The Education of Rachel Corrie

To predictable outrage among anti-Israel activists worldwide, a
Haifa court ruled Tuesday that former U.S. college student Rachel Corrie’s 2003
death was an accident. Corrie, a member of the fanatic International Solidarity
Movement, was in Gaza at the time, trying to obstruct the work of the Israeli
Defense Force; she was killed as she tried to act as a “human shield” by an IDF
bulldozer whose driver couldn’t see her. The judge used common sense, noting
that as the bulldozer moved toward her, “she did not move away as any
reasonable person would have done. But she chose to endanger herself . . . and
thus found her death.”

Corrie’s story subsequently became lionized by those eager to
demonize Israel; see Jamie Kirchick’s scathing review of the
one-person play based on Corrie’s writings as both a little girl and as a
college student. As Kirchick noted, the play’s attempt to tug at the audience’s
heartstrings unwittingly undermined its argument, since it showed that “Corrie never outgrew the naïve little schoolgirl. Corrie at
23 was just like Corrie at ten.”

This simple-mindedness was reflected in Corrie’s e-mails to her
family. A note that she sent to her mother at the time confirmed her ignorance
of international affairs; after accusing Israel of genocide, she wrote home to ask her mother to “look up the definition of
genocide according to international law,” whose meaning she admitted that she
could not recall. (“I really value words,” she added–though apparently not
enough to worry about whether what she said about Israel was accurate.)

If nothing else, sending such a poorly-trained student into a war
zone would constitute an indictment of the education that Corrie received,
especially since she was in Gaza while on break from Evergreen College. Evergreen,
however, seems to revel in the fact that its students will receive (at best) a
one-sided education on matters relating to Middle East international relations.
The college sponsors a “Rachel
Corrie Memorial Scholarship”
(to memorialize Corrie, the “community
activist”), which awards $2000 to an Evergreen
student “dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the Middle East and to
working locally or internationally to further Middle East peace.” Applicants,
according to the college, “must show how they will use their studies to promote
human rights and social justice through community activism and/or political
advocacy.”

What academic training does a Corrie Scholarship applicant
need? Work in such “areas of interest related to the Middle East” as “Arab
culture and Arabic language, US Policy in the Middle East, and peace, justice
and conflict resolution studies.” At Evergreen, learning about Israel
apparently isn’t essential to gain “a better understanding of the Middle East.”

Given what Evergreen does teach
about the Middle East, perhaps it’s better for its students simply to remain
ignorant about Israel. While she was at the college, Corrie could learn about Israel
through such one-sided offerings as “Seeking Justice:
Reclamation, Equality, and Restitution,” which contrasted Palestinian sources
with what the syllabus termed “Zionist/Israeli” documents; Israel, in this
sense, was recognized not as a sovereign state but merely a “Zionist” entity.
And
after her death, an Evergreen professor who had worked with Corrie named
Steve Niva published an op-ed
charging that his former student was “killed” as a foreseeable result of
Israeli security policies (in this instance, building a security barrier to
guard against Gaza smugglers). Niva, who shortly before Corrie’s death penned a
Counterpunch article implying
that former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon bore responsibility for the
Palestinians’ embrace of suicide-murder tactics, has made something of a career
in Corrie Studies; the Evergreen website notes that he served as a featured
speaker
at Oregon State during a “week-long run of the play ‘My Name is
Rachel Corrie,’ where he gave a talk entitled ‘Unlikely Icons: Rachel Corrie,
Palestine and the New Internationalism.'”

This past semester, Niva taught a course
on U.S. foreign policy
and the roots of terrorism, which purported to
ensure that students would “obtain a thorough
knowledge of current events” and “develop a thorough understanding of the
history of United States foreign policy in the Middle East.”

Evergreen, alas, has stopped
putting course syllabi on-line, so outsiders have to trust that Niva’s reading
list and course topics are fair.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

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