Dear Craig and Cindy Corrie,
I am writing this letter, because I have been thinking about you lately. I know that no words can lessen the pain you must be feeling right now, on the day when your daughter Rachel was killed. Being a Palestinian, I know that sometimes words are meaningless in the face of tragedy. But I also know that words can be empowering and life changing.
I decided to write this letter not only for you, but also for myself. I need to get things off my chest.
When I was 15, I had the privilege of visiting your county. I spent a year as an exchange student, attending an American high school and living with a warm and welcoming American family. Needless to say, your world and mine couldn’t be more different. For the first time, I realized what a normal life should be and what true freedom was like. Even though I lived in a different culture, spoke a different language and felt homesick, which was challenging for sure, I lived free of fear: away from soldiers, guns and bombardments, away from politics, from daily news of death and suffering. That year opened my eyes to a world much bigger than the Nuseirat refugee camp I grew up in (and I’m not just talking geographically).
On the other hand, that year also made me angry, frustrated and depressed. Believe it or not, I honestly never experienced depression until I went to the United States. Living in the outside world was totally different than hearing about it or seeing it on TV. After I experienced all the privileges that come with living in a free country, I came to detest my life under Israeli military occupation, much more than I had. And I was mad. I was mad at the world. I was mad because it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right. Not only did I realize that my childhood had been stolen from me, but also my future. After all, what kind of future can one hope for in an open-air prison and the concrete jungle we call the Gaza Strip? I couldn’t forgive the world for letting Israel brutally occupy us for so long.
I felt alone. I felt abandoned.
And then, I learned about your daughter, Rachel.
Rachel, the American girl who flew thousands of miles away from home to stand in solidarity with a people who practiced a different religion, who had a different skin color and spoke in a different tongue. With her body and soaring voice, Rachel challenged a ruthless system designed to destroy anything that stands in its way. Her bravery was simply incredible.
Most importantly, she did not have to leave her home so far behind, or to stand in front of that home in Rafah in the face of the monstrous bulldozer. But she felt she must. She felt she had an obligation to be there, to be a witness, a human rights observer, a direct-action resister, and most importantly, a human. That spirit is one reason why I chose to return to Gaza and become project manager for We Are Not Numbers instead of trying to find a way to stay abroad, after I returned to the United States to attend university.
March 16 is a date I mark on my calendar; it is a day to read and reread Rachel’s words, to renew my humanitarian spirit, and to control and redirect my frustration and anger. I read her words, because she makes me feel like I am no longer alone, that people care, that they are willing to take personal risks for others—not because they share the same country, religion or ethnicity, but simply because they are human.
I was 10 years old when Rachel left this world. That’s the same age she gave her speech about her dream of ending world poverty, the age Rachel first declared she cares; at such a young age, Rachel showed a startling degree of global awareness, empathy and compassion.
That also is proof of the wise and aware parents she had, who raised her with a focus on values and principles. Thus, it really was no surprise she chose to come to Palestine, bringing us her heart’s warmth.
Thank you, Mr. and Ms. Corrie, for sharing Rachel with us. I know for a fact she has changed many people’s lives, in Palestine and elsewhere. I know she changed mine. May her memory be forever engraved in our hearts.