On March 16, 2003, Corrie, a 23-year-old student and activist from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death by an Israeli military Caterpillar bulldozer while nonviolently protesting the demolition of Palestinian civilian homes in Rafah, Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). In 2005, the Corrie family filed a wrongful death suit against the State of Israel and Ministry of Defense, claiming that the Israeli government was responsible for the killing by permitting soldiers in armed bulldozers to act recklessly among nonviolent civilians. The civil trial began five years later before Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon, and hearings continued over 16 months. The NLG and other groups attended the hearings to support the Corrie family and demand accountability.
The testimonies of 23 witnesses revealed serious and disturbing oversight on the part of Israeli military officials. They also exposed a failure by the Israeli government to conduct the “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation into Corrie’s killing promised by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to President George W. Bush the day after her death. Investigators failed to question key witnesses and inconsistent testimony by the soldiers, while four ISM eyewitnesses testified that Rachel was visible to soldiers in the bulldozer as it approached her. Furthermore, the unit’s commander testified that despite having requested a halt in operations out of consideration for civilian safety, he was ordered to continue.
Judge Gershon ruled on August 28, 2012 that the Israeli military was not responsible for Corrie’s death, since soldiers were engaged in a “combat operation.” He ultimately blamed Corrie herself for being in a war zone. The NLG and other legal and human rights groups denounced the potentially precedent-setting ruling, citing violation of humanitarian international law that mandates protection of civilians and their property during times of war.
Eleven years after the killing, the Corrie family is set to have its appeal heard before the Israeli Supreme Court, and human rights groups around the world are calling for accountability and justice.
The NLG will be one of the many groups present at today’s hearing that “hope the Israeli Supreme Court will reverse the lower court decision and hold the perpetrators of Rachel’s killing accountable as mandated by international law,” said NLG President Azadeh Shahshahani, who will attend the hearing as an observer along with other members of an NLG delegation studying conditions of Palestinian political prisoners being held by Israeli and Palestinian authorities.
Andrew Dalack, co-chair of the NLG Palestine Subcommittee and also a member of the delegation, said, “Israel has tried for so long to suppress Rachel Corrie’s memory, but to no avail. Rachel died while protesting Israel’s illegal expansion and dispossession of Palestinian land, and her passing has inspired many. We stand strong alongside Rachel’s family and the millions worldwide who want justice for Rachel and everyone else who has paid the ultimate price for promoting justice in Palestine.”
Just last week, Dalack noted, the two latest fatalities were registered near a military prison outside Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. Israeli soldiers shot Muhammad Abu Thahr, 15, and Nadim Nuwara, 17, with live ammunition on May 15, Palestine’s day of remembrance for the Nakba, when some 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes as Israel was established. The pair had joined a protest against Israel’s current incarceration of more than 5,000 Palestinians, including several hundred children, the vast majority of them for nonviolent political acts. Nearly 200 are “administrative detainees,” held sometimes for years with no charges and based on secret evidence, usually rubber stamped by Israeli military courts. Most of those are now on an open-ended hunger strike, their lives threatened.
“Impunity for crimes committed by the Israeli military cannot be allowed to continue unabated,” Shahshahani said.