Rachel Corrie death: Activist’s family launch final bid to secure ‘justice’ from Israel over 2003 bulldozer death

‘The state is so aggressive in demonising us for pursuing this’

Jerusalem

The parents of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in Gaza, are preparing to launch the final chapter in their 11-year battle for accountability into their daughter’s death.

But they are concerned the legal move is a course that Rachel would not have embraced.

“She’d appreciate us moving forward, but she would have been concerned about the toll on our family,” says her father Craig Corrie. Legal battling is “the most emotionally difficult part of what we do,” adds his wife, Cindy Corrie.

Rachel was crushed to death under rubble pushed by an Israeli military bulldozer as she protested against the destruction of homes in 2003.

When at home in Olympia, Washington, the Corries spend their energies as heads of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, working to educate others about the difficulties Palestinians face under occupation.

That, says Mrs Corrie, is “very nourishing” in contrast to the task of trying to expose what she believes is a cover-up by the army and legal system.

The army denies that it has problems investigating itself or that it operates with impunity.

The Corries struggle to have Rachel’s death declared to be deliberate or showing criminal negligence ended in defeat at Haifa District Court in August 2012.

Judge Oded Gershon termed Rachel’s death “the result of an accident she brought upon herself” and found the military police investigation to have been sound.

“The judge found that the only person negligent in the whole affair was Rachel and it’s pretty hard to accept,” says Mrs Corrie.

Rachel was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, whose members acted as human shields to protect Palestinians, was wearing a flurorescent vest when she was run over. Judge Gershon endorsed the bulldozer driver’s account that he did not see her.

In the view of Bill Van Esveld, of Human Rights Watch, the military police investigation failed to interview key witnesses and when it did so failed to cross-check statements. Military police did not visit the site in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip because it was not safe to go there.

The military police also failed, in the family’s view, to obtain vital information such as radio communications for the hours before Rachel was run over.

According to a military police investigator’s report, the head of southern command, general Doron Almog, stopped the bulldozer driver giving testimony.

Judge Gershon ruled that this intervention came late in the testimony and didn’t impinge on the investigation.

Part of the reason waging the legal battle is so difficult, the Corries say, is that Israeli state attorneys are actively besmirching them as Israel haters.

“It is so adversarial,” says Mr Corrie. “The state is so aggressive in demonising Rachel and even our family for pursuing this.”

In concluding its written arguments to the supreme court, the state wrote: “The appellants acted with a lack of good faith and unfairly, vis a vis the state, over many years in portraying the incident as a deliberate action by the Israel defence forces.

“The state suffered harsh criticism over the years from the appellants and the media they cultivated as they disseminated a false picture and sought to defame the state of Israel on every possible stage.” The state is asking the court to order the Corries to pay its legal expenses.

The Corries believe a verdict in their favour could end up saving lives if it promotes accountability and protection of civilians.

“Values count and when they are expressed in law it is extremely important,” said Mr Corrie.

“It’s a personal tragedy that there was a transgression of international law in the killing of our daughter. It is immensely important that we not abandon international humanitarian law and that’s what the lower court wanted to do.

“Those values count, that’s how we live. So this is not just about that lives are not ended, it’s about how they are lived.”

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