The bereaved family of Rachel Corrie, the American activist crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer, will appeal against a judge’s ruling that she was killed in an “accident she brought upon herself” and the Army was not to blame.
The Corries will now take their long struggle to hold the Israel Defence Forces accountable for her death to the country’s Supreme Court after the Haifa district judge, Oded Gershon, came down heavily in favour of the military’s version of the tragedy in Gaza nine years ago.
Human rights monitors said today’s ruling also created a “dangerous precedent” by including a potentially far-reaching disavowal of state liability in cases in which non-combatants were killed or injured when the military was engaged in “war-related action”.
In a verdict which the victim’s mother Cindy Corrie said had “deeply saddened and deeply troubled” her family, the judge today cleared the military of negligence, and accepted that the crew of the D9 bulldozer did not see the 23 year old despite the orange fluorescent jacket she was wearing, and the testimony of fellow activists at the scene that she was clearly visible. And he held that the military police investigation into Ms Corrie’s death was properly conducted, rejecting the family’s argument that it had been seriously defective. This ruling is unlikely to satisfy the US government which has consistently said since 2004 that Israel failed to carry out the “thorough, credible and transparent” investigation promised by the then Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon.
Judge Oded said that Ms Corrie, who had been part of an International Solidarity Movement group trying to prevent the repeated demolitions of Palestinian houses in the southern Gaza border town of Rafah, had been in a closed military zone. “She did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done,” he said.
Cindy Corrie, her voice cracking at times, said after the hearing: “Rachel was a human being and we as her family deserved accountability. The (Israeli) state has worked extremely hard so that the truth behind what happened to my daughter is not exposed.
“I believe that this was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel.”
The hard right Yisrael Beiteinu party in Israel’s governing coalition said the verdict was “vindication after vilification”. But Ms Corrie’s sister, Sarah Simpson, said that she was convinced after studying the evidence over the years that her sister had been seen from the cab of the bulldozer. “As for the intent of the driver, I hope that one day he will have the courage to tell me what he saw and what he feels.”
Bill Van Esveld of Human Rights Watch criticised the judgement for including the “disturbing” observation that under Israel’s long-standing Civil Wrongs ordinance “the state bears no responsibility for damages inflicted on the plaintiffs which resulted from war-related action.” He said that view “flatly contradicts Israel’s international legal obligations to spare civilians from harm during armed conflict”. The judge said the military had come under grenade attack in the area on the day and accepted the state’s claim that it had not been trying to bulldoze houses but was flattening the land to prevent the use of explosives by militants.
Mr Van Esveld also said the judge’s endorsement of the military police investigation was hard to “reconcile with the facts.” Investigators had failed to take statements from witnesses and to re-interview them to clarify discrepancies. The court was also told that during the military police investigation, a colonel dispatched by the head of the IDF’s Southern Command intervened to halt the interrogation of the bulldozer commander. While the plaintiffs had argued that further questioning might have established whether Ms Corrie had been seen, and the state did not deny the intervention, the judge today said it did not materially affect the evidence.
The Corries’ lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, said the verdict could have been written by the state’s lawyers and “blames the victim.” It was “yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness.”