Starhawk writes from Gaza, where she is currently teaching nonviolence techniques to peace activists of both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and working with the International Solidarity Movement to protect civilians.
While bombs are falling on Baghdad, killing uncounted numbers, and my friends around the world are marching, blockading, shutting down corporations and roadways and cities in protest, I find myself in Rafah, at the southern border of the Gaza strip, dealing intimately with one woman's death.
A week ago Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent it from demolishing Palestinian homes. I've come down here to support her friends and the activists who were with her and saw the murder. Their accounts leave no doubt that the soldier who drove the bulldozer saw her and chose to kill her.
Rachel has become a "shahid," a Palestinian martyr. She is, in fact, one of over a thousand shahids from this intifada. Their posters adorn walls all over Palestine. They are the fighters who are killed in battle and the children shot on their way to school. They are the suicide bombers and the boys who throw stones at tanks in a gesture of defiance, and the "collateral damage" every time the Israelis blow up a political leader in a crowded tenement with missiles. And now they include Rachel, with her all-American blond beauty. On one poster: she looks earnest and sweet as any graduating student in a high school yearbook. In another, she is giving a speech, hair tied back, mouth open, her whole face ablaze with passion.
I'm listening to her friends describe her death and holding their hands as they cry, and thinking about how all of this pain and grief and sorrow is being multiplied over and over again right now, in Baghdad, on people who are nameless and faceless and not reported on by our media. As Rachel's death would have gone unremarked had she been Palestinian. You didn't hear, I imagine, about the death of Ahmed, a fifty year old street cleaner from Rafah, who heard about Rachel's death and stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. He was gunned down on his doorstep, for no particular reason anyone can fathom. He has his own Shahid poster, which is up on the wall next to Rachel's, and we mourn him, too.
The Palestinians have traditions about Shahids--the poster is one. The Shahid's body is not touched with water: the blood on the body is sacred, and bloody the body is laid into the grave.
I am drinking coffee with Chris, who was Rachel's friend and encouraged her to come to Gaza, and Mohammed, who has lived his whole live in the Gaza strip and works with a human rights agency. Mohammed is telling us how he felt on his trip to Japan when he took the train from Tokyo to Osaka.
"I had never before been such a long way without a single checkpoint, without having to show a passport or an ID card, without seeing a soldier," he says. "That was when I knew what freedom felt like."
We are talking about sadness and death and what we believe. I've been having ongoing dialogues with various friends about compassion, and I admit that I just can't get there with the bulldozer operator. The closest I can come to compassion is a kind of blank incomprehension. Chris suggests that Rachel died because the soldier didn't see her. Not that he didn't see her physically, for it is only too clear that he did, but that in some larger sense he didn't See her, see her as a human being, see her as a precious life to be valued.