A 23-year-old American woman, Rachel Corrie, a college student from Olympia, Washington who belonged to the International Solidarity Movement in the territories, was killed yesterday by an IDF bulldozer during a house demolition in Rafah.
Israeli officials expressed "regret" over the incident to American officials, sources in Jerusalem said, and in Washington, a State Department statement said it had received reports of the incident, and was "assessing the situation."
The ISM activist was taking part in protest efforts yesterday afternoon in Rafah, to prevent the army from demolishing houses in a strip of land a few hundred meters wide between the Rafah refugee camp and the nearby Egyptian border, in an effort to block smuggling from Egypt.
According to eyewitnesses, a routine IDF demolition operation was underway in the area, with two D-9 bulldozers and a tank as protection. They destroyed three buildings that were already partially destroyed and a number of walls. The ISM activists then deployed in the area and used bullhorns to call on the drivers to stop. According to ISM activists, at one stage the IDF forces left the area and took up positions near the border, a few hundred meters away.
But around 5 P.M., the force returned, and the activists assumed the bulldozers were on their way to other houses. "They began demolishing one house," said an ISM activist, who said his name was Richard. "We gathered around and called out to them and went into the house, so they backed out. During the entire time they knew who we were and what we were doing, because they didn't shoot at us. We stood in their way and shouted. There were about eight of us in an area about 70 square meters. Suddenly, we saw they turned to a house they had started to demolish before, and I saw Rachel standing in the way of the front bulldozer."
According to the ISM activist, Corrie was wearing a bright jacket and climbed onto the bulldozer shovel-plow and began shouting at the driver. "There's no way he didn't see her, since she was practically looking into the cabin. At one stage, he turned around toward the building. The bulldozer kept moving, and she slipped and fell off the plow. But the bulldozer kept moving, the shovel above her. I guess it was about 10 or 15 meters that it dragged her and for some reason didn't stop. We shouted like crazy to the driver through loudspeakers that he should stop, but he just kept going and didn't lift the shovel. Then it stopped and backed up. We ran to Rachel. She was still breathing."
According to the activists, the tank arrived on the scene and was only 20 meters away, but the soldiers did not offer any assistance. A little while later, the heavy equipment pulled away, and a Red Crescent ambulance took the badly injured woman to Abu Yusef Najar Hospital in Rafah, where she was declared dead on arrival. A second activist was slightly injured. The destroyed house belonged to Dr. Samir Nasrallah.
Army sources said the demolitions were meant to prevent sabotage along the Philadelphi road parallel to the Egyptian border. The sources said the bulldozer driver deviated from the track and apparently was moving a block of concrete that hit the woman.
The ISM is an international pacifist movement that draws its inspiration from a quote by Albert Einstein: "The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Since the start of the intifada, hundreds of the foreigners, mostly students, have taken a rigorous course in nonviolent theory and practice and then been placed in Palestinian towns and villages, where they report on events at checkpoints, villages under curfew and house demolitions, help move humanitarian aid into besieged areas, and accompanying ailing Palestinians to hospitals. As non-Palestinians, they enjoy a certain measure of immunity - Corrie was the first ISM casualty in the nearly 30 months of intifada.