The Death of Rachel Corrie: Murder or Accident?
Recently there has been a great deal of controversy concerning the death of Rachel Corrie, a peace activist who died at the age of 23 on March 16, 2003. The cause of death was blunt trauma as a result of being run over by a bulldozer driven by an Israeli soldier. Rachel Corrie was protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) as a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). While the IDF claims that the incident was an accident, others believe that Rachel Corrie was actively murdered. This write-up aims to examine the situation, and hopefully shed some light on what may have happened.
Based on the accounts of four eyewitnesses (all friends of Rachel Corrie) provided by The Electronic Intifada, a group of seven ISM members had been "monitoring and occasionally obstructing" 2 bulldozers for roughly 2 and a half hours. The ISM members would repeatedly attempt to obstruct the progress of the bulldozers, but they generally did not stop. In the words of eyewitness Greg Schnabel:
"Our group began to stand in front of these bulldozers in an attempt to stop them. Generally they did not stop when we stood in front of them, but continued to push the earth up from underneath our feet to push us away. Several times we had to dive away at the last moment in order to avoid being crushed."
The protestors repeatedly placed themselves at "great risk" (in the words of protestor Richard Purssell, a British construction worker), and yet the bulldozers continued in their work with one exception. Eyewitness Greg Schnabel recalls that an American activist by the name of "Will" (who did not provide an account on Electronic Intifada's website) was nearly pressed into a pile of razor wire. In Will's case the bulldozer stopped at "the last minute" and prevented him from being severely injured (or possibly even killed).
The four accounts have the following to say about Rachel Corrie's incident with the bulldozer. It should be noted that only the excerpts involving when Rachel was run over have been presented here; her death occured at Najjar Hospital where she was taken to after the incident.
British Citizen Tom Dale
"We'd been monitoring and occasionally obstructing the 2 bulldozers for about 2 hours when 1 of them turned toward a house we knew to be threatened with demolition. Rachel knelt down in its way. She was 10-20 metres in front of the bulldozer, clearly visible, the only object for many metres, directly in its view. They were in radio contact with a tank that had a profile view of the situation. There is no way she could not have been seen by them in their elevated cabin. They knew where she was, there is no doubt.
The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went. She knelt there, she did not move. The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth. She appeared to be looking into the cockpit. The bulldozer continued to push Rachel, so she slipped down the mound of earth, turning as she went. Her faced showed she was panicking and it was clear she was in danger of being overwhelmed.
All the activists were screaming at the bulldozer to stop and gesturing to the crew about Rachel's presence. We were in clear view as Rachel had been, they continued. They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time. Every second I believed they would stop but they never did."
American Greg Schnabel
"Rachel was standing in front of this home. As the bulldozer approached she stood her ground. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket. She was clearly visible to the bulldozer driver as well as to the soldiers in the tank. The bulldozer began to push up the ground from beneath her feet. The pile of earth was mounding up and she tried her best to stay on top of it. As the ground continued to move Rachel went down on her knees. The bulldozer continued to move forward. Rachel began to become buried beneath the dirt. Still it did not stop. Finally, Rachel was beneath the bulldozer. The bulldozer did not even pick up its blade. It ran over her completely and continued to advance. It stopped when she was completely underneath the body of the bulldozer. It then moved backwards over her body. It moved clear of her and backed away."
British Citizen Richard Pursell
"The ground was level and the light was good, I had a good view of everything which happened. Rachel was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket with reflective strips (the type worn by construction workers for high visibility and the avoidance of accidents). Rachel stood to confront the bulldozer and it approached her at about five or six miles an hour. The blade on the bulldozer was dipped into the ground and was scooping up soil.
As the bulldozer came nearer the pile mounted up. Rachel climbed up the pile and at the one stage was looking into the cabin window. There is no way that the driver could not have known she was there. The bulldozer continued driving forwards and Rachel turned round to face in my direction.
She began to slide down the pile, however as soon as her feet touched the ground for some reason she fell forward. Maybe her foot was caught or the weight of the soil pushed her forward. At this point the panic on her face was obvious.
We were all shouting, screaming and gesturing by this stage. The earth was totally pushed over her, engulfing her. She was lost to my sight. I noticed that the driver had not lifted the blade. The machine rolled straight over her and continued for a little way. It then reversed over her and retreated about twenty metres. Rachel was left in its tracks, bleeding from her mouth and twisted."
American Joe Smith
"I do believe it was intentional. I saw it, and I know he saw her, I know he did, and I know he knew she was still under the bulldozer when it backed up without raising its blade. I don't know if he wanted to kill her, or if he was just focused on doing his work and didn't care if he killed her or not, I don't know which is scarier. I don't feel like telling the whole detailed story right now. I promise that for the record I will tell it in detail, but give me a few days. I just want to quickly dispel a few myths you may have heard in the media. She did not "trip and fall" in front of the bulldozer. She sat down in front of it, well in advance, wearing one of the orange flouro jackets I got in Amsterdam. (By the way, I took the pictures you may have seen of her, standing with the megaphone in front of the bulldozer, and the ones of her friends helping her.)
