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REFLECTIONS: Human Shields

As I flipped through the screenplay of My Name is Rachel Corrie (based on the words she left behind) I wondered how many people still remembered her. Confident that very few do, I ll offer, a small, though painful, refresher. Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003. She was crushed to death by a Caterpillar …

As I flipped through the screenplay of My Name is Rachel Corrie (based on the words she left behind) I wondered how many people still remembered her.

Confident that very few do, I ll offer, a small, though painful, refresher.

Rachel was killed on March 16, 2003. She was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9 armored IDF bulldozer in the Gaza Strip as she tried to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home.

She was 23.

As part of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led organization that uses non-violent tactics to protest Israeli actions in the Occupied Territories, a starry-eyed Rachel of Olympia, Washington had been organizing in her home city for over a year on anti-war and global justice issues, when one day, she decided it was about time to connect to the people who are impacted by US foreign policy.

As she wrote in her journal: “I just think we all have the right to be critical of government policies . any government policies, particularly policies which we are funding.

Averse as I am to the widespread “blame-the-US sentiment in this part of the world, which often reinforces the pitiful reality that our heads are firmly, and deliberately buried in the sand, I still cannot help connecting the dots – dots that a great many people all over the world have hitherto connected.

The hugely under-reported global anti-war movement includes more than its fair share of Americans, some of whom called for impeaching President Bush and others who have often taken his administration to task for its unwavering support for Israel – to many a unashamed apartheid state. But while a short trip to Khan Younis, Rafah or Jenin is sufficient to convert the worst Arab-loathing racist into a kafeya-clad, anti-Zionist peacenik, it’s much trickier to make the 180-degree paradigm shift when scrutinizing the effects of US foreign policy – or lack thereof – on Egypt. Take Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Cairo last Tuesday as an example. It took merely a few hours of “closed-door US diplomacy to affect a 180-degree paradigm shift in Egypt’s stance on the up-coming US-sponsored Mideast peace conference, to which key players (read Hamas and Syria) have not been invited.

Less than a week before, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit – echoing President Hosni Mubarak’s reluctance to support the gathering – criticized the meeting for lacking an agenda and an endgame to resolve the Israeli-Arab issue.

The conference must be well-prepared if it is to take place at all, Aboul Gheit reportedly said, expressing doubts that miraculously dissolved after Rice’s arrival, albeit bearing gifts; “assurances about the seriousness of the conference , the nature of which have been discreetly kept secret.

And when it came to the internal political developments in Egypt, which were, according to Rice, discussed in a “candid manner , the language was even more vague.

Rice made a token mention of Ayman Nour (jailed opposition leader and ex-presidential candidate) and the detention of journalists in a “spirit of friendship ; to which our FM responded with the ease of a tried and true spin-doctor. The government does not interfere with legal procedures, he said.

“This has always been Egyptian law and will remain Egyptian law. There is no mixing between politics and due process.

How eloquent.

But at the carefully orchestrated press conference, none dared to mention the biggest illegal military tribunal in Egyptian history, where 40 civilian members of the Muslim Brotherhood are being tried for alleged money-laundering and for belonging to a banned organization, which, incidentally holds nearly one fifth of the seats in parliament.

I wonder if Rice would agree that the trial is in blatant violation of the International Declaration of Human Rights, to which Egypt is signatory? I also wonder if the Dalai Lama were an Egyptian opposition figure, would the US still honor him with a Congressional Gold Medal for his capacity as a spiritual leader?

“The exchange [between Rice and Aboul Gheit] – though polite – reflected underlying tensions over democratic reforms in US and Egyptian relations, reported the Associated Press.


Even the most casual observer, will see there are no “tensions in US-Egyptian relations. US shuttle diplomacy is the epitome of pragmatism – never mind police torture, illegal military trials, random arrests, all in the name of the “war on terror . Nothing to do with respecting sovereignty. (Remember pre-war Iraq?)

Once more I recall Rachel Corrie, whose memory was smeared by a wave of Israeli black propaganda. Despite eyewitness accounts to the contrary, the circumstances of her death were disputed, and she has received no justice. Yet despite the vile attempts, in the hearts and minds of many, Rachel has been immortalized as the bona fide hero for this brutalized world.

My mind naturally swerves to our own human shields, the men and women at the forefront of this country’s battle for democracy, social justice and freedom from poverty and suppression.

I think of all the Ayman Nours, Ibrahim Eissas and Khayrat El Shaters and wonder if there are worse fates than being crushed under a merciless bulldozer.

Rania Al Malkyis the editor of Daily News Egypt.

Topics: Wael Ghonim

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