Sunday, March 18, 2007

A Clarification on a very Controversial Issue: Plus, Calev Ben-David on the Tragedy back in 2003

Firstly, my thanks to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, particularly Kimberly Mills of the editorial board, for agreeing to run this piece. Given the loaded nature of this subject, I appreciate their willingness to allow me to express my viewpoint.
I would however, like to clarify for readers that due to time pressures of going to press combined with my unavailability until moments before the piece went to copy, the P-I felt it crucial that some mention was made of how and under what circumstances Ms. Corrie died. Had I had the full opportunity, my preference for the phrase in bold of the second paragraph would have read, who was accidently killed while protesting the Israel Defense Forces demolitons of Palestinian homes in Gaza that the Israelis believed were being used to smuggle weapons through underground tunnels....
As with so much of this complex and heart-wrenching conflict, context remains ever critical to a fuller understanding and appreciation of the situation.
Accuracy is also vital and a blogger has pointed out that I incorrectly wrote "Some of Corrie's compatriots who joined the extremist Islamic Solidarity Movement, when describing the ISM. This should have read International Solidarity Movement and I apologize for this oversight and regret the inadvertent misrepresentation. I am fully aware of the distinction and had no intention of mischaracterizing. I vow to be more vigilant in the future. Thanks to Gordon for noting.
David Brumer


Play Shines Light on Conflict

Sunday, March 18, 2007
Last week, as the Seattle Repertory Theater opened the one-woman show, "My Name is Rachel Corrie," we were again reminded of the tragic death of this passionate young woman from Olympia. Yet perhaps her untimely death and the play that celebrates her life can help shed new light on the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict and bring us closer to peace for both peoples.

Without doubt, Corrie, who was killed in 2003 while protesting the Israeli Defense Forces demolitions of Palestinian houses in the West Bank and Gaza, wanted to make the world a better place, and she fervently believed her actions in Gaza furthered that goal. But armed with an incomplete understanding of a very complex situation, she may have unwittingly supported a cause she would have been horrified to learn, actually undermined many of the beliefs and values she most cherished. When she attended pro-Hamas rallies in Gaza and in one photographed instance, burned a mock American flag, she may have been swept away by the youthful exuberance that buoyed her in the certain belief that her protests were justified by the need to defend the rights of the innocent and oppressed.

But if she was alive today, I like to believe she would be shocked by Hamas' rise to power, given what they stand for. At first, she would be surprised to learn that Hamas, an acronym for "Harakat Al-Muqawama Al-Islamia," or Islamic Resistance Movement, is an offshoot of the radical Islamist movement known as the Muslim Brotherhood and founded in 1928, long before the establishment of the modern state of Israel. That Hamas is fighting to establish an Islamic state in Palestine and beyond, a state that if ever successfully created, would be ruled by Islamic Sharia Law. She would be appalled to hear that institutionalized misogyny plagues Arab women in Gaza, with widespread violence often inflicted on them from their husbands and clans, the most severe culminating in "honor killings" for adultery, even when the accusation is unsubstantiated. The form of execution mandated is death by stoning.

Some of Corrie's compatriots who joined the extremist Islamic Solidarity Movement alongside her, who might be gay or lesbian, would also not fare well under the yoke of Hamas. Were they to assert their sexual orientation under such a government, they would risk certain persecution, violence and possibly even death. Those standing under the much vaunted human rights umbrella so frequently touted by the defenders of the downtrodden in Gaza might be surprised to discover that using unsuspecting Western activists as human shields constitutes a gross violation of the often cited Geneva Convention. So too does targeting civilians (a proudly self-proclaimed Hamas practice) and firing from densely populated civilian neighborhoods, another favored tactic of Hamas and other internationally recognized terror organizations operating out of Gaza, like Islamic Jihad.

Meanwhile Israel, the nation whose policies and practices Corrie characterized in her diary as "true evil," continues to be a thriving secular democracy, where gays participate in military service, all women have the right to vote, with 18 of them serving in the 120-member Knesset, or Israeli Parliament. Of that parliamentary body of 120 members, 10 are Arabs, and there are three parties in the government representing the Arab segment of the Israeli population. In addition, Ishmael Khaldi, the Israeli Deputy Counsel General for the Western United States, is an Israeli-Arab and the second highest Israeli government representative in Western America. All Israeli citizens, Christians, Muslims and Jews enjoy freedom of speech, the press and unfettered religious expression. And all citizens, including the over one-million strong Israeli-Arabs, 20 percent of the population, have access to education, modern health care and good jobs.
Israel mourns the senseless deaths of all the Palestinians who have died since the eruption of the second intifada, recognized by Israelis as a deliberately launched terror war by the late Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership. The deaths of all Palestinians during that war are not only senseless and tragic, but have done nothing to further the cause of establishing two states, living side by side in peace. Yet even after all the bloodshed of those years, both the Israeli government and the vast majority of Israelis still yearn for peace and a two-state solution. As Ambassador Dennis Ross definitively established after the Camp David Talks in the summer of 2000 (he was there throughout those talks as Special Middle East Coordinator under President Clinton), the Clinton Parameters improved on those earlier Israeli peace offerings, and at Taba in early 2001 Israel made its most far-reaching offer for peace:

