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The legacy of activist Rachel Corrie

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Twenty-one years ago this weekend, a young American woman was killed while trying to stop the Israeli demolition of family homes in Gaza. With the current war in Gaza now in its sixth month, her story is attracting renewed attention. Reporting from Amman, NPR's Jane Arraf takes a look at her legacy.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: Rachel Corrie was a college student from Olympia, Wash., 23 years old. In March 2003, when she talked to Middle East Broadcasting Network, she was on the edge of the Gaza city of Rafah, surrounded by demolished houses.

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RACHEL CORRIE: The Israeli military bulldozed the two largest water wells, destroying over half of Rafah's water supply. Every few days, if not every day, houses are demolished here.

ARRAF: Corrie had gone to Gaza to join nonviolent protests against the destruction. Israel said at the time it was clearing the area of places militants could hide. Two days after she gave the interview, she was crushed by an armored Israeli bulldozer about to demolish the home where she was staying, as described here by CNN.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A 23-year-old American activist stands in front of an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, March 16, 2003. The bulldozer drives over her, crushing her to death.

ARRAF: An Israeli army investigation concluded the soldiers in the bulldozer's armored cab hadn't seen or heard Corrie, who was wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and speaking through a megaphone. Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, spent years pursuing the case in Israel and the U.S. They never succeeded in holding anyone accountable for their daughter's death. They say it's possible her death was an accident, but there has never been an investigation independent of the Israeli military. They've worked for two decades to make sure she didn't die in vain.

CINDY CORRIE: If people had told me before Rachel was killed that something like this would happen and that somehow we'd find a way to carry on, I would have said, no, you're wrong. I won't draw another breath.

ARRAF: That's Cindy Corrie, her mother. She and Rachel's father, Craig Corrie, have traveled to Gaza, the West Bank and Israel several times since Rachel was killed.

CRAIG CORRIE: After a little while, you realize we've met many Palestinians and Israelis that feel the same way, have suffered the same sort of loss and want no one else to suffer that.

ARRAF: Corrie was with an activist group, the International Solidarity Movement. After she died, her parents established a foundation in her name. There's a Rachel Corrie Street in Ramallah in the West Bank, soccer tournaments and a children's center in Rafah named after her. The vessel MV Rachel CORRIE in 2010 set out to disrupt Israel's sea blockade of Gaza. In the Arab world, people named their daughters after her. But it's her words that have traveled the furthest, in a book and a play based on her journals called "My Name Is Rachel Corrie" and in emails home, including this one read by poet Maya Angelou.

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MAYA ANGELOU: (Reading) What if our aloneness isn't a tragedy? What if our aloneness is that which allows us to speak the truth without being afraid?

ARRAF: At age 10, Corrie wrote a statement about world hunger and read it at a press conference in the Washington state capital.

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R CORRIE: We have got to understand that people in third-world countries think and care and smile and cry just like us. We have got to understand that they dream our dreams and we dream theirs.

ARRAF: Two decades after she was killed, Israel is still demolishing homes. The World Bank estimates Israel has destroyed 45% of all homes in Gaza since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7th. Rachel Corrie's father, a Vietnam veteran, said he learned from his young daughter.

CRAIG CORRIE: Some of that just continually goes in my mind talking about the others. They are us. We are them. They dream our dreams. We dream theirs. That, to me, is totally true, and it needs to be repeated.

ARRAF: Corrie's parents say her legacy is the community of people who believe we are all interconnected that her life and death inspired. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Amman, Jordan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.