There was no solace in a Haifa District Court on Tuesday morning for the family of American activist Rachel Corrie, crushed to death by an enormous Israeli military D9 bulldozer as she sought to protect a Palestinian home in the southern Gaza Strip in 2003.
The verdict called the 23-year-old activist’s death a “regrettable accident”, just as the Israeli Army did after its own military investigation into Rachel’s death.
The Haifa District Court judge noted that the area was then designated as a “combat zone”, and that Rachel herself was therefore responsible for having taken the risk of being there.
At a press conference after the verdict, Rachel’s mother Cindy said that it had been clear to the family from the beginning that the military’s process of investigation was flawed and that it was in fact “a well-fueled system to protect the Israeli military and soldiers … and to provide them with impunity”. The family filed their civil case in 2005, and hearings began in 2010.
The Israeli State Prosecutor’s office [Tel Aviv District] issued a statement later saying that “the bulldozer and its commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie and thus are exonerated of any blame for negligence”. According to the State Prosecutor, three different investigations had reached the same conclusion.
The D9 is a huge bulldozer, manufactured by Caterpiller Corporation and specially adapted in Israel for Israeli military with the addition of amoured plating for use in combat situations.
Israeli Attorney Yohanna Lerman, based in Tel Aviv, who has represented Palestinian clients against the Israeli military in other wrongful killing cases, said today that “even in a state of war, there is an obligation on an army and on all those who are working for the army or following army orders, according to international law, they have to check if their actions are reasonable, and if they are needed to protect lives, including their own” – and this is not what happened in this case, she said.
Although Lerman said she had not yet seen the full details of the 130-page ruling online, she indicated that a look at the full picture shows that Rachel was in front of the bulldozer, she was with a group who the driver had seen in the area, and he knew there were civilians in that place. “Rachel was not in military clothes, and she was not holding a weapon”.
“Civilians need to be treated totally different from terrorist groups”, Lerman said.