Speech at Rachel Corrie memorial: Israel’s blanket immunity

The following speech was delivered by activist Rula Sharkawi at a Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan memorial in Canada on 11 May 2003.



Today I stand here in front of you to remember a young woman, a brave, intelligent woman whose conscience couldn’t keep her stationed in the safe luxury of her home town in Olympia.

Tragically before and after Rachel’s murder, many others have fallen victim to Israel’s brutal occupation. Last week James Miller was also murdered by Occupation soldiers. Other peace activists like Tom Hurndall and Brian Avery have been targeted. More than 100 Palestinians were murdered last month alone, by missiles, tanks, assassinations, bulldozers and guns, with financial and moral support of the American administration.

So we are here to commemorate the tremendous bravery and courage of Rachel Corrie and to offer some context of what Rachel’s murder symbolizes, the context of the struggle she risked her life for. There are some important questions to ask to attempt to put things into perspective;

Why do these murders occur? Why are they allowed to continue to happen? These murders happen and continue to happen unfettered for three reasons:

1) Blanket Immunity
2) Selective Morality
3) Silent Accomplices

1) Blanket Immunity

Israel enjoys blanket immunity for its crimes. I am reminded of an encounter I had with an Israeli border security officer some years back. As a friend was driving us to the airport, our car was pulled over to the side of the road.

My Palestinian friend, who is an American citizen, with an Israeli issued press card, had his car confiscated, his American drivers license taken away, he received a $400 dollar fine and was ordered to appear in military court. Baffled and unable to make sense of any of this, I walked up to the officer and asked her what his crime was…why was he being treated this way. “there is no reason” she replied. Furious at this I said to her “This is illegal, who do you think you are?” She said “This is Israel. In Israel we do whatever we want.”

Of course the Israeli officer summed it up nicely. No repurcussions. No accountability. No pressure to live up to its obligations under the Geneva Conventions, UN resolutions, or norms of moral decency.

The world “sees no evil, hears no evil, and speaks no evil.”

Rachel was murdered in plain view, in cold blood. The fifty ton Israeli Army bulldozer driver saw her, drove over her, reversed and drove over her again. An Israeli inquiry into Rachel’s death absolved the Israeli government of moral and legal responsibility and dishonored her memory with its conclusion that she engaged in “illegal, irresponsible and dangerous” behaviour. The accused becomes the accuser. The victim a criminal.

So why is this criminal state allowed to do whatever it wants with impunity, to be above the law? This leads me to my second point.

2) Selective Morality

Israel enjoys blanket immunity because the great majority of so-called international leaders, thinkers, pundits, academics and journalists practice selective morality when it comes to Israeli attacks on Palestinians and those who offer sympathy to their struggle for freedom and self-determination.

When Israeli civilians are killed their tragedies make international headlines. The loss of life is described with heart rendering details of loss and mourning. Images of blood, agony and suffering are abundant. Words like attacks on civilians, murder and brutal killing are used to describe their deaths.

On average Palestinian civilians deliberately killed by the Israeli Army and armed Jewish settlers, if they are covered by the Canadian media at all, are usually news-in-brief items, relegated to paragraph 14 of section D. Their cause of death is usually described as being shot (by whom we are not told) or “caught in a cross- fire,” as if their deaths were the result of some “natural disaster” or “accident.” We are almost never told that the majority of Palestinians killed are unarmed innocent civilians. We do not hear their names, the stories of their precious lives or witness the mourning of their families. We do not get a snapshot into THEIR devastation, destruction and heart rendering tragedies.

Does the world condemn equally? Is it only wrong when an Israeli dies? Are we all created equal, but as Orwell says, some of us are more equal than others?

And I return to Rachel Corrie’s sentiment that somehow “they wouldn’t dare kill an American.” If there is one thing I have learned about this conflict is that they do dare, because when it comes to Israel’s crimes there is always an exemption.

Take for example last week’s bombing in Tel Aviv. Kofi Annan said he “condemns in the strongest possible way” the attack calling it a “morally reprehensible” act.

The next day, the Israel Army killed a dozen Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including a two-year-old toddler close to where Rachel was crushed. Kofi Annan’s response was that he was “deeply disturbed by Israeli military incursions” (not terrorist attacks). He did not find this morally reprehensible. Nor was there any condemnation.

Israel has a right to exist but are Palestinians given that same right? That is never debated. Israeli deaths are murders. Palestinian deaths are inconvenient.

It is never an issue to address the Palestinians “legitimate security concerns” or the right to live in secure borders, FREE from occupation. Only Israelis have these moral and human rights. Palestinian must accept diapers and humanitarian aid and be grateful little natives for whatever carrot Israel or the US throws them.

This selective morality props up blanket immunity.

3) Silent Accomplices

And lastly, the context for why Rachel and others are murdered and continue to suffer is because Israel and its system of illegal occupation are supported by an army of silent accomplices.

Today is mother’s day, a time when we traditionally give our mothers flowers. Let me relay a story about flowers and silent accomplices.

On April 27, Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote:

People from the Nature and National Parks Authority (in Israel) moved some Gilboa irises growing along the route of the separation fence (Apartheid wall). The rescue operation certainly pleased quite a few Israeli nature lovers for whom rescuing the flowers was the equivalent of rescuing an entire world.

The Parks Authority, a government body, and the Society for the Preservation of Nature, an NGO, which were so worried about the irises, have never raised a voice against the systematic and brutal destruction of nature being done daily at the hands of Israeli Defense Forces in Palestinian areas. Tens of thousands of trees have been uprooted, goves and vineyard have been crushed, ancient building in the heritage neighbourhoods like the Casbah in Nablus and that of Hebron have been demolished, green spaces have been paved into roads for settlers only, while mountain ridges have been shaved for the sake of settlements, and none of the green activists organizations on our side (Israeli) have gone into action to prevent it.

Thus, those green groups join a long list of other bodies - doctors, working women, artists, journalists and academics - who don’t want to see what is being done in the territories in fields they presumably are supposed to care about and protect. And thus, they have become accomplices to a crime. Those who think that responsibility for the crimes of the occupation rests only on the shoulders of the government and army, and all those who think they are innocent because they do not take part directly in the daily activity of the occupation, are wrong.

After 35 years, the occupation has penetrated every aspect of society and the silence of the various organizations and institutions turns them all into full accomplices to what is being done in the name of all Israelis. The occupation is not only the civil administration. the occupation is us.

So when we remember Rachel Corrie, and Nuha Swiedan, and young Muhammad and Sireen and Khalil and all victims of Israeli occupation, we must remember why their deaths were allowed to happen. We must remember Rachel for the courageous, brave and principle young woman she was. We must remember Rachel and others as civilians. We must remember the Palestinian struggle against occupation is not about fighting off the criminal actions of a few wayward soldiers, or the mere policies of a political party we don’t agree with. It’s a struggle against a powerful system of oppression that enjoys blanket immunity, selective morality and silent accomplices.

One of the best ways to honour Rachel Corrie is to tell the truth. The truth of the way she died, the struggle she fought for, and the truth of the brutal reality Palestinians live in everyday.

When we remember Rachel, lets not forget to speak out, to express outrage at the violent system of occupation that robs human beings of their lives everyday.

Peace must be accompanied by justice. Rachel understood that. Let’s keep her message alive.