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
By STEVE NIVA
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
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
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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