I know Cindy and Craig Corrie. They were not seeking revenge when they brought a civil case against the Israeli government for the appalling death of their daughter Rachel, who was crushed under an Israeli military bulldozer when she was trying to protect a Palestinian home from demolition in March of 2003. They were not seeking revenge, but they were seeking justice, and beyond justice maybe even some sense of recognition that this vicious conflict cannot go on.
Well, the Corries lost — the Israeli court refused to assign any responsibility for her death to the driver or the military — and yet I feel, even though I myself feel the pain of Rachel’s death to this day, that they cannot be the losers. As Socrates said, when he also had just lost his case in court, “no harm can befall a good person either in this life or the next, and the gods are not indifferent to our fates.” The losers are the state of Israel and their apologists, for even though no official sanction will be levied against them, they are human beings and cannot escape the reality of what they have done.
In 1988 the USS Vincennes, on patrol in the Persian Gulf, shot down an Iranian airliner, killing all 290 aboard. George H.W. Bush, who was Vice President at the time, infamously said, “I don’t care what the facts are; I will never apologize for the American people.” In so doing he walled himself off from human feeling and condemned us to another cycle of destruction. We can retreat into this kind of ‘patriotic’ egotism but we cannot insulate ourselves from the costs of such alienation — witness the ever-increasing number of combat soldiers and veterans today who are committing suicide.
At some point this pain has got to register, and we will have to say we simply cannot go on with this hatred and violence; and at that point the nobility of the Corries and their unearned suffering, along with countless other people creating alternatives to war and pointing up the suffering of war without themselves succumbing to hatred will be known for what it was, a saving force pointing our way to freedom.
And as the witness of Socrates reminds us, we must not lose sight of the final consolation: that in the end, as the wisest men and women have maintained through history, there is no death. As Rumi put it, “when were you ever made less by dying?” There is no death; but there is justice, and some day we human beings will have to live up to it.