Verdict Expected in Death of Rachel Corrie

August 27, 2012

Rachel Corrie protests in Gaza
Rachel Corrie just hours prior to her being crushed in Rafah, Gaza Strip, March 16, 2003 trying to protect a home from demolition. Photo courtesy Rachel Corrie Foundation

UPDATE: The Haifa District Court in Israel has returned a verdict maintaining that the Israeli military is not responsible for ‘damages caused’ because the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer was engaged in a combat operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003.  See Amnesty International’s USA statement on this verdict: ‘Rachel Corrie Verdict Highlights Impunity for Israeli Military’.

By Edith Garwood, country specialist on Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territories/Palestinian Authority for Amnesty International USA

Tomorrow, August 28th, the family of Rachel Corrie will receive a verdict in the civil lawsuit they filed against the State of Israel for the killing of Rachel. Will that verdict deliver justice following the death of their daughter, who was killed in Gaza? Or will the verdict maintain impunity for the Israeli military?

In 2003, Rachel was killed while taking non-violent action to stop an Israeli military bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian family’s home in the Gaza Strip. During the demolition, the Israeli bulldozer ran the young American woman over.

The Corrie family’s suit charges Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a full and credible investigation in the case.

Amnesty International USA condemned the killing of Rachel Corrie in 2003 and called for an independent investigation into her death. As is usually the case, the Israeli military was allowed to investigate itself and closed the case. The Israeli military found that Rachel’s death was an accident and that she had endangered herself by entering a combat zone.

The U.S. government, never comfortable with the investigation, told the Corrie family recently (via the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro) that the U.S. government did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been “thorough, credible and transparent.”

During the trial, this became quite clear:

  • The autopsy doctor violated an Israeli court order requiring that an official from the U.S. Embassy be present during Rachel’s autopsy (critical in determining cause of death and other factors);
  • Military investigators did not visit the site of the incident at that time or enter the cab of the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer to ascertain driver’s field of vision or review the video tape shot the day Rachel was killed. (An investigator testified he thought it was someone else’s responsibility);
  • Military investigators did not document full answers given during interviews according to eye witnesses interviewed;
  • ‘Yossi’, an Israeli military training unit leader testified, “During war there are no civilians … when you write a [protocol] manual, that manual is for war.” This illustrated the attitude of impunity those in the military share regarding the indiscriminate use of force against civilians. Amnesty has repeatedly documented and raised concerns about the environment of impunity in the region which only encourages human rights violations.
  • The head of IDF Southern Command, Major General Doron Almog, had instructed the bulldozer operator not to cooperate with the investigation.  He also gave a direct order to the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short (according to Israeli army documents obtained by the Israeli daily Haaretz).

“This trial is an attempt to hold accountable not only those who failed to protect Rachel’s life but also the flawed system of military investigations which is neither impartial nor thorough,” said Hussein abu Hussein, the family’s attorney. “Under international law, Israel is obligated to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from the dangers of military operations. The Israeli military flagrantly violated this principle in the killing of Rachel Corrie and it must be held accountable.”

If the Israeli court rules tomorrow against the Corrie family, it means that shoddy investigations were rubber stamped and that Israeli military impunity has been preserved.  Such a verdict would also implicitly declare ‘open season’ not only on nonviolent Palestinian and Israeli human rights activists, but also on international human rights defenders as well.

If the court rules in favor of the Corrie family, Rachel’s family members  will realize a certain amount of relief after so many years of grief. However, justice won’t be attained until there is an independent, credible, and transparent investigation into Rachel’s death and those directly responsible for the original crime are held accountable. Those responsible in any subsequent cover up must be held accountable as well.

Rachel attempted to stop an Israeli bulldozer from destroying a Palestinian home.  Scores of Palestinian homes and properties in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are demolished by Israel in contravention of international law. Nonviolent protesters of these demolitions need protection from excessive use of force. The tragedy of Rachel Corrie’s death and the upcoming verdict matters to us all.