excellent article on Rachel Corrie, political context (counterpunch.com)

coxj at email.unc.edu coxj at email.unc.edu
Tue Mar 18 04:45:41 MST 2003

March 17, 2003
A War Without Balance
Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan and Israeli War Crimes
The Israeli bulldozer that ran over and killed American peace activist 
Rachel Corrie, 23, in the Gaza Strip today had killed before. A few 
weeks ago, on March 3, an Israeli bulldozer killed a nine-month 
pregnant Palestinian woman, Nuha Sweidan, while destroying the house 
next door in a dilapidated Gaza refugee camp. Palestinian witnesses 
said that Mrs. Sweidan, 33, bled to death under the rubble as she 
cradled her 18-month-old daughter. Her unborn baby also died.
Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan probably never met, but they will 
forever be linked as victims of Israel's 35-year occupation of 
Palestinian lands in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

They are both victims of Israeli war crimes. The Geneva Conventions 
expressly prohibits attacks on civilian populations regardless of the 
motivation, even if in retaliation for attacks on its own civilians. To 
attack civilian populations intentionally is a war crime. Both Rachel 
Corrie and Nuha Sweidan were killed during military actions against a 
civilian population, in this case, during a house demolition.
Since June 2002, the Israeli army has destroyed more than 150 houses 
belonging to Palestinians allegedly involved in attacks, a policy human 
rights groups describe as collective punishment and which has drawn US 
criticism in the past.

This past month, Israel nearly set a record for killing Palestinians, 
mostly civilians, in a single month. According to the Palestinian 
Ministry of Health, Israeli assaults killed 82 Palestinians, of them 50 
in the Gaza Strip and 32 in the West Bank, wounding an additional 616 
persons. Israeli soldiers also killed several Palestinian children and 
3 medical staff as they sought to attend to wounded. Now, they have 
killed an American peace activist. In this same period, only six 
Israeli's were killed, all of them soldiers.
Why so many civilian casualties?

These killings are the product of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's 
escalation of Israeli Army assaults on Palestinian population centers 
following his re-election on January 28. Since that time, Israeli 
forces have largely focused their wrath on Gaza. They have conducted 
unprecedented armored military operations in Gaza city centers, pursued 
suspected militants deep into refugee camps and deployed bulldozers to 
destroy dozens of building and homes. This latter type of operation led 
to Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan's deaths.

Israeli sympathizers may object that these assaults and civilians 
killings are justified in response to Palestinian suicide bombings but 
international law is clear that attacks on civilians are prohibited 
under any circumstance.

Palestinian suicide bombings are clearly war crimes, even though some 
Palestinians claim they are justified in response to Israeli massacres 
and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. However, Israeli 
military assaults that systematically result in civilian deaths are 
also war crimes, regardless of their justification. Both are 
reprehensible and must be condemned.

Moreover, few independent observers accept that Israel's assaults on 
Palestinian civilian centers in the past two months correlate as 
responses to suicide bombs. These operations began nearly a month after 
the January 5 suicide bomb that killed over 20 Israeli's in Tel Aviv. 
The only other suicide bomb this year came on March 5, well after the 
Israeli campaign in Gaza was underway. Furthermore, in both cases the 
suicide bombers came from the West Bank, not Gaza.

The reality is that Rachel Corrie and Nuha Sweidan will also be forever 
linked as victims of the extremist Israeli leader Ariel Sharon's 
relentless war on Palestinians on behalf of Israeli settlements and his 
vision of a Greater Israel that seeks total control of all of historic 

The escalating assaults on Gaza over the past month indicate that Ariel 
Sharon is preparing the way for an invasion and reconquest of the Gaza 
Strip to complement his reconquest of the West Bank last April. With 
the West Bank now firmly under Israeli control, Gaza has become the 
sole remaining area of armed Palestinian resistance to Israel. It 
stands in the way of Sharon imposing a settlement on the Palestinians 
that will assign them small, disconnected Bantustans surrounded by 
hundreds of Israeli settlements. Ariel Sharon was the original 
architect of the massive expansion of settlements after 1978 and 
continues to be their main patron.

Sharon is well known for his cold, calculating, tactical acumen, both 
as a General and as a politician. He is also known as a ruthless 
fighter and has been accused of crimes against humanity for his role in 
the massacre of nearly a thousand Palestinian women, children and 
elderly people in Beirut in 1982.

He is well aware of the sympathy Israel has received in response to the 
brutal suicide bomb attacks over the past few years. He knows that the 
world is focused on the impending war in Iraq. Thus, he has calculated 
that the time is right to set in motion the reoccupation of Gaza, even 
if it provokes further suicide bombings because he can use them as a 
pretext for even larger actions.

Menachem Klein, an Israeli political scientist at Bar Ilan University 
near Tel Aviv, outlined the logic of Sharon's actions in a recent 
Christian Science Monitor article (13 Mar 2003).

"These raids can be a kind of rehearsal, with the idea to arrest 
someone, but also to see how to get in and out, what tactics to use. A 
rehearsal on live people. And the thinking is that if the world gets 
used to these short-term reoccupations, it will digest the long-term 

Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan, over a hundred Palestinians and scores of 
Israeli civilians are the victims of this live rehearsal.

It is true that Palestinian suicide bombers have helped contribute to 
this cycle of violence through their own vicious acts. Indeed they have 
murdered women, children and innocent civilians as well.

However, this is not a symmetrical conflict. Israel dominates the lives 
and land of over 3 million Palestinians through massive military 
assaults, imprisonment of thousands, torture and systematic starvation 
policies that have lead to a major humanitarian crisis in many areas of 
the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, Rachel had been working with 
other members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to defend 
a newly dug water well from Israeli attempts to destroy it before she 
was killed.

Moreover, since his return to power two years ago, Ariel Sharon has 
systematically escalated Israeli military assaults and assassinations 
in search of a military solution, despite the waves of suicide 
bombings, in order to achieve a very clear set of political objectives. 
At the top of the list has been the destruction of any base of 
Palestinian political and military resistance to Israeli settlements 
and permanent control of the land Israel occupied in 1967. Gaza is his 
last objective.

There is no "balance" in this conflict. It is time to call Israel into 
account for its war crimes and time to stop Ariel Sharon from imposing 
his violent dream of Greater Israel on Palestinians. It is time to stop 
the needless deaths of Rachel Corrie, Nuha Sweidan and others, whether 
Palestinian or Israeli, or now, American.

Steve Niva is a Member of the Faculty at The Evergreen State College. 
He teaches international politics and Middle East studies. He met with 
Rachel Corrie before she left for Gaza in January and is deeply 
saddened by her tragic and unnecessary death. He can be reached at: 
nivas at evergreen.edu
Editors' note: an excellent story in the Electronic Intifada on the 
murder of Rachel Corrie is accompanied by a series of photographs of 
Rachel confronting the bulldozer. The disturbing photos clearly show 
that she was within plain view of the driver. She was wearing a bright 
red coat and holding a megaphone that she was using to warn the IDF man 
at the wheel of the dozer.

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