‘There Are No Civilians In Wartime’: Rachel Corrie’s family confronts the Israeli military in court

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Cindy, Sarah, and Craig Corrie in the Haifa District Court for the second round of hearings in their civil suit against the Israeli government. (Photo: Max Blumenthal)

In a small courtroom in Haifa’s District Court, a colonel in the Israeli engineering corps who wrote a manual for the bulldozer units that razed the Rafah Refugee Camp in 2003 offered his opinion on the killing of the American activist Rachel Corrie.

“There are no civilians during wartime,” Yossi declared under oath.

Yossi made his remarkable statement under withering cross examination by Hussein Abu Hussein, the lawyer for the family of Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Rafah on March 16, 2003. In the back of the courtroom were Rachel’s parents, Craig and Cindy, and her sister, Sarah, back in Israel for the second round of hearings in their civil suit against the state of Israel. They were joined by supporters, friends and a handful of reporters, including me (see Nora Barrows-Friedman’s report for more). No one from the Israeli media was present — the case has been virtually ignored inside Israel.

In the immediate wake of Corrie’s killing, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, then the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, instructed Corrie’s parents to demand a “thorough, fair and transparent investigation” from the Israeli government. Since then, the Israelis have stonewalled them, refusing to provide key details of their investigation, which was corrupted from the start by the investigators’ apparent attempts to find evidence that a bulldozer did not in fact kill Rachel.

A 2003 bill introduced in the House International Relations Committee calling for a thorough Israeli investigation in Corrie’s killing and for American efforts to prevent such killings from happening again garnered 78 signatures in support (Rahm Emanuel was the only Jewish signer). However, Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, one of the Israel lobby’s closest allies in Congress, prevented the bill from getting out of the committee. President George W. Bush could have pressed for a full floor vote on the bill but he did nothing. The bill died as a result.

Having been obstructed by the Israelis’ opaque investigation and betrayed by their own government (with notable exceptions like former Rep. Brian Baird), the Corries have been forced to take matters into their own hands. And so they have filed suit against the Israeli government for criminal negligence. Whether or not they will be able to secure the ruling they seek, Rachel Corrie’s family has already elicited a number of damning revelations about the Israeli army’s abuses in Gaza in 2003 and the machinations it has relied on to obscure evidence of its criminal conduct.

“I think we are in a situation similar to South Africa. What we are trying to make clear is that the truth has to be pursued diligently or we won’t make it to the point of reconciliation,” Craig Corrie told me, referring to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that enabled South Africa to peacefully transition from an apartheid system to representative democracy. “We need to understand and acknowledge the truth first.”

So far, the truth has not been easy to come by. The Corries are saddled with a judge who is said to have never ruled in favor of any plaintiff in a civil rights-related suit. And the defense has claimed unspecified state security concerns in its successful bid to avoid revealing the full contents of the investigation into Rachel Corrie’s killing — the family’s lawyers have only been allowed to view a summary. But the Corries’ legal efforts have not been in vain.

On the first day of hearings, the Corries’ lawyers were able to confirm through testimony from “Oded,” one of the investigators of Rachel Corrie’s killing, that Major General Doron Almog, then the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command, had attempted to stop the military investigators from questioning the bulldozer operators who killed Rachel. When asked why he did not challenge Almog’s apparently illegal intervention, Oded stated that he was only 20-years-old at the time, with no college education and only a few months of training as an investigator. He was intimidated by the high-ranking officer who stormed into the room and menaced him and the other investigators. (Almog once canceled a trip to Britain after being warned that he would be arrested on arrival for ordering the destruction of 59 homes in the Rafah refugee camp in 2002).

Among the most disturbing aspects of Corrie’s case is the abuse of her body by Israeli authorities after she was killed. Craig Corrie recalled to me a panicked phone conversation he had with Will Hewitt, a friend and former classmate of Rachel Corrie who had just witnessed her killing.

“It’s getting dark over here and there are no refrigeration units for her body in Gaza,” Hewitt told Craig Corrie.

“Just leave it until tomorrow,” Craig replied. “We don’t want you or anyone else to get killed.”

“But her body is starting to smell,” Hewitt pleaded.

