In e-mails to her family, Corrie described what she witnessed and expressed her frustration over it. On March 14, 2003 in an interview with the Middle East Broadcasting network, she said: "I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive ... Sometimes I sit down to dinner with people and I realize there is a massive military machine surrounding us, trying to kill the people I'm having dinner with.
On March 16, 2003, Corrie was in a group of seven ISM activists (three British and four Americans) attempting to disrupt the actions of Israeli bulldozers. After several hours of activity in the combat zone, Corrie sat in the path of a bulldozer, where she was fatally injured. According to an ISM activist, Joseph Smith, Corrie fully expected the bulldozer to stop just in front of her. In June 2003, a military investigation by the Israel Defense Forces Judge Advocate’s Office concluded that the woman’s death was accidental. “The driver at no point saw or heard Corrie,” an army source told the Jerusalem Post. “She was standing behind debris which obstructed the view of the driver and the driver had a very limited field of vision due to the protective cage he was working in.”
Smith recounted afterward, "We were horribly surprised. They had been careful not to hurt us. They'd always stopped before." Corrie was transported to a Palestinian hospital. Accounts vary as to whether she died at the scene, in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, or at the hospital.
The events surrounding Corrie's death are disputed. ISM eyewitnesses assert that the Israeli soldier driving the bulldozer deliberately ran Corrie over twice while she was acting as a human shield to prevent the demolition of the home of Samir Nasrallah, a local pharmacist. The Israeli Government and the IDF denied that version of events and described Corrie's death as an accident. The official Israeli response stated that Corrie was killed by falling debris pushed over by the bulldozer whose driver did not see her, and that the bulldozer was clearing brush and not engaged in a demolition when Corrie blocked its path, while other reports say the Israeli government charged that the house being demolished contained a tunnel used for smuggling weapons from Egypt.
The major points of dispute are whether the bulldozer driver saw Corrie, and whether she died after being hit by the blade or by falling debris, or whether she was crushed under the bulldozer tracks or the blade. In an interview the day after Corrie's death, eyewitness Joseph Smith stated, "The driver lost sight of her." Because the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers have a restricted field of vision with several blind spots, Israeli army regulations normally require that other soldiers assist in directing bulldozer drivers, but the Israeli army commander of the Gaza Strip said in an interview broadcast on Israeli television that, on the day of Corrie's death, soldiers had to stay in their armored vehicles and were not able to direct the bulldozer, or arrest the protesters, because of the threat of Palestinian snipers. He also said that Israeli soldiers may have been handling other ISM activists instead of watching over the bulldozer. In the website http://electronicintifada.net/v2/article1284.shtml Joseph Smith gives a different account: "the bulldozer driver continued forward, until Rachel was underneath the cab of the bulldozer. At this point, it was more than clear that she was nowhere but underneath the bulldozer, there was simply nowhere else she could have been, as she had not appeared on either side of the bulldozer, and could not have stayed in front of it that long without being crushed. Despite the obviousness of her position, the bulldozer began to reverse, without lifting its blade, and dragged the blade over her body again. He continued to reverse until he was on the border strip, about 100 meters away, and left her crushed body in the sand." In a statement issued the day after Corrie's death, the ISM said that, ``when the bulldozer refused to stop or turn aside she climbed up onto the mound of dirt and rubble being gathered in front of it ... to look directly at the driver who kept on advancing."
The IDF produced a video about Corrie's death that includes footage taken from inside the cockpit of a D9. It makes a "credible case," Joshua Hammer wrote in Mother Jones, that "the operators, peering out through narrow, double-glazed, bulletproof windows, their view obscured behind pistons and the giant scooper, might not have seen Corrie kneeling in front of them." The website Israel Behind the News has said that images on the ISM website, and subsequently used by Reuters, give a misleading impression of the incident.
An ISM activist who witnessed the accident who gave the name Richard, made the following statement to the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz
The following account is from Joe Carr, an ISM activist from Kansas City, Missouri, who used the assumed name of Joseph Smith during his time in Gaza.
Joe Smith also said: "Rachel had two options. When the bulldozer started to dig in the dirt pile, the pile started to move, and she could have rolled sideways quickly or fallen backwards to avoid being hit. But Rachel leaned forward to climb to the top of the dirt pile. The bulldozer's digging drew her downward, and its driver could not see her anymore. So without lifting the scoop, he turned backward and she was already underneath the blade.
