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‘Life changed’ by Gaza, Congressman Baird seeks to testify in Corrie lawsuit in Israel

Israel/Palestine
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Astonishing interview of the Corrie family, mom Cindy, dad Craig, and sister Sarah Corrie Simpson, by Amy Goodman, just before they left for the civil suit trial that’s taking place in Israel this week. Baird portion is halfway down. Also Craig’s meeting with Obama in Iowa. Obama knew the name Rachel Corrie, who died in Rafah, Gaza, seven years ago next week. Of course.

Cindy Corrie:

She went—she chose to go to Gaza, to Rafah particularly, because she felt that it was maybe the most forsaken part of the Occupied Territories. It was where she felt her focus and attention was needed. She was there for about seven weeks. She was working, doing a lot of things during the time. Part of what she was doing was writing back and informing us about what she was seeing. And her words have since been incorporated into a play, and her writing from there is in a book of her work….

The home that Rachel stood in front of that day had two families in it—two brothers, an accountant and a pharmacist, and their five young children. Craig and I have come to know that family. We visit them whenever we go. We have communications with them. Part of the family came to the United States. The Israeli government had nothing against this family. They allowed them to go to Tel Aviv in order to get their visa to come to the United States to travel with us in the year 2005. And yet, their home was destroyed without any, you know, accommodation of any sort and under great threat to the family, as well. It didn’t happen the day Rachel stood there; it happened later that year.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Rachel standing there that day, what did she decide to do? What happened that day?

CINDY CORRIE: I think Rachel knew that Reem and Iman, that Kareem, that those children were behind that wall. She had been helping them with their English homework and with their—they were helping her learn Arabic. She had slept at the foot of their parent’s bed, because they couldn’t sleep in their own bedroom because of the shots that would be fired through the wall as Israeli military equipment drove past the house. So she slept at the foot of the family’s—the parent’s bed with the other children to offer some international protection to that family.

The bulldozer was coming toward their house, and she knew that the kids and the parents were behind her. I don’t think there’s any way that—you know, I think she also believed that the bulldozer would stop.

 Goodman: I asked Rachel’s father Craig to lay out the particulars of the court case.

    CRAIG CORRIE: This is a culmination, really, of seven years of our family searching for some sort of justice in the killing of Rachel. And we’ve tried to do that through diplomatic means, and we’ve asked for a US-led investigation into Rachel’s killing. We also understand that the Israelis, through Prime Minister Sharon, promised President Bush a thorough, credible and transparent investigation of Rachel’s killing. But, by our own government’s measure, that has not happened. So we’re left with simply a civil lawsuit.

    So, we’re accusing the state of Israel of either intentionally killing Rachel or guilty of gross negligence in her killing seven years ago. And so, we’re seeking—the only thing you can seek in a civil case is damages. You know, so it’s really a very small part of the story that’s gone on in our lives. But it’s critical to have our time in court.

    AMY GOODMAN: Cindy Corrie, speaking of blocking information, the Palestinian doctor who first treated your daughter, who first treated Rachel, is not being allowed out of Gaza to testify? Is that right?

    CINDY CORRIE: That’s our understanding at this point. We were alerted by our attorney, really about a week or so ago, that the Israeli government seemed to be dragging its feet about having our eyewitnesses. We have four international eyewitnesses. There were seven on the scene when Rachel was killed. Four will be coming to testify. Our attorney told us that the Israelis were not agreeing to let them into Israel. We sought help from the US government, from the State Department, and from our ambassador. And subsequently, the four international eyewitnesses have been given approval to come, and they will be entering the same day that we are.

    But the doctor, who’s in Gaza, who was with Rachel at the end of her life, or soon after, who administered to her there in Gaza in the hospital, was called as a witness on our side, and the Israeli government has not yet approved entry for him. He also could testify, we hoped, by video conference. That’s what’s been offered, and they have not agreed either to having him come into Israel or to testify by video conference. And we are pursuing that. We know that Ambassador Cunningham has also been pursuing this with Israeli officials.

    AMY GOODMAN: The US ambassador to Israel?

    CINDY CORRIE: The US ambassador to Israel, yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: He’s been pushing for the Palestinian doctor to be able to testify.

    CINDY CORRIE: To be able to testify by video conference, yes….

CRAIG CORRIE: It was. It’s our first meeting within—actually in the State Department in June of 2003, and we were discussing trying to get an independent investigation. And Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Larry Wilkerson, so chief of staff to Colin Powell, turned to me, and he said, “If it was my daughter, I’d sue them. I don’t care about money. I wouldn’t care about anything. I would sue the state of Israel.” And we were surprised—

SARAH CORRIE SIMPSON: And I think that was reiterated.

CRAIG CORRIE: —but ended up doing it.

    … AMY GOODMAN: Sarah, this is your first time in Israel?

    SARAH CORRIE SIMPSON: Yes, it is. It will be my first time in Israel. And honestly, I wish that there would have been a way for me to go without the focus being entirely on the trial, because, you know, I do feel like I need to get a chance to experience a little bit of the culture, meet some of the people. And I’m sure there’ll be some opportunity, but the focus is entirely on the trial at this time, and, you know, it’s a difficult time for our family because of that.

