No solace for family in Haifa court's verdict on investigation into Rachel Corrie's death

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.

Continue reading No solace for family in Haifa court's verdict on investigation into Rachel Corrie's death

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard tells Turkel Commission that Israel must establish extra-military mechanism to investigate observance of international law

Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard (Yesh Din) told the Turkel Commission at a hearing in Jerusalem today that “conducting an investigation is not tantamount to punishment”.

The Turkel Commission is investigating the “maritime incident” of 31 May 2010, when Israeli Naval commandos intercepted Freedom Flotilla heading to the Gaza Strip and boarded the largest ship in the flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, killing eight men (one a 19-year-old Turkish-American high school student) in the process.

Sfard, who is among other things the legal adviser for Yesh Din, advised the Turkel Commission that Israel must establish an extra-military mechanism to verify if the IDF + its advisers follow international law.

It was the second time, in months of intermittant hearings, that Israeli human rights organizations have addressed the panel.

The Turkel Commission was expected to conclude its work in November 2010, but it only issued the first part of its report on 23 January, which can be read online here.

Arguments made in Sfard’s testimony to the Turkel Commission, according to an English-language summary, state that:
“Since the Al-Aqsa Intifada, a Military Police Criminal Investigation Division (MPCID) investigation is not opened in every case in which a Palestinian civilian is injured during military operations in the occupied territories, but rather is permitted to conduct a ‘command inquiry’ after which a decision will be made regarding whether to open an investigation.

Yesh Din’s Position is that:
1. A command inquiry, as the name suggests, is intended to draw operational lessons and is not a tool designed to collect evidence or to establish personal responsibility. Those who conduct the inquiry are not investigators but rather commanders and they do not possess appropriate training; what is said in the course of the inquiry is not admissible in court; the inquiry is confidential; and
for the most part accounts by those other than soldiers and officers are not heard.

2. The inquiry presents a significant and grave obstacle to the ability to conduct effective criminal investigations of shooting incidents in which Palestinian civilians have been injured. This is a violation of the obligation to investigate”.

Continue reading Israeli lawyer Michael Sfard tells Turkel Commission that Israel must establish extra-military mechanism to investigate observance of international law