Smith stated in a telephone interview, "The driver lost sight of her and continued forward. Then, without lifting the blade he reversed and Rachel was underneath the mid-section of the dozer, she wasn't run over by the tread." In yet another statement, Smith also stated that the driver picked Corrie up with a pile of dirt, dumped her on the ground, and ran over her twice.
ISM activist Tom Dale was standing yards away from Corrie. He told journalist Joshua Hammer, Jerusalem bureau chief for Newsweek:
Other eyewitness accounts have indicated that Corrie may have been killed at a moment when the driver was looking behind him.--
An autopsy was performed by an Israeli pathologist, Yehudah Hiss, at the National Center of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv, which issued a report on issued on March 20, four days after Corrie's death. The report described how "Rachel's shoulder blades had been crushed, her spine broken in five places and six ribs broken. Her face was apparently slashed by the blade. It concluded that her death was caused by pressure on the chest "from a mechanical apparatus". An IDF spokesman stated that the initial investigation revealed that the cause of death was most likely a blow to the head and chest by a blunt object, possibly a chunk of cement dug up by the bulldozer.
According to a correspondent for Gannett News Service, the IDF document, "The Death of Rachel Corrie" made no mention of the pathologist's conclusion, though, according to Corrie's parents, the entire document has not been released.
The Israeli army's report, which was seen by the The Guardian, said that the army was searching for explosives in the border zone when Corrie was "struck as she stood behind a mound of earth that was created by an engineering vehicle operating in the area and she was hidden from the view of the vehicle's operator who continued with his work. Corrie was struck by dirt and a slab of concrete resulting in her death ... The finding of the operational investigations shows that Rachel Corrie was not run over by an engineering vehicle but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete which was moved or slid down while the mound of earth which she was standing behind was moved," (The Guardian, April 14, 2003).
In later IDF operations, the house was damaged (a hole was knocked in a wall) and was later destroyed. By that time, the Nasrallah family had moved into a different house. It was reported in 2006 that the house that Corrie tried to protect was rebuilt with funds raised by The Rebuilding Alliance.
A spokesman for the IDF told the Guardian that, while it did not accept responsibility for Corrie's death, it intended to change its operational procedures to avoid similar incidents in the future. The level of command of similar operations would be raised, said the spokesman, and civilians in the area would be dispersed or arrested before operations began. Observers will be deployed and CCTV cameras will be installed on the bulldozers to compensate for blind spots, which may have contributed to Corrie's death.
The IDF gave copies of the report, entitled "The Death of Rachel Corrie," to members of the U.S. Congress in April 2003, and Corrie's family released the document to the media in June 2003, according to the Gannett News Service. However, in March 2004, the family maintained that the entire report had not been released, and that only they and two American staffers at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv had been allowed to view it. The family say they were allowed to look at the report in the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. The ISM rejected the Israeli report stating it contradicted their members' eyewitness reports, and that the investigation had been far from credible and transparent.
Corrie's death sparked controversy and led to international media coverage, in part because she was an American, and in part because of the highly politicized nature of the conflict itself.
Capt. Jacob Dallal, a spokesman for the Israeli army, called Corrie's death a "regrettable accident" and said that she and the other ISM activists were "a group of protesters who were acting very irresponsibly, putting everyone in danger — the Palestinians, themselves and our forces — by intentionally placing themselves in a combat zone."
Amnesty International USA called for an independent inquiry, with Christine Bustany, their advocacy director for the Middle East, saying that "U.S.-made bulldozers have been 'weaponized' and their transfer to Israel must be suspended. U.S. Representative Brian Baird introduced House Concurrent Resolution 111 in the U.S. Congress on March 25, 2003, calling on the U.S. government to "undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation" into Corrie's death. The House of Representatives took no action on the resolution. The Corrie family joined Representative Baird in calling for a U.S. investigation. Baird, though reelected in 2004 and again in 2006, has not reintroduced the resolution in the Congress.
Human Rights Watch, a group which has repeatedly criticized Israeli actions in the West Bank and Gaza, on a web page devoted to a number of non-natives of the area who have been killed by IDF action, questioned the quality of the investigation, stating that its own communication with Palestinian and ISM individuals involved "indicates that the impartiality and professionalism of the Israeli investigation into Corrie’s death are highly questionable.
