An Olympian Struggle: The Nation's First and Only Boycott of Israeli Products by a Food Co-Op Ignites a Fiercely Personal, Community and Legal Battle in Olympia, Washington, the Hometown of Rachel Corrie

By Alhadeff, Emily K. | Moment, July-August 2012 | Go to article overview

An Olympian Struggle: The Nation's First and Only Boycott of Israeli Products by a Food Co-Op Ignites a Fiercely Personal, Community and Legal Battle in Olympia, Washington, the Hometown of Rachel Corrie


Alhadeff, Emily K., Moment


IT'S A RARE BLUE SKIED DAY IN OLYMPIA'S HISTORIC DOWNTOWN STRIP. AT TRADITIONS CAFE--A FAIR-TRADE COEME SHOP and bakery--a slightly grainy black-and-white poster of a young Rachel Corrie hangs in a window. She's smiling and tucking a lock of her straight, straw-colored hair behind her ear. Beneath her photo is a single word: "Peacemaker." Below that is another, smaller poster that reads "This property has been declared a Caterpillar-free zone. Stop corporate human rights abuses."

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These posters and their political message are right at home in Washington's humble state capital, 60 miles south of Seattle. With views of the Olympic Mountains, the city of fewer than 50,000 residents is the home of indie label K Records, where the riot grrrl punk movement laid its roots, where Kurt Cobain wrote most of Nevermind and where "queercore" got its moniker. With both the Olympia Food Co-op and The Evergreen State College located within its bounds, the city has the feel of an extended commune or even a college campus, with posts on a popular message board such as "Radical Mycology 101" ("Come learn about the amazing properties of fungi!") and "Cops, Ports; Shut 'Em Down!" As the message board, Olyblog, exclaims: "If you care about this community and are tired of corporate media, then this is the place for you."

Olympia is the hometown of Rachel Corrie, the Evergreen student, who while on an independent-study program in Gaza, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield for a Palestinian home in 2003. Her tragic death at 23 sparked international outcry, but nowhere was it felt as deeply as in Olympia.

Much has been written about the day when Corrie placed herself between the bulldozer and the residence of Palestinian pharmacist Satnir Nasrallah. To the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the group she was working with, she was a victim of Israel's occupation; to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), she was an overzealous and naive girl who put herself in danger. An IDF investigation ruled the death an accident, with the driver saying it was impossible for him to see her from his vantage point. After her death, ISM--a Palestinian-led movement that resists Israel through non-violent means--charged: "The Israeli Army is attempting to dishonour her memory by claiming that Rachel was killed accidentally when she ran in front of the bulldozer. Eyewitnesses to the murder insist that this is totally untrue."

The tragedy thrust her parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, an insurance actuary and homemaker, into the limelight. The Midwest natives, their faces framed by gray hair, took up the Palestinian cause, traveling around the world and back and forth to Israel, where their civil lawsuit, Corrie v. The State of Israel, is still playing out. They filed the suit against the Defense Ministry five years ago, claiming that the IDF either deliberately killed Corrie or is at least guilty of gross negligence. A decision is expected this August.

The Conies also founded the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, based in Olympia. Its mission is "promoting peace, justice, and greater understanding across cultures and communities," according to its website, and it has funded a water desalination project in Gaza as well as college scholarships. A big presence in a small city, it has as one of its main projects the Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural Project. Rafah, Olympia's sister city, is where Rachel established a pen-pal project and where she died.

Downtown, not far from Traditions Cafe, the mural of an enormous, spraypainted olive tree with leaves bearing artwork and messages spans an entire side of a building, dwarfing the cars in the parking lot below. On one leaf, a white dove soars; on another, a fist breaks through a bar code in a call for boycott. …

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