He clearly saw her, and continued to drive until she was forced onto the top of the dirt he was pushing, elevating her so much that she was at eye level with the bulldozer's cab, he could see right into her eyes. He continued forward, pulling her underneath the dirt, and out of his vision. He continued forward, crushing her underneath the weight of the blade. He continued forward, until she was well underneath the bulldozer. It was then quite clear that she was nowhere but underneath him, but he proceded to back up, without lifting the blade, crushing her again."
No account of the incident was presented by the Israeli soldier driving the vehicle, or any other eyewtiness. The IDF has stated that the incident was an accident. As reported by CNS News:
"Calling the incident 'a very unfortunate accident,' an army spokesman said that the driver of the bulldozer could not see Corrie because she had come too close. The bulletproof windows of the piece of equipment are very small, limiting visibility, he added."
The bulldozer was a American-made Caterpillar D9 Bulldozer, modified with armor plating made an Israeli firm (Strategypage.com). Each vehicle weighs roughly 62 tons, with a blade about 15 feet wide and 8 feet tall. There has been a recent controvery involving the use of American-made equipment in supposed human rights violations at the hand of the Israeli government (The Caterpillar Effect by Never Gordon describes the controversy well), much of which has to do with the house-crushing power of the massive vehicle. Nick-named "The Beast" by Israeli and Palestinian forces alike, it is ideally suited for urban warfare and demolishing.
The primary question is a very simple one: Was Rachel Corrie Murdered?
- Eyewitness accounts by fellow ISM members indicate that Rachel was in full view of the cab (and wearing a bright jacket) when she stood upon the pile of earth that was being moved by the bulldozer.
- The blade of the bulldozer did not raise while Rachel Corrie was being crushed to death.
- With the exception of the razorwire incident, the Israeli bulldozers had never previously stopped when the ISM members placed themselves in harms way.
- The front of the D9 Bulldozer has an extremely tiny windshield, which is further obstructed by exhaust pipes.
- The massive blade of the bulldozer is 8 feet tall, obstructing the view of anything directly in front of it.
- The forward-mounted engine design of the D9 Bulldozer also limits visibility by placing the operator further back from the front.
- Like all heavy machinery, the D9 Bulldozer is extremely loud. At around 100 - 120 dB, even shouting can barely be heard.
Given the facts presented, it is extremely likely that when Rachel Corrie slipped on the loose soil being pushed by the bulldozer she left the view of the operator. Between the limited visibility and the loud noise of the motor (as well as the fact that the protestors had been actively attempting to frustrate the bulldozer drivers for at least 2 hours beforehand), it is also likely that the operators would have ignored the attempts of the ISM members to get their attention and stop the vehicle. The fact that another protestor was saved from being impaled by the actions of the bulldozer earlier in the day also seem to indicate there was no malicious intent.
However, questions still remain...
- Why did the bulldozer stop after running over Rachel Corrie? Was it because of operator procedure, or did the protestors finally get the operator's attention?
- If the operator reversed because of some concern for Rachel Corrie, why did he fail to lift the dozer blade?
- Why had the bulldozer previously stopped to prevent the American from being pressed into the razor wire? Was "Will" lucky, or did the driver notice his predicament?
These questions can only be answered through testimony of the operator, which has not been released to the public. Only when these questions have been answered (and as a result the intent of the driver guaged) will it be known whether or not Rachel Corrie's death was accidental or intentional.
Note: All sources were accessed on Thursday, March 20, 2003.
Caterpillar Bulldozers at www.israeli-weapons.comhttp://www.israeli-weapons.com/weapons/vehicles/engineer_vehicles/bulldozers/Bulldozers.html
News about Armor at StrategyPage.com's How to Make Warhttp://www.strategypage.com/fyeo/howtomakewar/default.asp?target=htarm
Photo story: Israeli Bulldozer murders American peace activisthttp://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1248.shtml
CNS News: Pro-Palestinian American Protestor Killed by Israeli Bulldozerhttp://www.cnsnews.com/ViewForeignBureaus.asp?Page=%5CForeignBureaus%5Carchive%5C200303%5CFOR20030317g.html
Four eyewitnesses describe the murder of Rachel Corriehttp://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1263.shtml
Please note that this write-up is a copy of a website I wrote to examine the Rachel Corrie tragedy. The website, located at http://www.wam.umd.edu/~keving/Rachel.html also contains imagery that shows the sheer scale of the D9 Bulldozer, as well as how limited the visibility is from the cockpit. I deliberately put this write-up on E2 in order to ensure it would last beyond the life of a student website.