The Haifa District court ruled on August 28 that the Israeli military was not responsible for killing US activist Rachel Corrie, and that Corrie was responsible for her own death.
Twenty-three-year-old American activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in March 2003. She was trying to prevent Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes in the Gaza border town of Rafah.
“Even when she saw the mount of earth moving towards her, she did not move away,” said Israeli Judge Oded Gershon.
“The accident was caused by the deceased,” Gershon said as he read out a summary of the 62-page ruling in front of a packed courthouse and with Rachel’s mother Cindy, father Craig and sister Sarah sitting in the front row.
Gershon said: “The [Israeli] state did not violate the right of the deceased [Rachel Corrie] to life. There is no basis for the claim that the bulldozer hit her intentionally … I am confident the operator wouldn’t have continued if he saw her.”
Gershon added: “The state is not responsible for damages in actions [that occur] in combat operations.”
The Corrie family intends to appeal the Haifa District Court’s decision at the Israeli high court within 45 days.
The case was originally filed against the state of Israel in 2005 in Haifa District Court. The family accused the state of being responsible for Rachel’s death and of not conducting a thorough investigation into what happened.
Oral testimonies began in 2010. Israeli soldiers testified in court behind a curtain during the trial and a high-ranking Israeli army officer testified that there are no civilians in war.
“We are, of course, deeply saddened and deeply troubled by what we heard today,” said Rachel’s mother, Cindy Corrie, in a press conference following the verdict. “I believe that this was a bad day, not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”
Cindy Corrie said that her family and their legal team believe that the Israeli soldiers driving the bulldozer saw Rachel the day she was killed. The family also said that Israeli military’s investigation into Rachel’s killing was wholly inadequate.
Rachel’s sister, Sarah, said: “I hope someday [the bulldozer driver] will have the courage to sit down in front of me and tell me what he saw and what he feels.”
The Israeli courts, Cindy said, holding back tears, are part of “a well heeled system to protect the Israeli military, the soldiers who conduct actions in that military” and “provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted by what they do”.
In the week before the findings, the United States ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, reportedly told the Corrie family that the Israeli military investigation into Rachel’s killing had not been “thorough, credible and transparent”. Shortly after Rachel’s death, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised US President George W. Bush that such an investigation would be conducted.
Cindy Corrie said: “The diplomatic process between the United States and Israel failed us, and today the Israeli court system demonstrated its failure to us.”
Gershon found that the Israeli military’s investigation into Rachel Corrie’s death was satisfactory. He also ruled that the charges of assault and negligence levied against the Israeli military were unfounded, and that forcing Israel to pay damages to the Corrie family was unnecessary since Rachel’s death was unintentional.
Gershon added the area where Rachel Corrie was killed was a closed military zone and “daily combat region” and that the bulldozer’s work ― which he said was clearing and flattening the land in the area ― was absolutely necessary.
“The task of the army was to clear the area and to clear terrorist hiding places. There was an urgent need to perform this task. The task was not to destroy houses,” Gershon said.
However, the Corrie family’s lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, said the aim of the army’s operations the day Rachel Corrie was killed was to demolish the home of the Nasrallah family, with whom Rachel had been staying.
“It was not right because Rachel was living with this family of Dr. Nasrallah all the period before the killing. Here in this picture, you see how far the bulldozer [was] from the house of Dr. Nasrallah. Any human being who sees this picture can imagine that the aim of this activity in that day, was the destruction of the house of Dr. Nasrallah.”
[Abridged from Electronic Intifada. Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at jkdamours.com.]