Full withdrawal from Gaza.
Relinquishment of more than 96 percent of contiguous land in the West Bank.
Arrangements for a 4 percent land swap in exchange for the remaining percent.
Palestinian control of their holy sites in Jerusalem as well the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, where they could declare their capital.
The right of return to all Palestinian refugees -- and their descendants -- to the new Palestinian state.
A $30 billion fund created to compensate those refugees who chose not to exercise their right of return into the new Palestine.

Arafat and the Palestinian leadership rejected this offer and instead launched the Second Intifada, leaving more than 1,000 Israeli men, women and children dead and thousands more wounded and traumatized. Yet despite such suffering, Israel's desire for peace remained great enough that in the summer of 2005, it withdrew completely from Gaza, uprooting more than 8,000 Israeli citizens, including 48 who had died, interred in graves near their families' homes.
Those very painful sacrifices made by the Israelis in the name of peace were answered with almost daily barrages of Qassam missile attacks launched from the newly emancipated Palestinian Gaza into southern Israeli communities. After Hamas swept into power in January 2006, those unrelenting Qassam missile attacks culminated in a brazen, unprovoked ambush through a tunnel dug into Israel proper, resulting in two Israeli soldiers killed and one kidnapped.

Despite it all, Israelis still wants nothing more than to live in peace with its neighbors. Just as Israel made peace with brave Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein, so Israel continues to dream of a day when she can live side by side with a free and democratic Palestine, realizing the vision of a two-state solution for the two beleaguered peoples.

"My Name is Rachel Corrie" reminds us of the tragic loss of life on both sides. Let us honor those lives by continuing to support the moderates in the region. May there soon come a day when the only aspirations of Palestinian children are to grow up to be doctors, educators, and entrepreneurs, living side by side in peace and prosperity with Israel. Let's not allow those dreams to blow up in smoke.

David Brumer is a member of the International Committee of the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest. He works as a geriatric social worker and psychotherapist. Visit his blog, BRUMSPEAK, at
© 1998-2007 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

At Rachel's Tomb
We must mourn Rachel Corrie's death, but we should also mourn the choices that led to it.
By Calev Ben-David
formerly managing editor of the Jerusalem Post--where this piece first appeared in 2003

