Parents of slain Gaza activist Rachel Corrie carry her message forward 20 years after her death
In the 20 years since their daughter, Rachel, was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip, Craig and Cindy Corrie have devoted their lives to her cause.
The Olympia-based couple founded the nonprofit Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice in the wake of their daughter's death. Cindy Corrie is the foundation’s president. Craig Corrie is treasurer. Together, they have traveled on interfaith peace missions to Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.
They view the current war between Israel and Hamas through a lens of their own activism, and their ongoing frustrations with U.S. policy toward the Middle East. They see a disregard for the lives of Palestinians, and discrimination against Arabs by the far-right Israeli government.
For them, the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas was horrific, but it was not a surprise.
Craig Corrie said he keeps going back to something Rachel Corrie wrote from Gaza in the weeks leading up to her death in 2003.
“She said, ‘I want this to stop. I think we should all just drop everything and devote ourselves to making this stop,’” he said.
The Corries took that advice to heart and made it their mission.
In 2010, the couple traveled to Washington, D.C., and met with Antony Blinken, who was then the national security advisor to Vice President Joe Biden. During their meeting, Craig Corrie said Blinken told them they could all agree on one thing — “Gaza is a failed policy.”
Blinken told them Palestinians in Gaza should have access to food, be free to conduct business, free to come and go, have electricity at all times, and Palestinian students should be able to study anywhere in the world, Craig Corrie said.
“He went on for some time, and, at the end of that, Cindy said, ‘That’s our list. That’s what we want to see happen,” he said.
Thirteen years later, Joe Biden is president and Antony Blinken is secretary of state, but the U.S. policy toward the occupied territories has changed very little.
Meanwhile, the Corries saw firsthand what was happening on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank — the Palestinian population was growing and they were being bottled up. At some point, they felt the situation was bound to erupt.
“This was knowable for decades, what’s going on now,” Craig Corrie said. “And the U.S. not only didn’t do anything to stop it, but continued to back it up. So, shame on us.”
Since the current war erupted, the Corries have tried to keep track of their friends in the region, including people who knew their daughter.
“We are in touch with families that were in the house that Rachel stood in front of,” Cindy Corrie said. “We’ve heard that they are safe. They are devastated. They’re exhausted, but they are physically safe at this moment and that’s reassuring.”
Others have not been so lucky.
Gazan journalist and activist Ahmed Abu Artema, who helped lead a years-long protest of displaced Palestinian refugees that became known as “The Great March of Return” had his house bombed in the south of Gaza.
“He was unconscious at first, but he woke up, and his hearing was gone,” Cindy Corrie said. “But he could see that two of his children were screaming and pointing to another child, his 13-year-old son, who had been killed in the blast.”
Even with the world’s attention focused on Gaza, the Corries said attacks continue unnoticed in the West Bank, where they say Jewish settlers are clearing out entire Palestinian villages.
“So, from the Palestinians’ point of view, what they think is happening — and I would agree with them — is that Israel is trying to push the rest of the Palestinians off of the land that they want to be the entirety of Israel,” Craig Corrie said. “And that's genocide.”
The Corries said that above all, they are peace activists. They know Jewish and Arab people who oppose both the Hamas attack of Oct. 7 that killed 1,200 Israelis, as well as Israel’s response, which has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians, destroyed vast swaths of the Gaza Strip, and displaced 1.7 million people.
Craig Corrie, who has his own memories of war as a Vietnam veteran, is hoping for a breakthrough development — like the end of the Cold War or the fall of Apartheid in South Africa.
“Maybe we need another miracle,” he said. “Hopefully good things come in threes.”
Corrie remembered his first night in Israel after Rachel’s death in 2003. An Israeli Jewish man who was showing the couple around Tel Aviv explained that Israelis and Palestinians have different ideas of what peace is. He said peace for Israelis meant no more suicide bombings. Peace for Palestinians meant Israel would stop destroying their homes.
Corrie said these same perspectives remain 20 years later. He believes the two sides need outside help to find a solution.
“The help that they’ve gotten from the outside so far is not helpful,” he said.
Despite the ongoing violence, the Corries remain committed to their daughter’s mission and advice.
“My heart, my prayers go out to everyone in that region and for the families that are suffering so much,” Craig Corrie said. “We just need to devote ourselves to making this stop.”