Corrie/Nasrallah U.S. Tour Comes Home to Des Moines, Iowa

By Gillespie, Michael | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

Corrie/Nasrallah U.S. Tour Comes Home to Des Moines, Iowa


Gillespie, Michael, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Corries and the Nasrallahs, two families from countries and cultures half a world apart, are forever bound together by an extraordinary act of courage and a brutal war crime.

On March 16, 2003, 23-year-old college student Rachel Corrie and seven other International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists volunteering in the Gaza Strip went to the two-family home of pharmacist Samir Nasrallah and his brother, Khaled, in Rafah to try to stop Israeli troops from demolishing it. The effort cost Corrie her life when an Israeli bulldozer operator drove his 50ton armored Caterpillar bulldozer over her.

"Our families are linked now," Craig Corrie, Rachel's father, told an audience of more than 200 lowans, mostly Christians and Muslims, who crowded into the gymnasium of the Des Moines Islamic Center on a warm and humid evening in late June.

"When she was killed, Rachel was standing outside the home of this family," said Corrie, indicating Khaled, Samah, and Sama Nasrallah. "Now we're traveling with this wonderful family, trying to raise money and raise awareness for the people in Rafah."

The Corrie/Nasrallah U.S. speaking tour found its way to Iowa on June 28, after seven events in California, one in Oregon, three in Washington state, five in Michigan, and two in Wisconsin. Though it was by all accounts a demanding schedule that tested the mettle of the two families, they rose to the occasion again and again.

Their immediate goal was to raise enough money to rebuild the Nasrallah home, which Rachel Corrie died protecting and which a deceptively named Israel Defense Forces (IDF) demolition crew finally destroyed in January 2004.

Khaled Nasrallah is an accountant for Palestinian Airlines. His wife, Samah, is working toward her teaching certificate. Their toddler daughter, Sama, accompanied them on the tour, as did Craig and Rachel's mother, Cindy Corrie. As Craig held Sama in his arms while her father took his turn at the microphone, it was clear that the two families have become close.

"I feel compelled to put a roof over little Sama's head. I don't know how we expect children to live in what is really a state of siege," Craig Corrie told this reporter. "I can't do anything about Rachel, but I can do something to help little Sama."

The State of Israel has demolished thousands of Palestinians' homes in the territories its forces have occupied illegally for nearly four decades. Few of the destroyed homes have had any connection to terrorism. Like the Nasrallahs', the vast majority of homes were in locations judged inconvenient in the context of Israeli leaders' plans for the expansion or purported security of the Zionist state.

At the time Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by the U.S.-made Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, she was wearing a bright orange fluorescent safety vest and using an amplified "bull-horn" in an attempt to block the bulldozer's path. Such low-risk tactics had been used successfully many times before, and the eight ISM volunteers had no reason to expect tragedy on the morning of March 16 when they matched their courage, determination, and idealism against two IDF bulldozers and a tank.

In its attempt to quell the al-Aqsa intifada, the IDF had never dared kill an "international" involved in an organized protest-fearing bad publicity, condemnation by human rights organizations, and damage to relations with governments of the countries from which the ISM volunteers and other "internationals" hail. The ISM activists had no way of knowing that the IDF's policy toward "internationals" had changed, or that Rachel Corrie would be the first of several the IDF would target with lethal force within a period of several weeks.

The demolition prevention action had been in progress for about two hours when, according to several eye witnesses whose testimony is corroborated by photographs of the murder, the IDF soldier intentionally drove his bulldozer over Corrie, reversed, then, without raising the huge machine's blade, drove over her again. …

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