I didn't know Rachel Corrie, the 23-year old American activist killed on Sunday when she was run over by an IDF bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in Rafah along the Gaza-Egyptian border.But I've known many like her, young, politically committed Americans and Europeans who come here to identify with the Palestinian cause in one capacity or another.
Some have been my friends; others made clear that wasn't an option with an Israeli citizen and IDF reservist who serves in the territories. One very special case was a Long Island Jewish woman, who when I met her was living with a Palestinian in Ramallah and claimed she couldn't even abide the very sound of Hebrew.
Today, back in New York, she is a firm (if still left-leaning) supporter of Israel, proud to be part of the local Jewish community.
Corrie's death has drawn predictably polarized reactions. "Within hours of being crushed by an Israeli bulldozer, Rachel Corrie became a martyr and hero for the peace activists of her home town," reported the Associated Press from Olympia, Washington.
"Rachel was filled with love and a sense of duty to her fellow man, wherever they lived. And, she gave her life trying to protect those that are unable to protect themselves," declared her parents in an e-mail distributed by the Gush Shalom movement.
Others were far less impressed. A photo showing Corrie looking not especially love-filled as she held up burning facsimiles of the American and Israeli flags is also making the e-mail rounds.
"As an Israeli, how exactly am I supposed to feel about an American who comes to my country to defend those trying to kill my children?" wrote the novelist Naomi Ragen in her own e-mail missive. "How am I supposed to feel about a girl who throws herself in front of my sons, my soldiers, who are risking their lives to uproot terrorism, forcing them to deal with naive foreigners who make their lives even more difficult and dangerous?... What a wasted life. What a foolish death."
Was her life a waste? Her death certainly was, tragically so.
One factor was its timing. Had Corrie died in this manner in almost any other week, I'm sure it would have been given major and repeated play in international news outlets traditionally not sympathetic to Israel. But coming on the eve of a US attack on Iraq, it received relatively little notice from an attention-stretched media. (Ironically, one place where due notice was taken is [the Jerusalem Post], which of course is editorially not in sympathy with her views.) Had the rest of the world not been busy criticizing the US for its decision to attack Iraq, I'm sure the international condemnation of Israel would also have been far stronger.
Especially muted was the State Department reaction; with America poised to began a military campaign in which there are bound to be civilian casualties, including whatever "human shields" like Corrie may be left in Iraq, it certainly wouldn't have been a politic time to come down heavy on Israel in this instance.
As I said, I've encountered a number of young people like Corrie over the years, and when I do, I try my best (if allowed) to dialogue with them. Had I met Corrie, I would have tried to put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in historical perspective, and explain how we have reached the current (but hopefully not permanent) impasse in large part because of Yasser Arafat sabotaging the Oslo process by giving the green light for violence in October 2000. I would have said that on the human level, I share her sympathy for the hardship of the Palestinian people, but added the suffering is equally experienced by Israelis contending with seemingly unending waves of terror.
I would have shared my experiences as a reserve soldier who more than once was called upon to stand guard when the IDF demolished Palestinian homes in the territories. Sometimes I felt these actions were unjustified, and admit I feel ashamed by my role in them. But the destruction of the homes in Rafah was a response to the terrorism and arms smuggling the Palestinian Authority has allowed to flourish along the Gaza-Egypt border, and it is the PA which bears the brunt of the blame for this particular operation.
I would have commended Corrie for her decision to engage in non-violent resistance, while pointing out that this strategy cannot be effective or morally elevated when it is accompanied by continued violence. Perhaps she should have begun her efforts by protesting against the extremists in her own (adopted) Palestinian camp, as Mahatma Gandhi once did in a famed hunger strike directed against the violent extremists in his Hindu community.
Most likely, at some point I would have lost my temper and accusingly asked her by what right she has to come to a country where she does not live and where she will not have to suffer the long-term consequences of her actions the same question I ask right-wing Jewish activists from abroad who campaign against any compromise in the territories, without a willingness to live here and share in the burdens of that policy.
Finally, I would have pointed to the example of Abigail Litle, the 14-year-old American Bapist girl killed in the Haifa bus bombing two weeks ago. Litle, like her family, was reportedly dedicated to the cause of Arab-Jewish reconciliation, and apparently did so by trying to bring the two sides together, not simply by lifting up a partisan banner for just one camp, an action that put Corrie in league with terrorists dedicated as much to Israel's destruction as to Palestinian liberation.
Litle's death was also a tragic waste; but unlike Corrie, I don't think anyone on either side of the conflict would suggest the same about her all-too-brief life. I do mourn for the death of Rachel Corrie; but I also mourn for the choices she made that led to it.

Calev Ben-David
The Israel Project
Director - Israel Office
Jerusalem, Israel


Anonymous said...

I could KISS you!
Thank you for your perspective, and for reminding us to look at both sides of the coin before rushing to knee-jerk judgements.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a wonderful article in the P-I. Too often, we are fed one-sided propaganda on this issue (as with many others) with no historical background, no context, and no details explaining Israel's actions. I think if more reporters and historians relied more on the historical facts than on propaganda, we would all realize that this conflict is much more complex than they would like us to believe. I fully agree that if many westerners really knew what/who they were supporting, they would hopefully think twice about that support.
Holly Havnaer

Unknown said...

Here and in the PI you wrote: "Some of Corrie's compatriots who joined the extremist Islamic Solidarity Movement alongside her..."

The Israel Project website says that she "was a politically active member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM)."

Where did the mixup come in...
you or the paper?
Thx, Gordon

David Brumer said...

Hi Gordon,
You are quite right and that is my error. It should have read
"Some of Corrie's compatriots who joined the extremist International Solidarity Movement alongside her"

I will make a further clarification of this on my website. Thanks for pointing out.

Lao Qiao said...

The fact that idealistic young people on the left have allied themselves with Islamic fundamentalists remains a great mystery. Golda Meir was the first woman head of government in history who was not the wife (like Sirimavo Bandaranaike) nor the daughter (like Indira Gandhi) of a previous head of government. Nevertheless feminists are typically anti-Israel. Israel drafted gays into the army since Day One of its existence; nevertheless, gay organizations are typically anti-Israel. Rachel Corrie gave her life to protect a tunnel that was used by terrorists. This can't be understood rationally.