    I also—one of my main purposes in going was just, personally, I wanted to be able to hear the IDF’s side of the story. We were asked very early on whether or not we would want to meet any of the military that were involved in killing Rachel, and I’ve always said, “Yes, that’s true.” I’ve told our US government that if given the opportunity to meet the bulldozer driver, that’s something I would want to do. I know it would be very difficult and very challenging, but I think it’s a step that I would have to be open to. And now I feel like it’s been a real violation that in the time that it was set to go to see those soldiers hopefully testify, hopefully they would be called, that that opportunity is not going to be available to me. And I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to travel back when the government presents its side. So, you know, it’s going to be a challenging time when we’re there.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you know, Craig, if the man who drove the bulldozer will be there?

    CRAIG CORRIE: We don’t know that. If he comes, it’ll be because the state calls him as a witness, and that’ll allow our attorney to cross-examine him. And we certainly hope that he comes. As Sarah alludes, I mean, there’s another way to handle some of this. We would like to meet that person.

    There are lots of victims, Amy, when you look at a war and what happens. And we lost Rachel, and that hurts every day, but that bulldozer driver lost a lot of his humanity when he crushed Rachel. We’re told by B’Tselem, for instance, that in 2004, I believe, the highest—the cause, proportionately, of deaths in the Israeli soldiers, the highest one is suicide. There’s a big toll to soldiers. And I guess I have to hold out my hand, in some way, that if that man could understand what he’s done, in terms of our loss, if he could mourn our loss of Rachel, I could mourn his loss of humanity.

    There’s a lot of steps, as Sarah says, that would have to happen that way. But yeah, I’d like to meet him. And it’s not about trying to put him in jail. It doesn’t do me any good if his children don’t have a father, if he has children. But some way, like Desmond Tutu talks about, of mending the tear in society, and I think it’s more like a wound in your arm, and to expect that one half of a wound would heal and the other half stay unhealed is impossible. Both halves have to heal….

    AMY GOODMAN: Before, then, I ask about Biden, OK, Craig, what did you ask—

    CRAIG CORRIE: Well, actually, it’s a pretty—

    AMY GOODMAN: —President-to-be Obama?

    CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah, it was strange, because we were in Atlantic, Iowa, so western part of Iowa, farmland, huge farmland. We’re in county fairgrounds in a cow barn. And I’m sitting on a fence behind the crowd, and the President-to-be Obama is actually asking people for questions, and he called on me.

    And so, I ask a very easy question, because I just simply said I have friends in Palestine whose homes are being destroyed, whose farms are being taken from them by the Israelis, with no compensation. And I also have—and it’s true—I have Israeli friends who have lost family members in suicide bombings and stuff. So what could he do to protect the farms of my friends in Palestine and also assure my friends in Israel that there wouldn’t be any more suicide bombings? And then I told him why I was interested in the case and about Rachel’s killing there. And he recognized the name Rachel Corrie. He was familiar with that without an aide or his wife or somebody explaining it to him.

    And so, he went on about five minutes talking about what was necessary, and essentially a two-state solution is what he said, for that and giving his commitment to a viable, contiguous state of Palestine alongside a state of Israel, living in peace and dignity and having a future for their people. So it was pretty much a standard US stated foreign policy, not actually the foreign policy we often pursue and enforce, but what we state, and a pretty good answer. And he went on, like I say, for about five minutes. It was very personal.

    AMY GOODMAN: So back to Joe Biden. Talk about the questioning—

    CINDY CORRIE: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: —that he did of the—

    CINDY CORRIE: Well, it was also during the Iowa campaign, with my Iowa family members. Rachel’s case was brought to his attention in quite a large way. He was asked repeatedly about her case. And he did become interested. He finally said he wanted to see what was going on. And we know—we have copies of questions that he then submitted to Ambassador-Designate—the American ambassador to Israel, James Cunningham, who now is the Israeli ambassador, questions that he asked about Rachel’s case. He asked about what had been done in the State Department and in the embassy in Tel Aviv to pursue a thorough, credible and transparent investigation. And he also asked whether or not they thought that there had been a thorough, credible and transparent investigation. Clearly, getting this is important to officials in the US government.

    AMY GOODMAN: And what did James Cunningham answer?

    CINDY CORRIE: He laid out the steps that had been taken in pursuit of a transparent investigation and the communications that have occurred between the Department of State and Israel about the case and indicated that they have continued to ask the Israelis to answer questions and to comply with a thorough, credible and transparent investigation….

    CRAIG CORRIE: When we’re talking about US officials and US government showing some interest in this case, Congressman Brian Baird, who is our congressman and was the congressman for Rachel when she was killed—and it was his office that we were right after Rachel was killed. He has now written a letter to the judge and is asking that he be able to testify in the case, come to Israel overnight, but he needs that to be—him to be heard on either Sunday the 21st or Monday the 22nd, because, of course, there are votes in Congress and all that. But it’s pretty amazing to me that a US congressman would be willing to take a redeye to Israel, come and testify, and then pop back onto a redeye back to Washington, DC. And, you know, my thanks go out to the congressman. I hope he’s allowed to do that. But his willingness to do it is just flooring to me.