Somehow Hewitt and his fellow activists from the International Solidarity Movement were able to get Rachel Corrie’s body out of Gaza. But first Hewitt was ordered by Israeli troops to remove the body from the casket and carry it across a border checkpoint. Only Hewitt was allowed to escort Corrie’s body in the ambulance; the rest of the activists who witnessed her death were forced to hitchhike home in the desert. Finally, Corrie’s body was transported to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute in Tel Aviv where the notorious Dr. Yehuda Hiss autopsied her.

Who is Dr. Hiss? The chief pathologist of Israel for a decade and a half, Hiss was implicated by a 2001 investigation by the Israeli Health Ministry of stealing body parts ranging from legs to testicles to ovaries from bodies without permission from family members then selling them to research institutes. Bodies plundered by Hiss included those of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. He was finally removed from his post in 2004 when the body of a teenage boy killed in a traffic accident was discovered to have been thoroughly gnawed on by a rat in Hiss’s laboratory. In an interview with researcher Nancy Schepper-Hughes, Hiss admitted that he harvested organs if he was confident relatives would not discover that they were missing. He added that he often used glue to close eyelids to hide missing corneas.

When Craig and Cindy Corrie learned that Hiss would perform an autopsy on their daughter, they stipulated that they would only allow the doctor to go forward if an official from the American consulate was present throughout the entire procedure. An Israeli military police report stated that an American official did indeed witness the autopsy. However, when the Corries asked American diplomatic officials including former US Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzner if the report was true, they were informed that no American was present at all. The Israelis had lied to them, and apparently fixed their own report to deceive the American government.

On March 14, during the first round of hearings in the Corries’ civil suit, Hiss admitted under oath that he had lied about the presence of an American official during the autopsy of Rachel Corrie. He also conceded to taking “samples” from Corrie’s body for “histological testing” without informing her family. Just which parts of Corrie’s body Hiss took remains unclear; despite Hiss’s claim that he “buried” the samples, her family has not confirmed the whereabouts of her missing body parts.

“It’s so hard to know that Rachel’s body wasn’t respected,” Rachel’s sister, Sarah, told me. “Doctor Hiss and the Israeli government knew what our family’s wishes were. The fact that our wishes were disregarded and a judge hasn’t done anything is absolutely horrifying.”

The treatment of Rachel Corrie’s body is peripheral to her family’s lawsuit. But it demonstrates the degree to which she and those whose homes she died defending have been dehumanized — “there are no civilians during wartime,” as Colonel Yossi declared. Rachel Corrie’s family is seeking only one dollar in symbolic punitive damages from the Israeli government. Their real goal is to force a country in a perpetual state of warfare to treat its innocent victims as human beings, and to be held accountable if it does not.

“It is incredibly expensive for us to carry this case on both emotionally and financially,” Craig Corrie remarked. “It is a whole lot to ask of a private citizen. But as a family we still have the ability to do a lot, so we are going to carry this cause on for everyone who cannot.”

This post originally appeared on Max Blumenthal’s blog here.

About Max Blumenthal

Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist and bestselling author.
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

{ 39 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. rmokhtar says:

    I hope God gives Cindy and Craig the strength to pursue this until the end.

  2. pabelmont says:

    ““There are no civilians during wartime,” Yossi declared under oath.”

    If this is an accurate representatiuon of the position of the government of Israel, then the 4 people (widely thought to have been civilians) shot in a car in the West Bank were not civilians and were, it would seem, members of a military, presumably Israel’s. And the assassination was no more than an ordinary act of war. And OK.

    • Antidote says:

      During the liberation of Dachau concentration camp in April 45, prison guards and members of the SS were shot and bludgeoned to death by members of the US army and Dachau prisoners. Surely, we can all understand what prompted this ‘Dachau massacre’, and some of the victims were no doubt members of a military/paramilitary. Still, it is listed among the Allied war crimes committed during WW II, as it should be (the guards and SS men had surrendered and were not resisting arrest). The assassination of illegal Israeli settlers is therefore no ‘ordinary act of war’, and it’s not just ‘ok’. The question here is: what alternatives do the Palestinians represented by Hamas (not a member to the current ‘peace negotiations’) have to stop illegal settlements?

      • None of this killing is OK, or even understandable.

        Max’s article is great. I didn’t have the courage to cover Dr. Hiss’ role in the Corrie autopsy when I wrote about the March phase of the trial. But I did write about it this morning, after reading Max’s Haifa piece at his place.

        • Antidote says:

          Courage? Why does it take courage to write about Hiss?

