JERUSALEM: The case of Rachel Corrie

6 June 2014
JERUSALEM: The case of Rachel Corrie

 photo Ashraf Amra
 Craig and Cindy Corrie

[Note: This release was adapted for CPTnet from a longer piece on the Palestine team’s blog.  The Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron provided nonviolence training for Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, another International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activist killed by the Israeli military, when they entered the country along with waves of other ISM activists during the early years of the Second Intifada.]

More than a decade after an Israeli military bulldozer crushed Rachel Corrie to death in Rafah, Gaza, her parents Craig and Cindy Corrie found themselves in the halls of the Supreme Court of Israel on 21 May 2014.  The Corries were appealing a verdict handed down in 2013 by Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa District Court.

Gershon ruled that Corrie was responsible for her own death by entering Gaza during a time of conflict.  “While not surprising, the verdict is yet another example of impunity prevailing over accountability and fairness and it flies in the face of the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law—that in a time of war, military forces are obligated to take all measures to avoid harm to both civilians and their property,” said Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, the Corries’ attorney at the Haifa hearing in 2013.

This prolonged legal battle has taken on different forms over the years.  The media generally focuses on evidence disputing whether the bulldozer operator saw Corrie during the act of demolishing Palestinian homes on 16 Mar 2003.

Corrie’s legal unit contests that this is not an issue of murder, but a failure to protect civilians—covered by both Israeli and international laws.

In the court room, Corrie’s legal representation, presented a case demonstrating that the military command unit not only knew of the legal and moral obligations of protecting civilians during a time of war, and that at the very least, a proper investigation had not taken place, and at worst, there was a subsequent cover up.

Heading into the courtroom, Cindy Corrie was optimistic that they had a better chance of having tenets of international law recognized and applied in the courtroom, because three judges instead of one would be hearing the case.

“In its appeal, Israel took things to a whole new level, arguing in its brief to the Supreme Court that Rachel fell outside the protections of international humanitarian law.  Israel’s novel argument—which goes against both international law and Israeli precedent—is that only the “occupied population,” i.e., certain Palestinians, enjoy the protection of international humanitarian law, and that non-Palestinian civilians, including U.S. human rights defenders and presumably NGO workers, can be targeted by Israeli forces,” said Katherine Gallagher a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, and a Vice-President of the International Board of the International Federation for Human Rights.  “If the court accepts this argument, it would set a dangerous precedent and place human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territory at even greater risk than they already are.”

Bill Van Esveld, of Human Rights Watch, stressed that the military police investigation failed to interview key witnesses and neglected to crosscheck statements, pointing out that military police did not visit the site in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.

The military police also failed, according to Corrie’s legal team, 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, prevented the bulldozer driver from giving testimony.

If the judges affirm Judge Oded Gershon’s 2013 ruling that Rachel Corrie took her own life by trying to prevent the demolition of a home, it opens up the doors for legitimized attacks on internationals across Israel and Palestine.