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Rachel Corrie case stirs fresh pain and hope

As family of activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer sues in an Israeli court, memories resurface.

"I decided that nothing works to end the occupation — peaceful ways or the armed way," Mansour says. "[Israel] doesn’t respect the peaceful. They don’t respect anyone. They don’t care if Tom or Rachel are internationals. They will do whatever they want."

In mid-2003, after Corrie, Hurndall and journalist James Miller were killed by Israeli soldiers, the Israeli government implemented strict restrictions on civilian entry into the Gaza Strip. Between 2003 and 2008, said ISM co-founder Huwaida Arraf, ISM "only managed to get a couple of delegations [into the Gaza Strip]," but she declined to say how they entered. In August of 2008, eight ISM members entered the strip on the "Free Gaza" boats that sailed from Cyprus to Gaza.

About 20 westerners from ISM are currently partnering with Palestinians in the West Bank, where foreign civilians are not prohibited from entering. However, hundreds have been denied entry or deported for their association with non-violent resistance groups, according to ISM. Adam Shapiro, a co-founder of ISM, was deported from Israel in 2002 and barred from returning.

In December 2008, a six-month ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which had previously fired thousands of unguided rockets into Israel, began to disintegrate. Israel then launched a three-week bombing campaign and ground invasion of Gaza. The hostilities claimed the lives of 13 Israelis and about 1,400 Palestinians, many of them civilians. A U.N. commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone later accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes.

Corrie's parents, Cindy and Craig, have made four trips to the Gaza Strip and established a foundation in Rachel’s honor.

A play based on Corrie’s emails and diaries premiered in London in 2005, and was performed in dozens of venues across the world. A 2009 documentary movie by French-Israeli film maker Simone Bitton investigates the death of Rachel Corrie. The family has also published "Let Me Stand Alone," a book of Corrie’s journals.

The Israeli government maintains that Corrie was killed accidentally and acted in "reckless disregard" for her own life by interfering in a war zone. The Corrie family alleges that the driver of the bulldozer killed Rachel Corrie intentionally and unlawfully, or alternatively by "gross negligence" in failing to protect civilians.

Four eyewitnesses to Corrie’s death were granted entry visas only following external diplomatic pressure. The doctor in Gaza who treated Corrie and confirmed her death has yet to be issued a permit to give testimony in Israel.

Craig Corrie emphasizes that "so many families harmed as deeply as ours cannot access the courts. Palestinians are routinely denied their petitions, or are required to post impossibly expensive bonds to file their cases."

By coincidence, the trial is occurring during the anniversary of Corrie's death. Events celebrating Corrie’s life are planned for March 16 across the United States, Israel and the Palestinian territories. In Rafah, Gaza, about 800 people will attend a ceremony at a children’s center that was renamed in Rachel’s honor.

One of the attendees at this ceremony will be Mohammed Abu Asaker, a 30-year-old project manager with the U.N. Development Program. Corrie helped him apply for a USAID-funded presidential scholarship. After 11 rejections, he was finally accepted in 2005. Israeli border closures delayed Abu Asaker’s trip to the U.S., but he was elated just to have the opportunity.

He recalled, "Rachel inspired me because she had all the facilities to make her life easy — but she sacrificed that and came to Gaza … . The moment I arrived on the American University campus [in Washington, D.C.] and walked on the quad, it thrilled my heart, because that was a first step to get knowledge and skills and a good education, then come back and help my people. I believe that is the way that I can honor Rachel and make her soul rest. And here I am [back in] in Gaza."