.
These feelings are eloquently expressed by in a fundraising letter for the delegations written by Will Hewitt. Will was with Rachel when she died and stayed with her body as best as he could until she left for America. His stories are told in his powerful self published zine “This is the Life” which is also illustrated with artwork he did while in the Mideast.
“All of us planning to travel are friends of Rachel’s and are deeply inspired by her. For us, Olympia and Rafah are already inextricably linked. We believe we must go to Rafah in order to reclaim a fragment of our hearts, which remains in the torn earth near the rubble of Samir Nasserallah’s demolished house, where Rachel died. That vital shard of empathy which rests beyond the militarized occupation borders of Gaza is a seed which, if cultivated, can teach us that Americans, Israelis, Palestinians and all people live a common humanity which is ultimately far stronger and more enduring than the violence of armies.”
“TO RAFAH WE WILL GO”
The delegates are a remarkable group, all as courageous and committed to peace and justice as was Rachel Corrie. They are mostly in their twenties, many have gone to Olympia’s influential The Evergreen State College. They are seriously political and well educated in international affairs. They network intensively, take Arabic lessons in earnest and study Muslim culture so that they may show appropriate respect.
They raise money — for the most part they can’t “afford” this trip. They go with the support of the community, fiscally and emotionally. There is a strong base of people caring about the delegates before, during and after their trip. One young female delegate jokingly complained about being mothered by everybody, even those younger than her.
The delegates learn through word of mouth how to navigate the intricacies of traveling to Israel and Gaza. Since Rachel’s death, Israel has been increasingly restrictive about entry into the country. It is becoming very difficult to gain access, especially for non-Jewish activists or anyone who appears to be “pro-Palestinian” in any way. Because of this, delegates have to hide evidence of their intent and learn how to play the customs and checkpoint game so they can get in country.
A recent female delegate e-mailed, “My journey began under incredible scrutiny at the Newark airport. I was clearly being profiled by being young, female, traveling alone and not being Jewish. After being interrogated, searched and my bag checked for bombs, I was able to sit and wait for boarding… At the Israeli airport I was questioned 3 more times but thanks to…preparation all went well.” 
Some delegates take an “easier” and “safer” route by aligning with established relief agencies and avoiding direct action protesting. Other activists prefer to travel independently and engage in non-violent protest, especially against the wall. Being on their own, they have flexibility to follow or avoid the action, whichever is the smartest and safest choice at the time. Many still take ISM training to better cope with the situations they will encounter.
In the Middle East, principled Olympians have been shot at with both “rubber” bullets and live ammunition as well as gassed, assaulted and arrested by the Israeli Defence Forces [IDF]. Almost all have lived under fire. Incredibly, when Rachel Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy, visited the home Rachel died defending, they were harassed by IDF bulldozers and APC’s. Craig also dodged warning shots as he inspected IDF damage done to a friend’s home. 
REPORTBACKS TO THE HOMEFRONT
Delegates keep in contact with home through e-mail updates. Upon their return they are proactive about reporting back to both the Palestinian Solidarity community and to general audiences, including outreach to schools [a pursuit Rachel Corrie was fond of].
They describe multitudes of human rights violations both petty and egregious, the decimation and humiliation of an entire population and the role of the United States in supporting the occupation. The speakers also excel at confronting both Arab racism and anti-Semitism. Their mission is to educate and awaken Americans to the brutality of what is happening in our name.
They also speak of the warmth and respect with which they are met with when in Palestine. They tell of the people they meet and their dignity despite the never-ending violence. Many describe Palestinians as the “most generous people in the world.” The listener learns about checkpoints and the military, Palestinian customs and children, incursions and resistance — both violent and non.
At least 60 people attended the most recent event on May 13th at Traditions Cafe in downtown Olympia. It featured four activists reporting - Rochelle Gause and Tyson Lazzaro, Neal Ahern and Jacob Rosenblum. Rochelle and Tyson traveled with MECA, Jacob began his trip through Birthright Israel and then continued with ISM. Neal traveled independently before also linking up with ISM and Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights.
Firsthand testimony punctures many myths about the conflict that have been perpetrated by our government, the Israeli lobby and repeated by the U.S. media. Illusions of fairness are shattered as has the belief that our government will stand up for us if we are wronged by a foreign government. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it appears the Corrie family has been hung out to dry by the United States government.
A year past her death, it is appearing that no justice will be served for Rachel Corrie. There will be no FBI investigation or Congressional panel, no sanctions on the state of Israel whose policies allowed her murder, no punishment all the way down the line to the anonymous IDF soldier who bulldozed her body into the earth and then backed over her body again with the blade down.
