January 15, 2004
In the afternoon of March 16, 2003, in Rafah, at the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, my twenty-three-year-old daughter, Rachel, was crushed by an Israeli military D9R Caterpillar bulldozer as she stood between that bulldozer and the home of the Nasrallah family, attempting to prevent that home’s demolition. Rachel traveled from the U.S. to Rafah in January 2003. In her journal, she wrote “I’ve had this underlying need to go to a place and meet people who are on the other end of the portion of my tax money that goes to fund the U.S. and other militaries.”
In Rafah, with other international activists, Rachel spent nights sleeping at wells to protect them from demolition. She stood between Palestinian municipal water workers trying to repair the wells and the Israeli military towers from where shots rang down, harassing the workers and the internationals. She documented the destruction of Palestinian orchards, gardens, and greenhouses, as well as harassment of Palestinians at checkpoints. She learned Arabic from Palestinian youngsters and helped them with their English homework. She drank tea with Palestinian grandmothers, held wiggling babies, and danced with Palestinian children. Rachel and other internationals slept in Palestinian homes along the border with Egypt that were threatened with demolition because of the steel wall and cleared border strip that the Israeli military was creating there. One of these homes belonged to the Nasrallahs.
Rachel wrote, “The two front rooms of their house are unusable because gunshots have been fired through the walls, so the whole family—three kids and two parents—sleep in the parents’ bedroom. I sleep on the floor next to the youngest daughter, Iman, and we all share blankets…Friday is the holiday, and when I woke up they were watching “Gummy Bears” dubbed into Arabic. So I ate breakfast with them and sat there for a while and just enjoyed being in this big puddle of blankets with this family watching what for me seemed like Saturday morning cartoons.”
In September 2003, my husband, Craig, and I were able to spend six days in Rafah. We went to the Nasrallah home, which still stood, amidst the rubble remaining from other neighboring demolitions. We were welcomed by Dr. Samir Nasrallah, the Palestinian pharmacist who with other family members owned the home. We shared a beautiful meal with the family. Dr. Samir showed us the spot in the kitchen where Rachel sat on the floor making late night calls back to us in the U.S. He showed us the place at the foot of his bed where Rachel and his three children slept, away from the exterior walls of the house that had been penetrated by bullets from Israeli military vehicles. He showed us the spot where Rachel stood to protect his home and where she was fatally injured. Intiman, Dr. Samir’s wife, often hugged me. She has a sweet, gentle face and an easy smile. The oldest of her three children, Kareem, showed me the children’s bedroom, the walls marked with bullet holes. I sat in the yard with six-year-old Iman, patted her rabbit, and talked quietly with her as she sifted sand through her fingers. It seemed soothing to me in this terribly troubled place, but her father told me that she did this all time. He was concerned that she was having difficulty dealing with the trauma in her young life.
In October 2003, the Nasrallah family was forced from their home. Their house was completely destroyed in the months that followed. Human Rights Watch reports that 2500 homes have been demolished in Gaza in the past four years and sadly, the number grows. During our visit, we were entertained by several families whose homes no longer stand—all destroyed because of their location along the border with Egypt where a wide strip is being cleared by the Israeli military. The loss feels very personal to me, yet I still find it difficult to fully imagine the impact on families and children who experience this threat and eventual devastation.
For personal reasons that I am sure are apparent, I am dedicated to rebuilding for the Nasrallah family. But in doing so, I hope and believe that we will bring further attention to the outrageous assault on human rights that occurs with each home demolition and will hold the Israeli Government responsible for the human rights abuses being committed by the Israeli military in its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Craig and I have had the opportunity to connect with many inspiring individuals and organizations (Palestinian, Israeli, and international) who are working for a just peace for all the people in Palestine and Israel. I believe that these are the voices that will prevail and that with our efforts to rebuild for the Nasrallah family, we join them and take one more step and one more stand for justice and peace in the region.
Rachel’s Light Along the Road
A Message from Khaled Nasrallah
November 8, 2004
After reading the comments to my family’s weblog [on the Rebuilding Alliance website], I feel I should say what I learned from my experience – maybe it will be of use to others.
Before the Intifada, I was like millions in the world living in peace with my small family in my small home, looking to the West (especially the U.S.A.) with a look of doubt. My doubts came from a shortage of information and, most of the time, a controlled media – and also from the classic position of doubt of the unknown.
I was wondering about Americans and their development in the U.S.A. and all the positive things they have. I thought they should have a big mind, and open mind to ask themselves why these events are happening in the Middle East. I could not understand why people in the West weren’t following things back to the starting points not just judging from the conclusion alone. I thought they must hate the East by nature or on the basis of their religions.
After the Intifada, we received some of the International Solidarity Movement volunteers in our home, and they stayed for a long time. They came from the U.S.A., the U.K. (England, Scotland , Ireland), France, Italy, Scandinavia … women and men, most of them youth.
We had the opportunity to discuss and build a good relationship. We explored many unclear issues of politics and economics and even learned about each other’s community. I found that they started with the same negative outlook as I did but with time each side came to understand the other and respect each other.
On a human level, we were surprised to find that all the people in all the world are the same, same in love and same in hate. Same in thinking and solutions. Same in jokes and fun. Same as people with the same basic requirements: they like family and children as just we love, they love Allah as we do. They are human, not machines.
We discovered that all of us are victims of fixed ideas not based on reality, or based only on an incomplete reality.
Also we discovered that religions are neither the obstacle nor the motive for the misunderstandings. We could see this because each of us belongs to a religion that respects the other as all, and builds judgment and respect based on what you do and what positive things you add to the community, and the world, and the family, and the state, on how positive you are with all around you.
Rachel was one of those humans who tried to give a hand to those who needed her help, without asking herself about the gains and without allowing religions to stop her great message. She taught us on all levels. She lit a light on the road for people who seek out a meaning in life beyond the classic limitation, where East helps only Easterners, and West helps only Westerners.
I wanted to take this opportunity to express my thoughts especially to Rachel’s parents who raised in her the justice, the positive, and the love.
By my message I also want to encourage all those who think negatively about others (any others), and tell them this: Just come closer to those you dislike and give yourself a minute to give your hand to those who need your help because whatever happened to them, it could happen to anyone.