Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

On Rescuing Private Lynch and Forgetting Rachel Corrie

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

On Rescuing Private Lynch and Forgetting Rachel Corrie

Article excerpt

Jessica Lynch and Rachel Corrie could have passed for sisters. Two all-American blondes, two destinies forever changed in a Middle East war zone. Private Jessica Lynch, the soldier, was born in Palestine, West Virginia. Rachel Corrie, the activist, died in Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Corrie was four years older than 19-year-old Lynch. Her body was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza seven days before Lynch was taken into Iraqi custody on March 23. Before she went to Iraq, Lynch organized a pen-pal program with a local kindergarten. Before Corrie left for Gaza, she organized a pen-pal program between kids in her hometown of Olympia, Washington, and children in Rafah.

Lynch went to Iraq as a soldier loyal to her government. Corrie went to Gaza to oppose the actions of her government. As a U.S. citizen, she believed she had a special responsibility to defend Palestinians against U.S.-built weapons, purchased with U.S. aid to Israel. In letters home, she described how fresh water was being diverted from Gaza to Israeli settlements, how death was more normal than life. "This is what we pay for here," she wrote.

Unlike Lynch, Corrie did not go to Gaza to engage in combat: she went to try to thwart it. Along with her fellow members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), she believed that the Israeli military's incursions could be slowed by the presence of highly visible "internationals." The killing of Palestinian civilians may have become common-place, the thinking went, but Israel doesn't want the diplomatic or media scandals that would come if it killed a U.S. student.

In a way, Corrie was harnessing the very thing that she disliked most about her country-the belief that American lives are worth more than any others-and trying to use it to save a few Palestinian homes from demolition.

Believing her fluorescent orange jacket would serve as armor, Corrie stood in front of bulldozers, slept beside wells and escorted children to school. If suicide bombers turn their bodies into weapons of death, Corrie turned hers into the opposite-a weapon of life, a "human shield."

When that Israeli bulldozer driver looked at Corrie's orange jacket and pressed the accelerator, her strategy failed. It turns out that the lives of some U.S. citizens-even beautiful, young, white women-are valued more than others. And nothing demonstrates this more starkly than the opposing responses to Rachel Corrie and Pvt. Jessica Lynch.

When the Pentagon announced Lynch's successful rescue, she became a hero, complete with "America loves Jessica" fridge magnets, stickers, T-shirts, mugs, country songs and an NBC made-for-TV movie. According to White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, President George Bush was "full of joy for Jessica Lynch." Her rescue, we were told, was a testament to a core American value: as West Virginia Senator Jay Rockefeller said to the Senate: "We take care of our people."

Do they? Corrie's death, which made the papers for two days and then virtually disappeared, has met with almost total official silence, despite the fact that eyewitnesses claim it was a deliberate act. President Bush has said nothing about a U.S. citizen killed by a U.S.-made bulldozer bought with U.S. tax dollars. A U.S. congressional resolution demanding an independent inquiry has been buried in committee, leaving the Israeli military's investigation-which cleared itself of any wrongdoing-as the only official investigation.

The ISM says that this non-response has sent a clear, and dangerous, signal. According to Olivia Jackson, a 25-year-old British citizen in Rafah: "After Rachel was killed, [the Israeli military] waited for the response from the American government and the response was pathetic. …

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