This stings many in Olympia hard. It angers people. Still. Yet another unspoken “contract” with our government has been exploded. Had “terrorists” killed Rachel with such impunity, as visibly and brutally, the response of our leaders and media would have most likely been significantly different. With her “all-American” blonde beauty, she would have become a media fetish object and perhaps several thousands of pounds of bombs would have dropped in her name.
Instead, officially, nothing. From Bush or the media.  Not that Olympia wanted bombs dropped for her or CNN camped on the Corrie front lawn. The town is certainly glad craziness like that did not happen, it would have been more troubling than the non response. There remains dignity to her death because it has not been sensationalized or commercialized.
It is left to Rachel Corrie’s communities to celebrate her and give her the standing she deserves for her actions. Rachel belongs to many communities now — in Olympia she has a huge one, in Rafah, she is not forgotten, but what is remarkable and gratifying is the way she has made communities worldwide.
The Corrie family has collected an enormous amount of artwork done in tribute to Ms. Corrie. It has come from professionals, amateurs and those who do not consider themselves to be artists. It all comes from the heart. It sounds “corny,” but after viewing [and listening to] a large selection of work, the sincerity is remarkable. Some of the most moving [and sophisticated] images were those drawn by Palestinian children - again, “corny,” but true - the wisdom in their work is enobling.Another point of pride for Rachel Corrie is the sheer number of awards, citations and proclamations the Corrie’s have accepted on her behalf since she died. At the memorial on the one year anniversary of her death, the display of commemorations filled three long tables. Many different languages and symbols covered the plaques, medals and ribbons, notable was the gleaming Star of Bethlehem hung from a luxurious green ribbon. The medal was presented to the Corries by Yasser Arafat in a private meeting at his offices in Ramallah. 
It was humbling and empowering to stand before this tangible display of honor from Rachel’s international community. As a whole, the array is a confirmation of Rachel’s humanity and dedication to peace and justice, incredibly profound on an emotional level. In a way, this outpouring of respect and affection is somewhat of a counterweight for the painful negligence of the United States government.
FIGHTING THE SADNESS
Another way Olympia is moving past the sadness is to gather in celebration of Rachel. Grief is present but more as the undercurrent when Olympia comes together for fun and fellowship in her name. It isn’t always angst and protest. This was most apparent on April 24th when 60 doves gathered to march in Olympia’s 10th Annual Procession of the Species.The Procession is the quintessential Olympia event. It is the largest Earth Day celebration in the Northwest. This year approximately 3500 men, women and children marched in a parade wearing a gorgeous and impressive array of one of a kind handmade nature costumes.
In 2002 Rachel Corrie and Rochelle Gause had the idea that the parade needed a “troup of doves” to make visible the message of peace.  Ms. Gause comments, “the two of us met three times before we came up with the doves in the Procession idea and we both did lots of work to make it happen, meeting weekly for months. Although, in the end, she definitely spent more time in the studio than I did!”
Rachel and Rochelle, leaders and organizers, were able to gather 40 doves for the inaugural flight. Rachel wrote afterwards, “I think peace doves and cranes will happen again next year, and hopefully they’ll be a procession institution.”  Last year, only weeks after Rachel’s death, Rochelle oversaw 100 doves marching in what was a heavily bittersweet continuation of the tradition.
In 2004, ORSCP members organized another “troup” with Rachel in mind, again under Ms. Gause’s direction. A sad irony for Rochelle was that despite having spent hours preparing for the parade she was unable to attend due to traveling in the Mideast as part of an ORSCP delegation.
“OUR LOCAL MARTYR”
The doves have been formally given space at the Procession Community Art Studio and a mention in the calendar of events. The studio is a magical place, open for two months preceding the parade so that people have a place to make their costumes. For the past few years it has occupied an entire elementary school, it is hard to describe, a fantastical blend of creatures, creativity and collaboration.
Rachel Corrie used to spend a lot of time at the Community Art Studio and, of course, made a deep impression on those involved with the event who had many stories about her energy and thoughtfulness. One artist, Laura K., who taught Rachel paper mache, was blunt with her feelings, “They killed one of our artists!”
About the studio Rachel wrote, “I have misgivings about that place. It ate up a lot of my time being there. People were offering themselves as human shields in Palestine and I was spending all of my time making dove costumes and giant puppets.” Her regret and guilt however, were tempered by joy in creativity and she allowed herself to imagine a life where she did art like that all of the time.
Poster sized photographs of Rachel in her dove costume, snapshots turned iconic images, dominated the dove work area. She is forever smiling, happy and satisfied, Rachel has been able to both live and die her dream. Nearly every visitor to the art studio passed through the dove area and she drew attention to herself, beautiful and composed, she compelled people to talk about her.