        • Kathleen says:

          maybe he meant “stomach”

        • I was afraid I might be accused of furthering the blood libel untruths. I think Max might understand my reluctance. Perhaps you will too. Already, the sole comment at my own blog, where I’ve written about Max’s article, is zany enough.

        • potsherd says:

          Why, don’t you know that’s a blood libel?

        • MHughes976 says:

          Medical disrespecting of bodies politically identified for disrespect has awful, sickening echoes of another time that we had hoped was over.

        • Antidote says:

          Philip – I didn’t have the courage to suggest blood libel. Yes, I suspected this to be the reason, here’s why:

          link to guardian.co.uk

          link to haaretz.com

          Making a connection to the old blood libel myth here, even the reference to Dr. Mengele (comments on your link) seems farfetched to me. Organ harvesting and trafficking is a modern and lucrative crime (but does not usually involve murder). Why would Jews be any more or less likely to engage in this or any other crime, such as drug trafficking? Is it any less racist to assume that Jews are inherently better (rather than worse) than the rest of humanity? As the saying goes: “A philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who likes Jews.”

          I would agree with the distinction between bad journalism and anti-Semitism in the Guardian-article, and see no reason for this British politician to be fired for requesting an investigation into allegations of organ harvesting charges against Israeli relief workers in Haiti. Nor or do I comprehend the outrage about her earlier remark that she could imagine becoming a suicide bomber had she grown up in the OT. There is nothing inherently Arab or Muslim about suicide bombing. Ehud Barak said much the same in an interview with Gideon Levy some 10 yrs ago when asked what he would do had he been born Palestinian: “I would join a terror organization.”

          link to haaretz.com

          Why can’t the British politician say this? Why are even Jews afraid of being accused of the blood libel charge in the context of organ harvesting charges that have nothing in common with classic blood libel ( defined as ritual murder and the use of blood for obscure religious purposes). Let me guess: Adam Garfinkle (Jewcentricity, 2009) on the medieval history of blood libel

          “It was an anonymous apostate Jew in Norwich, England, who in 1144 started the whole blood-libel disaster – the accusation that Jews kill Christian children to use their blood to make matzohs for Passpver. Another self-hating apostate made it even worse a century later. A self-hating apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin first caused the Talmud to be burned, in mid-thirteenth century France. There were several such apostates in Spain, too, one of them Evner de Burgos, who converted to Christianity in 1321, helped create the conditions for the anti-Jewish riots of 1391. But the prize, if not for troublemaking then for historical impact, belongs to one Johann Joseph Pfefferkorn [...], a Jewish butcher in sixteenth century Cologne [...].”

          Which actually brings us to a time where blood libel charges were already much more frequently leveled against Christians (the ‘conspiracy of witches’) than Jews (also true for early Christians in Rome), and that would include Luther.

          Self-hating Jewish converts befouling the nest – that’s pretty much the argument for the equation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, see:

          link to theatlantic.com

          link to israelnationalnews.com

          So that leaves us with the conundrum that only Jews are allowed to criticize Jews, but they are also responsible for unleashing waves of irrational anti-Semitism if they choose to do so.

          Crazy.

        • Antidote says:

          You mean the Renaissance?

          ” Although the occasional forensic autopsy had been performed in the medieval period and into the Renaissance, academic dissections [...] were not fully sanctioned by the Church until the fifteenth century. [...] The sixteenth century was the ‘‘Golden Age of Anatomy,’’ although the Church started to reimpose stronger controls during the reigns of Pope Paul IV and Pius IV (Weisz 1997). Medical schools became independent of the Church,and anatomy theaters—public dissections initially for medical students but quickly attracting a more general viewing audience—became quite popular [...] These Renaissance dissections were conducted on executed criminals and marginal members of society. The dissection itself provided an opportunity for posthumous punishment sanctioned by state and Church authorities, a form of punishment that mirrored the divine punishment to be meted out by God. The wax replicas, enshrined in museums, thus memorialized the moral lesson of justpunishment for criminal or immoral action.”

  3. American says:

    What the families of Corrie and Anderson should do while suing Israel is name AIPAC and half a dozen congressperps as accessories to the murder
    and sue them in the US.
    Congress passed a law years ago that Jews killed or injured in Israel could sue Palestine in US courts for reperations.