Yasser Arafat offered his condolences and gave the blessings of the Palestinian people to Corrie.
There were reports that because she was an American, her death attracted the kind of attention that the deaths of Palestinians fail to garner. The Observer wrote that: "On the night of Corrie's death, nine Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, among them a four-year-old girl and a man aged 90. A total of 220 people have died in Rafah since the beginning of the intifada. Palestinians know the death of one American receives more attention than the killing of hundreds of Muslims." A Hamas activist told the newspaper: "[Corrie's] death serves me more than it served her. Going in front of the tanks was heroic. Her death will bring more attention than the other 2,000 martyrs."
The same article also contains this account:
"The desolate sandy stretch is now strewn with the rubble from the demolition of houses which she could not prevent. As the memorial service got under way, the Israeli army sent its own representative. A tank pulled up beside the mourners and sprayed them with tear gas. A bizarre game of cat-and-mouse began as the peace activists chased the tank around to throw flowers on it, and the Israeli soldiers inside threatened, in return, to run them down."
Her photograph has been used in protests, including in Rafah, against Israel's actions in Gaza and the West Bank. On July 15, 2003, the Chicago Tribune reported that "to the people of Rafah, Rachel Corrie will always remain a very special martyr, their American martyr."
The University of Maryland, College Park's campus newspaper The Diamondback published a cartoon defining "stupidity" as "sitting in front of a bulldozer to protect a gang of terrorists." After the group Palestine Media Watch published the email addresses and phone number of Diamondback editors, urging readers to contact the newspaper to secure an apology, thousands of e-mails and hundreds of phone calls were received by the paper in protest. Describing the cartoon as "indecent and anti-American," over 60 student protesters staged a sit-in at the newspaper's offices (with 10 staying overnight), demanding that the paper apologize and "publish an article honoring Corrie's life". The newspaper refused to apologize, citing the First Amendment. Noted editor in chief Jay Parsons, "The decision was about freedom of speech, and that made the decision easy.
My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play composed from Corrie's journals and e-mails from Gaza and directed by British actor Alan Rickman, was presented in London in early 2005. It was later revived in October 2005. The play was to be transported to the New York Theatre Workshop, but when it was postponed indefinitely, the English producers denounced the decision as "censorship" and withdrew the show. It finally opened Off-Broadway on October 15, 2006, for an initial run of 48 performances. The play has since been published as a paperback, also entitled My Name is Rachel Corrie.
The widespread media coverage of Corrie's death, and the London play in particular, sparked criticism of what British journalist Tom Gross called "the cult of Rachel Corrie." In an article called "The Forgotten Rachels," published in The Spectator on October 22, 2005, Gross tells the stories of six other women called Rachel, Jewish victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict whose deaths, he wrote, received little, if any, coverage outside Israel. Gross went on to argue that "Partly thanks to the efforts of Corrie and her fellow activists, the flow of explosives from Egypt into Gaza continued – and were later used to kill children in southern Israel." The article prompted a National Review editorial arguing that "Corrie’s death was unfortunate, but more unfortunate is a Western media and cultural establishment that lionizes 'martyrs' for illiberal causes while ignoring the victims those causes create.
Australian playwright Ben Ellis wrote Blindingly Obvious Facts, a 10-minute play comprised of verbatim excerpts of right-wing blogs discussing Corrie's death. It was performed as part of the 2007 Melbourne season of the Short and Sweet short play competition. Sydney composer Lawrence Williams mixed a recorded version of Ellis' play for the play's Sydney Short and Sweet production in early 2008. One of the voice-actors in Sydney was the radical playwright Van Badham.
The ruling was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On September 17, 2007, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal on political question grounds, and did not reach the merits of the suit. The Court found that as the bulldozers were paid for by the U.S. Government as part of its aid to Israel, that the Judicial Branch could not rule on the merits of the case without ruling on whether or not the government's financing of such bulldozers was appropriate, a matter it felt was not entrusted to the Judicial Branch.
Claims were previously filed against the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli Defense Ministry.
According to Nasrallah, the gunmen were seeking Americans as bargaining chips to secure the release of Alaa al-Hams, a Palestinian militia leader arrested by Palestine intelligence on suspicion of ordering the abduction of British human-rights activist Kate Burton and her parents.