Anonymous said...

How could you have made an error like citing "Islamic Solidarity Movement" instead of "International Solidarity Movement?" Was this not a fact you could have checked in less than five minutes? Were you just going off of someone else's hearsay? Do you even have any idea what the ISM is about? I don't, but I'm betting you don't either and have no idea whether they're "extremist" or not.

How much credibility do you expect the rest of your story to add?

David Brumer said...

To anonymous,
I am fully aware the ISM stands for International Solidarity Movement-and not Islamic-but stand by the assertion that they are an extremist organization. I do regret the error and had no intention to mischaracterize the ISM.
David Brumer

Anonymous said...

I'm confused. Did you mean to say "International" and it just came out "Islamic?" How did the error occur?

David Brumer said...

Yes, strange as that may sound. I thought I remembered making sure that just such an error would not occur due to the sensitivity of the issue, and the mistake was completely inadvertent. I deeply regret the mischaracterization and had no intention of labeling the ISM as Islamic. In an earlier sentence, I was talking about the acronym for Hamas, and I must have rewrote Islamic unthinkingly.
Believe me, I'll be re-reading my future pieces over and over to avoid such an unfortunate error.

Anonymous said...

I am very sad and frustrated by the Rachel Corrie story. It appears to me that there is a lot of misinformation circulated about her and what she did. It also appears that there are many aspects of the story that we will never know the truth about (e.g. whether the bulldozer driver saw her or not). I have also witnessed a lot of people judging her and her story based not on any personal knowledge or research, but on hearsay designed to generate fear. It is for this reason that I am dismayed by the error over the Islamic/International Solidarity Movement. Based on the comment to this blog from lao qiao, it appears that at least one reader was led to believe that Rachel belonged to a fundamentalist Islamic organization. Who knows how many others reached the same conclusion? I think this conclusion could be exacerbated by the photo of Rachel that was chosen to run with the story, in which she appears to be veiled (I spoke to a colleague who drew this conclusion from the photo and content of the piece). I know this photo and she is actually wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

This piece may have been an editorial, but a lot of readers will take the content away as fact.

I would also be interested to hear more about why ISM is an "extremist" organization. I see they were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends' Service Committee, another organization that takes non-violence as a premise.

Lao Qiao said...

The tragedy of Rachel Corrie arises precisely from the fact that she was not an Islamist. She was a person who opposed persecuting gays, women, and minorities. Like most such young, idealistic people, she had not the slightest idea that Israel is a land of women's rights, gay rights, and minority rights. Like many idealistic, educated young people, she sided with Islamists—who oppose everything she stood for.

David Brumer said...

I again can only say that I greatly regret the mis-labeling of the ISM; My mistake was an unfortunate but honest one and I it was an inadvertent error. However, I stand by my intended point, that the International Solidarity Movement is an extremist organization. There are many organizations that work tirelessly to further peaceful reconciliation between the parties to the conflict, including 'Breaking the Ice',; 'Seeds of Peace'; 'Hands of Peace',;
and 'Building Bridges for Peace,'; to name but a few. The ISM is not such a group. Please see the links below to further demonstrate why they are an extremist organization.
David Brumer
Origins of ISM
ISM Ties to Violent Groups
ISM Tactics

Anonymous said...

"You said. Some of Corrie's compatriots who joined the extremist International Solidarity Movement alongside her, who might be gay or lesbian, would also not fare well under the yoke of Hamas."

we gays do work with hamas, and if that sound a bit extream to you could think about the fact that alot of people think of the International Committee of the Anti-Defamation League of the Pacific Northwest as a bunch of Zionist crackpots that Suck up to the Clueless Fundimentalist Christians base who sell Israel Atom bombs and Catipillar tractors wich in turn trrorize others.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit I'm shocked that the PI insisted that you provide context for your op-ed piece. How dare them! After the dozens of anti-Israel opinion pieces appearing in the PI comparing Israel to Nazis, communists, apartheid, and every evil under the sun, they have the nerve to insist that you provide context on how Rachel Corrie died?! I've called them on many occassions complaining about the blatant distortions in opinion pieces on Israel, but I always get dismissed because it's an opinion piece and the writer can express whatever he wants, whether it holds up to five seconds of scrutiny or not. I think that they NEVER check facts in the opinion pieces and NEVER ask anti-Israel authors to provide context. If it had been me, I would have produced a few of their past pieces and said, but why didn't you insist on context here? Do you really have objectivity standards or are you particularly biased in this situation? In any case, good job on the article. I'm glad you wrote it, and you did a good job.

Mark Smilowitz
Beit Shemesh, Israel