  4. Kathleen says:

    Max thank you for this front row report. What incredible people the Corrie family continues to be. It is easy to see where Rachel got her integrity, bravery and soul.

    Hope folks spread this story around the blogosphere. Because not only has the Israeli press ignored this case. Sure no one is hearing about it on Rachel Maddows etc. She is only concerned with gay rights and people who protest in Iran. Human rights in Palestine…way off limits to the MSNBC team

    The way they killed Rachel, treated her body and her family is so telling. The Israeli government and officials are acting like horrific monsters. No compassion no humanity.

    Hope folks contact Rep Ros Lehtinen to tell her how horrendous her actions have been in this situation. Ros Lehtinen needs to be called out on the floor for this. She is also one of the individuals to push for the opposition to the Goldstone Report.

    Please call or write Ros Lehtinen. Call her out for her slimy actions
    link to ros-lehtinen.house.gov

  5. Kathleen says:

    By the way that was good to hear about Emmanuel. Damn good

  6. Colin Murray says:

    “There are no civilians during wartime,” Yossi declared under oath.

    Ah, the Israeli way of war: running over unarmed, orange-vest-emblazoned women with bulldozers. Yet many Israelis and American Zionists refuse to accept that this sort of behavior is the root cause of their growing unpopularity, instead preferring the comfortable lie that the other 6.86 billion people in the world are part of a genetically-hardwired grand conspiracy against them, as if most people could be enticed to turn their heads far enough away from their TV’s to bother.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Have sent this or posted this important post over at Democracy Now (Amy usually covers the Corrie Story), Washington Note, Race for Iran, sent it to Firedoglake. Let’s get this one out there.

    Let’s get more people here at Mondoweiss. One of if not the best site for coverage on the Israeli Palestinian conflict as well as other issues in the middle east.

  8. ehrens says:

    It seems to me that Israel can’t have it both ways: claim that shooting and crushing ISM activists is war while lamenting Hamas shooting Hebron “civilian” settlers.

    • Chu says:

      but they have had it both ways so often.
      Why should they stop trying now?
      Who really believes what comes from
      their government?
      not me, or you. Only witty.
      and that speaks volumes.

  9. Kathleen says:

    o.k. folks this story is up at Firedoglake (seminal Ed Teller) . Hope you will contact Democracy Now (Amy is generally on top of these stories) and other media outlets. Let’s get Max’s coverage out there. To any media outlet you want to contact.

    As Max said “No one from the Israeli media was present — the case has been virtually ignored inside Israel.”

    NO ONE IN OUR MSM HAS TOUCHED THIS STORY. Let’s push it

    contact for Democracy Now
    link to democracynow.org

    Huffington Post(contact)
    link to huffingtonpost.com

    Dylan Ratigan/MSNBC (give it a shot) You can use this contact
    link to msnbc.msn.com

    • Kathleen says:

      just sent Rachel Maddow, etc Max’s story. You never know folks. We can always try to get through that wall of silence

      • potsherd says:

        Why you continue to place hope in Maddow is inexplicable.

        • Chaos4700 says:

          Why you continue to roll over and give up is inexcusable.

        • Kathleen says:

          Rachel Maddow seems to take pride in that she is some type of human rights advocate. But let’s be straight up on this one. She only covers human rights issues when it comes to gay rights or protesters in Iran (think her producers might have some agenda here?) Last year when the Iranian protesters were in the streets she covered this for three nights but completely ignored the Pro health care marches, rallies, well behaved crowds in D.C. on the same days. Kept thinking maybe the pro health care crowd (I was there) should have been protesting in Tehran or packing fake guns to get Rachel’s and the rest of the MSM’s attention.

          Rachel’s selective human rights focus needs to open up widen. Along with Dylan, Ed, keith, Chris Matthews and now Lawrence O Donnell.

          Hope folks will join me in hammering them…politely. Pushing them to cover the I/P conflict. You never know. It could help knock down that wall of silence

        • potsherd says:

          Maddow has also made it clear that she is a hardcore PEP and puts Jewishness above the rights of other humans. She is the least promising target.

        • Kathleen says:

          How has she made it clear that she is a “hardcore Pep”? During the Mavi Marmara massacre coverage (amazing that MSNBC even touched it). Chris Matthews showed the Israeli released clip of Israeli soldiers hitting the deck 9 times in seven minutes. A day or so after the tragedy Rachel actually showed the Israeli released tape and I believe the reporter who was on the Mavi Marmara who actually held onto some of her taping after Israeli soldiers thought they had confiscated all equipment tapes etc. (forget her name) Anyway Rachel actually showed some of this tape.