For those eight weeks Rachel did outreach at the studio. Her story was told and told and told. People took time to read the prepared materials. It was interesting to overhear comments, most people at least had an idea of who Rachel was and what happened to her. Most got the details more or less right and that was good to hear.
Others, though, had misperceptions that were large, one woman, in hushed tones, asked, “Was it the terrorists?” The ORSCP member was able to clarify. Another comment was striking for its shorthand, “Oh, she’s just our local martyr.” It was said casually, not in any way sarcastic or mean, just matter of fact.
A BREAK IN THE RAIN
Rachel will now forever be a matron of the doves. She would have been pleased with this year’s flock of 60. It included her parents, Craig and Cindy, her sister Sarah and many of her friends. An Olympia City Councilman, TJ Johnson, marched with his family. There were many children, several rather young, joining their elders, some older than others.
Rachel would have been even more pleased to see how happy everyone was. The beauty of the day and the magic of the event combined for a joyous release after what has been a long tough year. The doves were smiling and having real fun, swooping and cooing. It was refreshing to see catharsis, it was needed - complete with applause and cheers from the biggest crowds ever. Like an Olympia sunbreak, hope shone through for the afternoon.
There is no doubt that Craig and Cindy needed the warmth of their community at this point. Their loss is exponential, their lives have taken turns in that past year that would have tested the strongest people. Throughout it all, they have maintained a public attitude of grace and gratitude and have been committed to following through with Rachel’s work. They have formed the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice and have traveled extensively worldwide to speak for Rachel and against the occupation.
The morning of the Species parade, the Corries had just arrived from the airport, where they led an April 23 STOPCAT demonstration at Caterpillar headquarters in Peoria. They had sent a letter to CEO James Owens requesting a meeting with him, but were, of course, turned down.  This protest however featured an action that must have been difficult for them to experience - a street theatre recreation of Rachel’s death featuring a large model bulldozer. 
It was in this context into which the doves flew, and it was this context that the doves offered relief and energy. The “sophomore” year past Rachel Corrie’s death will without a doubt prove challenging, especially given the brutal escalations on the ground in Palestine [and Iraq]. It appears things will get much worse before they get better.
It will take renewed strength to continue in the face of such reckless and relentless tragedy. Action, however, is one of the surest ways to heal, this is not a time to retreat in depressed and powerless defeat.
American citizens must demonstrate their personal commitment to human rights despite their government’s apparent disregard for them. If the people do not provide the counterbalance to the cruelty of United States policy, the country will be forever in peril. Activists in Olympia are not only working for Rachel and the Palestinians, but for themselves and their country. They are fighting the real war on terror.
candio., a journalist, artist and activist living in Olympia, has spent the past year covering Rachel Corrie and the local Palestinian solidarity movement. She has done art and written for 25 years and has had work both on the street and in the museum.
1. “I’m witnessing this chronic, insidious genocide and I’m really scared, and questioning my fundamental belief in the goodness of human nature. This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore.” - Rachel Corrie e-mail, 27 February 2003.
2. Neal was instrumental in organizing and participating in non-violent resistance to the wall. He is the protester being arrested on April 15th in the photos here. See also an account of events of March 21st written by Neil in an ISM report. Neal was also there for the demonstration on the year anniversary of Rachel’s death, and wrote an account.
3. I do not want to name the delegates as it might compromise their ability to travel in the Territories.
4. Craig Corrie in a speech on February 16, 2004 accepting the Housing Defender Award for Rachel from the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions. The award was created in part due to Rachel’s actions in Gaza.
5. If you go to the White House web site and do a search on Rachel Corrie, her name comes up in just one document — a single press conference on April 10, 2003 where one reporter asked Ari Fleischer one question about Rachel and was given one classic spin answer.
6. See the image here. When I did a google search to find this image, I found that a good percentage of the sites posting it had derogatory comments about the Corries. Many of the sites said that the Corries presented Arafat with a portrait of Rachel, this is incorrect, it was Arafat who presented the Corries with a picture painted by a Ramallah artist.
7. “Troup” of doves is not correct spelling but that it how Rachel spelled it in her e-mail March 12, 2002: “For those of you who don’t know, I’m working with the other peace-and-justice-niks to put together a collaborative art project for artswalk and a big troup of doves in the procession of the species.” See  for information where this e-mail came from.
8. From Rachel Corrie’s essay Thurston Country by Trivia: Self in Context written for her Local Knowledge studies in the spring of 2002 at The Evergreen State College. I could not find a web link to the text. My copy is from a zine compiled by Local Knowledge.
10. I recommend you read this powerfully written letter.
11. For excellent coverage and pics, including of the Corries, see www.stopcat.org