In a Tel Aviv courthouse today, Judge Oded Gershon, a former military judge, ruled that the State of Israel bears no responsibility in the death of Rachel Corrie.
On March 16, 2003, Corrie, an American citizen, was crushed to death by an Israeli military Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer as she joined other activists in protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza. She was 23.
After an Israeli army investigation predictably exonerated the soldiers involved, Rachel’s parents Cindy and Craig Corrie launched a wrongful death suit in 2005. It charges the State of Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a credible investigation in the case. Apparently even the U.S. government, Israel’s most faithful backer, agrees. Last Friday The Guardian UK reported that Dan Shapiro, the US ambassador to Israel, told the Corrie family two weeks ago that the U.S. government “did not believe the Israeli military investigation had been ‘thorough, credible and transparent.'”
In his ruling, judge Oded Gershon said, “I reject the suit. There is no justification to demand the state pay any damages.” Calling Corrie’s death a “regrettable accident”, he said the state was not responsible because the incident had occurred during what he termed a war-time situation.
He added that the soldiers had done their utmost to keep people away from the site. “She (Corrie) did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done.”
Though it was anticipated that the judge would whitewash the Israeli military, still his arrogant disregard for human rights and international law is a shock.
Cindy and Craig Corrie commented: “We are deeply saddened and troubled by what we heard today in the court of Judge Oded Gershon. This was a bad day, not only for us, but for human rights, for humanity, the rule of law, and the country of Israel. From the beginning, it was clear that there was a system to protect the military and soldiers, to provide them impunity. This extends to the courts. The diplomatic process failed us. The Israeli court system demonstrated that it failed us too. Rachel was a human being who deserved accountability, and we as her family deserve that too.”
The Corrie family’s attorney Hussein Abu Hussein commented, “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.”
In the United States, Jewish Voice for Peace also condemned the verdict. “This verdict reflects the impunity of the Israeli army and the deficient investigation undertaken by Israel after Rachel’s death… JVP joins the Rachel Corrie Foundation in urging concerned activists in the US to mark the trial verdict with actions to end the housing demolitions that deny Palestinians the basic human right of being secure in their own homes. We urge people to visit the local offices of retirement fund TIAA-CREF [a huge US pension fund management firm for people in academic, medical, cultural, governmental and research fields] to deliver a letter remembering Rachel Corrie and drawing attention to Israel’s policy of home demolitions, frequently carried out using Caterpillar bulldozers.
“While TIAA-CREF recently dropped Caterpillar from their social choice funds, they continue to invest over $1 billion in Caterpillar in their general funds. Jewish Voice for Peace is the founding member of the national coordinating committee of the We Divest campaign demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from companies like Caterpillar that are profiting from the Israeli occupation.”
Omar Barghouti of the international BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement added, “Given that Israel’s courts, like their South African counterparts during apartheid, have systematically and consistently been a reliable pillar of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid, Israel’s war crimes and crimes against humanity ought to be prosecuted in international courts where justice has a chance to see the day of light.
“This should also convince anyone who still needed to be convinced that without effective BDS against Israel it will never comply with international law. This was the lesson of South Africa.”