          Keith Olbermann did not report anything the day of but several days later had Ambassador Peck (who was on the ship I believe) on his program. There are openings and we need to keep trying to widen those openings.

          I actually think Dylan Ratigan might be the most open on MSNBC. But why not politely hammer all of them?

  10. Received this morning:
    “Notorious Body Part Snatcher Dr. Hiss Autopsied Rachel Corrie – Parts Still Missing”
    By: EdwardTeller Thursday September 9, 2010 8:23 am

    “Sometimes, reading an article about war, I want to puke. Recovering from Max Blumenthal’s latest bombshell from Haifa, that was my first impulse. Eventually, though, I merely cried:

    [Dr. Yehuda Hiss] also conceded to taking “samples” from Corrie’s body for “histological testing” without informing her family. Just which parts of Corrie’s body Hiss took remains unclear; despite Hiss’s claim that he “buried” the samples, her family has not confirmed the whereabouts of her missing body parts.

    Dr.Hiss came to attention because of this:

    The chief pathologist of Israel for a decade and a half, Hiss was implicated by a 2001 investigation by the Israeli Health Ministry of stealing body parts ranging from legs to testicles to ovaries from bodies without permission from family members then selling them to research institutes. Bodies plundered by Hiss included those of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. He was finally removed from his post in 2004 when the body of a teenage boy killed in a traffic accident was discovered to have been thoroughly gnawed on by a rat in Hiss’s laboratory. In an interview with researcher Nancy Schepper-Hughes, Hiss admitted that he harvested organs if he was confident relatives would not discover that they were missing. He added that he often used glue to close eyelids to hide missing corneas.”
    link to seminal.firedoglake.com

  11. Cheryl says:

    link to time.com

    Time at the above site is carrying an article entitled” Israel’s Military on the Spot in Hearing Over Activist’s Death” – worth reading…Craig Corrie states that:” the lies were like the lies of a seven year old.”

    • syvanen says:

      yahoo news picked up this time story:

      link to news.yahoo.com

    • This was weird:

      “What, did you kill him?” a soldier asked after Corrie disappeared beneath the blade of a D9R Caterpillar, wreathed in armor for use by the Israel Defense Forces. “May God have mercy on him,” came the reply. The striking exchange, between Israeli soldiers speaking in Arabic, was not included in the report’s transcript of radio transmissions, the former investigator acknowledged on the stand. He said he didn’t think it was important. (See pictures of life under Hamas in Gaza.)

      What was that link doing at the end of the paragraph? What on earth does ‘Gaza under Hamas’ have to do with it? And the pictures are odd-they’re dated by month, but not by year. Many of them depict the Hamas ‘Executive Force’, which doesn’t exist anymore. The second picture is of the funeral of a Fatah member killed by Hamas-that’s definitely not recent.

      What a weird, sinister placement of something completely unrelated to the article. Coverage of the Corrie’s plight at the hands of Israel have to be quantified with ‘HAMAS IS EVIL’.

  12. alec says:

    Wow, that’s surprising and inspiring that Time is covering these stories at all, let alone in an open minded way.

  13. Chaos4700 says:

    “There are no civilians during wartime,” Yossi declared under oath.

    Did you hear that, Sderot?

  14. Gaius Baltar says:

    “‘There are no civilians during wartime,’ Yossi declared under oath.”

    Precisely the justification for martyrdom operations where a suicide bomber walks into a school and pulls the trigger.

  15. Kathleen says:

    Folks you never know who (MSM heavy hitters or their teams) are visiting/reading these blogs. They do visit. Really worth it to contact media outlets encouraging them to cover particular stories. You just never know if they will pick it up. But important to try.

    What I do know is that I have had numerous successes at getting guest on Talk of the nation, Diane Rehm and been able to get these news outlets and Washington Journal to focus on certain topics, via phone and email campaigns, along with petitions. Pressuring can work ..sometimes. Always worth a shot.
    Hell two years ago Huffington Post was closed down tight on the I/P issue. No longer. Pressure can work

    New target for me is MSNBC. Let’s put more of a crack in that wall of silence.

    Great that Time, Yahoo covered the story.