Last month, in a deeply disturbing ruling, an Israeli court dismissed the civil lawsuit brought by my family against the state of Israel for the wrongful death of my daughter Rachel Corrie.
Born and raised in Olympia, Rachel was a human-rights defender and peace activist killed in 2003 by an armored Israeli military bulldozer as she stood for hours, visibly and nonviolently protesting the Israeli government’s policy of civilian home demolitions in Rafah, Gaza.
The home Rachel and her friends from the International Solidarity Movement defended was eventually demolished with hundreds more in mass-clearing operations to create a buffer along Gaza’s southern border.
Our lawsuit was not a solution, but rather a symptom of a broken system of accountability within Israel and our own U.S. government. Despite a promise from Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation and repeated calls from the highest levels of our government for such an investigation to occur, there was no diplomatic resolution. According to the U.S. State Department, its calls “have gone unanswered or ignored.”
Court testimony also confirmed a credible investigation did not occur. Investigators failed to question key military witnesses, including those recording communications; failed to secure the military video, allowing it to be taken for nearly a week by senior commanders with only segments submitted to court; failed to address conflicting soldiers’ testimonies; and ignored damning statements in the military log confirming a “shoot to kill” order and command mentality to continue work in order not to create a precedent with activists.
I had no illusions about the uphill battle we faced in Israeli court, but as I sat with my family in a packed courtroom awaiting the verdict, I held hope that, like so many observing the trial, the judge would see that evidence warranted some criticism of the military’s actions.
The room was filled with human-rights observers, U.S. Embassy officials, family supporters and a throng of media. Judge Oded Gershon surveyed the scene before reading his decision. From the halting tone of my translator and friend, and audible groans around us, I knew it was bad.
He ruled that Rachel was killed as an act of war, which, according to Israeli law, absolves the military of responsibility. He added that she alone was to blame for her own killing and then went on to commend the military police for their professionalism in carrying out such a credible investigation. The courtroom heard the judge parrot the state prosecuting attorneys’ original claims in the case, nearly verbatim.
Condemnation of the verdict was swift and decisive, ranging from President Jimmy Carter to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and others, all pointing out the climate of impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military, as well as the court thumbing its nose at the Geneva Conventions.
The verdict sends a dangerous message for future protections of civilians and human-rights observers.
The outcry was humbling, but the verdict represents a very personal challenge. With 45 days to determine whether to appeal, I weigh heavily the toll this ongoing effort takes. Our nearly decadelong search for information and a modicum of justice has turned into a war of attrition — a state versus a family.
As problematic as the process has been, our family has had access to a legal system, a basic tenet of justice most Palestinians are denied. They struggle, far harder than we, for their day in court.
Their stories are shadowed by the unjust silence that too often accompanies the word “Palestinian.”
We have sought truth, but also changes in policies Rachel came to Gaza to oppose — brutal Israeli military actions often targeting civilian populations resulting in unlawful killings and destruction of property with impunity.
An Israeli colonel testified there are no civilians in war. Rachel was in Gaza because there are civilians there with rights to be protected. No army is above the law when it comes to protection of civilians under occupation or during armed conflict.
Rachel taught us that when governments fail to act, people must step forward. When atrocities are committed in our name, we must shine a spotlight on them.
Our family will determine the next critical steps with Rachel’s spirit surrounding us. Our journey continues, alongside those who, despite the odds, pursue equal rights and nonviolence, human rights, peace, and justice for all in the region and world beyond.
[This piece was originally published by The Seattle Times.]