Whatever sour emotions I entertained while reading accounts of the funeral of Marla Ruzicka had nothing really to do with the sad death on April 16 of a brave young woman in Baghdad. On many accounts–and I have had a detailed conversation with a close friend of Marla’s whose judgment I trust entirely–she was an idealistic person whose prime political flaw seems to have been the very forgivable one of naïveté.
Both in Afghanistan and Iraq, in furtherance of her humanitarian schemes, Marla Ruzicka elected a stance of studious neutrality in ascribing responsibility for the victims of US bombings and ground fire. This pursuit of “credibility” certainly yielded its ironic reward in the political range of those who publicly mourned her.
A US senator–Barbara Boxer–attended Ruzicka’s funeral in Lakeport, in northern California. Bob Herbert of the New York Times poured out an emotional column honoring Ruzicka, and Robert Pollock wrote for the Wall Street Journal editorial page, “America has lost a peerless and unique ambassador.”
The sourness in my heart stemmed from a contrast. Almost exactly two years earlier, on March 16, 2003, another brave young woman in a foreign land lost her life, not to a suicide bomber but under the blade of a forty-nine-ton bulldozer made in America by the Caterpillar company specifically for house demolitions and driven by an Israeli soldier, who surely saw Rachel Corrie, clearly visible in her fluorescent orange jacket.
No US senator attended Rachel’s funeral. They ran in the opposite direction. The Corries disclosed that after their return home to Washington State with their daughter’s body, they contacted their senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, and told them how their daughter had been deliberately murdered while peacefully demonstrating against a house demolition, such demolitions being violations of international law. Murray and Cantwell, the Corries recall, were quick with expressions of outrage and promises of investigations. The Corries never heard from Murray or Cantwell again.
Cindy Corrie’s mailbox filled with disgusting letters abusing her for being a bad mother, and the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd began an unrelenting campaign of abuse of Rachel, to the overall effect that she had it coming to her, that she was defending terrorists who smuggle weapons across the border to kill Israelis, that the International Solidarity Movement, of which she was a member, was a terrorist symp group.
As Professor Steve Niva of Evergreen State College in Olympia wrote on the CounterPunch website shortly after Corrie’s death, the house of Dr. Samir Nasrallah, which Rachel was defending, “was being demolished because, like dozens of others that have been bulldozed in Hay Salaam, his home was near the ‘Apartheid Wall’ Israel was building.”
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And how did the Zionists on Evergreen campus, where Corrie had studied, react? Did Corrie’s murder prompt them to any serious reflection on Zionism as Actively Applied in Gaza? No. Niva writes to me that beyond some genuine expressions of sadness for Corrie, the small Zionist groups now felt uncomfortable as Jews on campus, and a few started raising concerns about alleged anti-Israel and possibly anti-Semitic sentiments getting a free pass at Evergreen. They started to peddle charges about the Middle East Studies faculty that there was a “crisis” regarding Jews at Evergreen. Slurs against Niva continue to this day, as they do against Corrie.
Later the magazine Mother Jones ran a 7,000-word attack on Corrie and the International Solidarity Movement, which was convincingly demolished in CounterPunch by Pran Nguyen, who showed that the article relied heavily on extreme-right sites and sources. Nor was there measured lamentation from the Wall Street Journal‘s editorial page, which surpassed itself in foam-flecked savagery in a piece by Ruhama Shattan that managed to blame Corrie for the bombing death of three State Department officials in Gaza in October 2003! Shattan’s piece had already run in the Jerusalem Post and actually prompted the American Ambassador in Tel Aviv, Paul Patin, to write a letter to the Post denouncing it as “hateful incitement” and “disgusting abuse of the anniversary of the death of this American citizen.” Maybe this letter is what prompted the WSJ‘s editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, to see Shattan’s diatribe as suitable material for his pages.
Marla Ruzicka decided to work “within the system,” as they say. Maybe, given the aims of her organization, CIVIC, that was an appropriate choice. I would certainly not want to pass judgment on the matter. The “system” duly mourned and honored her. Rachel Corrie saw that the “system,” with all its innumerable and fraudulent road maps to peace, negotiated solutions, Oslo frameworks, processes of peace and so forth had not stopped, nay, was encouraging the daily outrages of demolitions of Palestinian homes and other barbarities. She stood in the path of that system and died. Her murder was covered up by Israel and condoned by the government of the United States.
Across the thirty years that I have written about the vast injustices done to Palestinians by successive Israeli governments, endorsed and paid for by the United States, I have read a thousand admonitions to support what peace plan was in train, to espouse solutions with “credibility.” And here we are now, when all the peace plans and road maps stand definitively revealed as the frauds they always were.
Any imagined evacuation of Israeli settlements from Gaza is pure distraction. The story lies in the new settlements stretching out from East Jerusalem, amputating any conceivably viable Palestinian state. In this illegal enterprise, there’s no “case for Israel” beyond simple sanction of violent, illegal occupation and eviction. Two years after her murder I honor Rachel Corrie and ask those supposedly reasonable, credibility-seeking voices on the Zionist side of the aisle here in the United States, What have you got to say for yourselves now?