We arrived in Israel and Palestine in late December for a remarkable international conference in Bethlehem, “Celebrating Nonviolent Resistance” and with intentions of traveling to Gaza early in January. Five members of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project were already working in Rafah at the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip–some for up to two months. They were having ongoing discussion with Palestinians about security issues. After careful consideration of the growing tensions surrounding upcoming elections and recent kidnappings, we agreed to travel to Gaza as planned, while continuing to carefully monitor the situation.
On the afternoon of January 2nd we arrived in the Gaza Strip where we anticipated spending five days reconnecting with friends and carrying out work for the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice and also for the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project and The Rebuilding Alliance. We had wonderful reunions with the two families whose home our daughter Rachel Corrie tried to protect when she was killed in 2003, and with friends that we have made in the Gaza community since.
In a late afternoon meeting on January 3rd at the Rachel Corrie Children and Youth Cultural Center in Rafah, we met with the five Olympia members of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project and their Rafah counterparts. We were warmly welcomed by this wonderful and enthusiastic group of men and women who have been working to build cross-cultural communication and cooperation between our two communities. We heard about progress being made with fair trade, education, and art projects. We also heard directly from Palestinian members of the group about growing concerns for our security and that of the entire Olympia delegation due to quickly rising internal tensions within the Gaza Strip as elections approach. Because of a recent rumor circulating about a planned kidnapping of Americans, we were advised to shorten our visit and the stay of the ORSCP delegates, as well. A community event in our honor was planned for January 5th, and it was agreed that we should all depart after that time. Palestinians in Rafah were adjusting their lives to watch out for us and our safety, and those of us from Olympia were concerned about the inconvenience we were creating for them and about their safety, as well as our own.
On January 4th, between approximately 1:30-3:00 am, an incident occurred that threatened the safety of three of the five members from the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project and us, as well. Two men, one armed, entered the buildings where we were staying, apparently with the intention of kidnapping the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project delegates. We were not their original targets. We became involved when the ORSCP delegates, sought help from our host.
We were not kidnapped. Though one of the men who entered our host’s apartment was armed, we were never threatened physically or verbally. The men were polite, though it was clear that they were interested in taking, at least, two Americans with them. We declined to leave. It was through very quick thinking and action by the Palestinian couple who were hosting us that our safety was ensured. They diffused the situation and managed to engage the help of a neighbor who was a member of the security forces. We are very grateful for all that they and the neighbor did to help us.
After this incident and with growing friction in Rafah–apparently between the Palestinian Authority and the family of an Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade member arrested for connection with earlier kidnappings–friends in Rafah determined that we should depart early the next morning. Palestinians facilitated our travel to Erez checkpoint (into Israel) with police protection. We were accompanied by our hosts, by friends from the Palestinian branch of the Olympia-Rafah Sister City group, and police escorts. It was an emotional departure and farewell.
We look forward to returning and reconnecting with our friends in Gaza when the time is right. Until then, all of the people of Gaza are in our hearts as they continue to live with unimaginably challenging conditions under Israeli occupation and siege–extreme poverty, unemployment, and isolation–but also, with the enduring hope that Palestinians universally share for the future. We will continue our work with the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, the Olympia-Rafah Sister City Project, and The Rebuilding Alliance, building connections to the people of Rafah and Gaza and lending our friendship and support. We will continue to work for a just and enduring peace for all Palestinians and Israelis.
Cindy and Craig Corrie