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Sunday, March 16, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Evergreen college student left tranquil Olympia for violent Middle East

The Associated Press

OLYMPIA — In a matter of months, Rachel Corrie went from the orderly peace movement of this small liberal city to a deadly world of gunfire, bulldozers and violent political conflict.

Corrie, 23, a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, died today in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah while trying to stop a bulldozer from tearing down a Palestinian physician's home. She fell in front of the machine, which ran over her and then backed up, witnesses said.

Israeli military spokesman Capt. Jacob Dallal called her death an accident. State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said the U.S. government had asked Israeli officials for a full investigation.

In an e-mail earlier this month, Corrie described a Feb. 14 confrontation with another Israeli bulldozer in which she referred to herself and other activists as "internationals."

"The internationals stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house," Corrie wrote in the e-mail, distributed in a March 3 news release by the International Solidarity Movement.

"The bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house with the internationals inside," she wrote.

Just a few months before her death, Corrie had been organizing events as an activist in Olympia's peace movement and at Evergreen, a small campus know for its devotion to liberal causes.

Through a local group called Olympians for Peace in the Middle East, she joined the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led group that uses nonviolent methods to challenge Israeli occupation. Among their methods is standing in front of the bulldozers Israel sends into the area nearly every day to destroy buildings near the Gaza-Egypt border.

Other protesters who were with Corrie in Gaza on Sunday said she was wearing a bright colored jacket when the bulldozer hit her.

"Rachel was alone in front of the house as we were trying to get them to stop," said Greg Schnabel, 28, of Chicago. "She waved for the bulldozer to stop and waved. She fell down and the bulldozer kept going. We yelled, 'Stop, stop,' and the bulldozer didn't stop at all."

A tearful Craig Corrie, Rachel's father, described his daughter Sunday as "dedicated to everybody."

"We've tried to bring up our children to have a sense of community, a sense of community that everybody in the world belonged to," he said from his home in Charlotte, N.C. "Rachel believed that — with her life, now."

Corrie was already a committed peace activist when she arrived at Evergreen, said Larry Mosqueda, one of Corrie's professors and a fellow activist.

"She was concerned about human rights and dignity," he said. "That's why she was there."

Clashes of ideas are commonplace in Olympia. Peace activists waved signs on the city's streets long before a war with Iraq loomed, and Evergreen's students are well-known for their compassion for the plight of the oppressed in faraway lands.

But most never hear the sound of live gunfire, or smell plaster dust from a demolished house, as Corrie did before she died Sunday.

The move from organizer to front-line opposition in a war zone was a switch for Corrie, whom friends said was not usually inclined to the overt acts of civil disobedience that characterized such events as the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999.

"As long as I've known her she's always been very energetic and very focused about social justice," said Phan Nguyen, 28, a friend and fellow activist who has made several similar trips to the West Bank. "It seemed natural that she would do something like this."

In her e-mailed dispatch from Rafah, Corrie painted a picture of the perilous life of a human shield, recounting a Feb. 14 confrontation with the Israelis.

"We can only imagine what it is like for Palestinians living here, most of them already once-or-twice refugees already, for whom this is not a nightmare," Corrie wrote, "but a continuous reality from which international privilege cannot protect them, and from which they have no economic means to escape."

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