    AMY GOODMAN: It’s very interesting. He also went to Gaza, right?

    CINDY CORRIE: He did.

    AMY GOODMAN: Along with Keith Ellison, the congressman.

    CRAIG CORRIE: Three times ago. He just got back, actually, a couple of weeks ago from his third trip to Gaza. And so, you can see, with him, because he’s somebody that we now have, you know, had personal contact with over a number of years. And he got there and saw, you know, worse than what Rachel saw, but he got there and saw it, and it was, as his chief of staff said, life-changing. And you can see that in what he writes and says about it.

    …SARAH CORRIE SIMPSON: One of my frustrations in all the work that we did in Congress was that I think we thought, in the initial days after Rachel was killed, if the US government took a very strong stance against her killing, that perhaps it would have given some more protection to the others—I mean, to US citizens that are traveling in that region. And what we know is that shortly after Rachel was killed, Tom Hurndall, who was a British peace activist, was killed in the same two-mile stretch of Rafah, Gaza. Then there was James Miller, who was a British reporter that was also shot and killed in that same two-mile stretch. On the US side, we had Brian Avery in the West Bank, who was severely injured when he was shot in the face by the IDF. And now we have Tristan Anderson. And some of the frustration was that if there was accountability in Rachel’s case, I wonder how many of those other cases would not have happened.

    I do like to point out that in the case of the British citizens, that the British government took a very strong stance against those killings. In the case of Tom Hurndall, they actually managed to get a criminal conviction. And much of that came by the work of the family and the work of the UK government to put pressure on Israel to do a credible investigation. In the case of James Miller, that criminal process did not occur. It was very similar to our case. They closed the case without bringing charges. But the British government continued to push so that there would be basically a damages claim. I believe that it was about $2.4 or $2.5 million to that family. And I don’t think it’s about the dollar figure, but it’s about saying that there was something very wrong that went on in that case. Iain Hook was another British citizen that they did not get—he was killed, as well, and they did not get a criminal conviction in that case. But again, that damages claim does say that the [UK] government believed that there should be accountability in that case.

    And I just think that the US government certainly has the ability to push for the rights of their citizens and the safety of their citizens as hard as the UK government does. And I think both President Obama and Vice President Biden would understand that and want to make sure that the safety of the US citizens that are traveling in Gaza and the West Bank is the highest priority, when we’re over there.

    AMY GOODMAN: The anniversary of Rachel’s death will be taking place in the midst of the trial. Trial begins March 10th. Her death occurred on March 16th. What are you calling on people to do?

    CINDY CORRIE: We’re calling on people to be visible on March 16th, calling for accountability in Rachel’s case, but also making the linkages between accountability for her and the lack of accountability that’s occurred in—particularly with Gaza, with what happened in Operation Cast Lead in December of 2008 and January of 2009, but really for all of the acts of violence against Palestinians and others in the Occupied Territories.

    And we’re also calling for attention to the assault on nonviolent human rights observers and activists that continues in various ways. There are Palestinians, now a growing number of Palestinians, who have died in nonviolent protests to the wall in the West Bank. People can find their names, I think, by going to the International Solidarity Movement website.

    AMY GOODMAN: The separation wall.

    CINDY CORRIE: The separation wall. And sometimes I read the list of those names. Palestinians resist nonviolently in many different ways. But this is in nonviolent protest to the wall.

    And also, I think it’s important for people to make the link between our ability to access the Israeli courts and the fact that Palestinians have really little opportunity to do that. We understand that currently Palestinians who want to operate in the courts or to take their cases to the courts have to put a bond forward of something between twenty and fifty thousand dollars in order to bring a suit. And this is, of course, very prohibitive to them to be able to do that.

    B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch and other organizations have talked about the impunity that the Israeli military enjoys because of lack of accountability through the courts and in other ways. And I hope that people will be visible to say, “We’ve had enough of this,” and to call for accountability for Rachel, but to link it to these other larger issues.

    CRAIG CORRIE: Amy, one other very specific thing that people could do, and I’m calling for people to do—the US government has come out against the blockade or the continued occupation and siege on Gaza. The children that were behind the wall that Rachel stood in front of are still under a state of siege. And I think that, very specifically, people around the world and certainly in this country could write, call or fax the White House and say, not only should we be working to have the Israelis lift that siege, but if they continue to be unwilling to do so, then the United States should come in there, work out a way that they could come in and—the Berlin airlift, it sent a message to the world about our ability to protect people around the world and our willingness to do so. If we did something similar by sea to the Gaza Strip, it would change the view of Americans around the world for maybe another fifty years. It is something that’s doable, and it’s something that the people out, your fans, could actually physically do and ask the White House to do that.

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Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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