News reports from JPost and Sydney Morning Herald. Contact details for the Rachel Corrie Foundation at foot.
Haifa court rules against Rachel Corrie family in suit
Judge Gershon invokes “combatant activities” exception, says US activist who was killed by IDF bulldozer in Gaza could have avoided dangerous situation; Corrie attorney accuses court of endorsing human rights violation.
By Yonah Jeremy Bob, Jpost
August 28, 2012
The Haifa District Court on Tuesday ruled against the family of Rachel Corrie, the American pro-Palestinian activist struck and killed by a bulldozer in Gaza.
In the verdict, Judge Oded Gershon invoked the principle of the combatant activities exception, noting that IDF forces had been attacked in the same area Corrie was killed just hours earlier.
Corrie, 23, from Olympia, Washington, died in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on March 16, 2003, when an IDF bulldozer struck her during a protest by pro-Palestinian group the International Solidarity Movement.
Reading a summary of his 62-page decision, the judge described Israel’s investigation into the incident as appropriate and said it had no mistakes.
Asserting that Corrie could have avoided danger, he dismissed claims that the IDF was negligent in the incident and denied the family’s suit for symbolic damages. The IDF did not violate Corrie’s right to life, he continued, asserting that she inserted herself into a dangerous situation.
The state, he continued, was not responsible for any “damages caused” due to the combat situation but nonetheless called Corrie’s death a “regrettable accident.”
“I am hurt,” Corrie’s mother, Cindy, told reporters after the verdict was read.
Speaking outside the courtroom minutes after the verdict was released, an attorney representing the Corrie family in the case said the court endorsed the violation of Rachel’s human rights,.
The court’s decision, Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein noted that the verdict was so close to the state’s position that state attorneys could have authored it themselves.
Rachel’s mother Cindy said she was deeply saddened by the verdict.
“From the beginning it was clear that there is a system to protect soldiers and provide them with impunity at the cost of civilians,” she told reporters outside the court. “Now we now that the protection for soldiers extends to the court.”
Saying that US diplomacy and the Israeli court system failed her family, Cindy Corrie added that there was never a credible investigation into her daughter’s death.
However, she continued, “At least we have had access to a court system, which most Palestinians are denied.”
Corrie was protesting injustice in Gaza when she was run over and killed by an IDF bulldozer, the attorney said, accusing the state and IDF of violating her human rights.
Corrie’s family filed the civil suit against the Defense Ministry in the district court seven years ago. They claim that the IDF either deliberately killed Corrie or is at least guilty of gross negligence.
Senior US officials criticised the original military investigation into the case, saying it had been neither thorough nor credible. But the judge said the inquiry had been appropriate and pinned no blame on the army.
Immediately after the trial ended in July, Corrie’s family alleged that important evidence, including several surveillance tapes from the time Corrie died, were withheld as part of a coverup over the circumstances of her death.
Among the evidence the family claims has been withheld from the civil suit are surveillance tapes that show color footage of events before and after Corrie’s death.
The color footage was used in a Channel 2 documentary, but the IDF has denied that the color footage exists, the family claims.
IDF officials did submit as evidence a black and white surveillance video with footage from immediately before and after Corrie’s death.
The family also claims there are discrepancies between a photograph of the bulldozer that they say killed Corrie taken by International Solidarity Movement activists, and a bulldozer shown on footage presented by the IDF.
Joanna Paraszczuk and Reuters contributed to this report.
By Ruth Pollard, Sydney Morning Herald,
August 28, 2012
The Israeli Defence Force has been absolved of responsibility in the death of an American peace activist, who was crushed to death by a military bulldozer in 2003.
Judge Oded Gershon in Haifa District Court in Israel’s north, ruling on the civil case brought by Rachel Corrie’s family, said the 23-year-old activist could have saved herself by moving out of the path of the military bulldozer.
“There was no negligence by the army or the state [of Israel],” he said. Ms Corrie’s family, who were in court when the ruling was handed down minutes ago, are about to hold a media conference to address the news.
Rachel Corrie’s family wait for the verdict in the Haifa District Court. Photo: Ruth Pollard
They have led a nine-year fight for justice over her death and filed a civil lawsuit against the state of Israel in 2005, claiming that Israel was responsible for her death and failed to conduct a full and credible investigation into the case.
Ms Corrie was in southern Gaza with pro-Palestinian group International Solidarity Movement, working on non-violent protests that involved acting as a human shield to prevent the Israeli Defence Force from bulldozing Palestinian homes.
She was wearing a bright orange vest and standing on a mound of dirt in front of a house that was to be demolished in the Rafah refugee camp. Ms Corrie’s family and witnesses to her death say the driver of the armed Caterpillar D9 bulldozer would have clearly seen her as he drove towards her, crushing her, then reversing over her body.
The driver said he did not see her and the Defence Force’s own investigation ruled her death an accident.
The judge ruled that Ms Corrie’s death was an accident and the government was not responsible for combat activities in the closed military zone.
He ruled that there was no fault in the military investigation or the Israel Defence Force’s findings that it was not responsible for Ms Corrie’s death.
Ms Corrie could have saved herself, the judge ruled, and there was no negligence from the IDF.
The trial has been running since March 10, 2010, and since then there have been 15 hearings and witness testimony from 23 people.
It has exposed serious chain-of-command failures in relation to civilian killings and indiscriminate destruction of civilian property at the hands of the Israeli military in southern Gaza, a statement from the family reads.
In 2003, amid the second Palestinian intifada, when suicide bombers from the Palestinian territories were killing hundreds in Israel, the Defence Force had an overwhelming presence in Gaza, with tanks, helicopters, fighter jets and soldiers part of daily life for millions of citizens living on the tiny coastal strip.
Ms Corrie’s emails home, released by her parents, describe terrifying scenes of violence and destruction.
On February 27, 2003, just 17 days before she was killed, she wrote to her mother: “I am really scared for the people here. Yesterday, I watched a father lead his two tiny children, holding his hands, out into the sight of tanks and a sniper tower and bulldozers and jeeps because he thought his house was going to be exploded.”
She described the Israeli army’s destruction of 602 homes, the Defence Force said it was targeting suspected militants, and said what she was witnessing was “genocide”.
“No amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it,” she wrote on February 7, 2003.
The judge concluded by saying that the family of Ms Corrie would not be charged court costs.
Speaking before the judge handed down his findings, the family’s Israeli laywer, Hussein Abu Hussein, said: “The 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.”
Outside the court, he said: “Rachel was killed taking non-violent action … The IDF failed to protect her.”
The actions of the military ignored its responsibility to protect non-combatants, including human rights activists.
“While not surprising, this verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. Rachel Corrie was killed while non-violently protesting home demolitions and injustice in Gaza, and today, this court has given its stamp of approval to flawed and illegal practices that failed to protect civilian life. In this regard, the verdict blames the victim based on distorted facts and it could have been written directly by the state attorneys.
“We knew from the beginning that we had an uphill battle to get truthful answers and justice, but we are convinced that this verdict distorts the strong evidence presented in court, and contradicts fundamental principles of international law with regard to protection of human rights defenders. In denying justice in Rachel Corrie’s killing, this verdict speaks to the systemic failure to hold the Israeli military accountable for continuing violations of basic human rights.
“We would like to thank everyone who supported the family and the legal team; including activists, NGOs, legal observers, US embassy officials, interpreters, reporters who covered the trial, and we look forward to talking to you at the press conference.”