Nine years after filing a civil suit against the State of Israel for the wrongful death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, her family will have their appeal heard before the Israeli Supreme Court on May 21 at 11:30 a.m. in Jerusalem. The appeal, which will be argued by attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, challenges the Haifa District Court’s August 2012 ruling which concluded that the Israeli military was not responsible for Rachel’s death and that it conducted a credible investigation.
“During the past nine years, we have sought accountability in the Israeli courts for Rachel’s killing but were handed a verdict that showed blind indifference to the rights of the victim and little interest in seeking truth and justice,” said Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father.
The Corrie family appeal focuses on serious flaws in the lower court verdict which erred by ignoring and misinterpreting essential facts and misapplying legal norms. The appeal also challenges the lower court’s total disregard of international law obligations as well as procedural advantages that were regularly granted to the state during the proceedings. Lawyers for the Corries and the State of Israel have submitted their arguments in writing to the panel of three justices – Deputy-President of the Court Miriam Naor, Esther Hayut, and Zvi Zylbertal.
Speaking of his family’s hopes, Craig Corrie said, “It is a tragedy when the law is broken, but far, far worse when it is abandoned altogether. The Supreme Court now has a choice, to either show the world that the Israeli legal system honors the most basic principles of human rights and can hold its military accountable, or to add to mounting evidence that justice can not be found in Israel.”
Rachel, a 23-year-old human rights defender from Olympia, Washington, was crushed to death March 16, 2003, by an Israeli military bulldozer while nonviolently protesting demolition of Palestinian civilian homes in Rafah, Gaza. The following day, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush a “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation into Rachel’s killing. In 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff informed the Corrie family of the U.S. Government’s position that the Israeli investigation did not meet these standards and advised them to “use the Israeli court system.” The Corries filed suit in 2005, charging the State of Israel and its Ministry of Defense with responsibility for Rachel’s killing.
The civil trial before Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon began March 10, 2010, and 23 witnesses testified in 15 hearings, spread over 16 months. Each session was attended by the Corrie family, American Embassy officials, and numerous legal and human rights observers.
Testimony exposed serious chain-of-command failures in relation to civilian killings, as well as indiscriminate destruction of civilian property at the hands of the Israeli military in southern Gaza. Four eyewitnesses from the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) testified that Rachel was visible to soldiers in the bulldozer as it approached. Military witnesses testified that they saw ISM protesters in the area; and the on-site commander asked to stop operations due to their presence, but was ordered to continue working. An Israeli colonel testified that there are no civilians in war, and the lead military police investigator, himself, stated his belief that the Israeli military was at war with all in Gaza, including peace activists.
Testimony also revealed serious flaws in the military’s investigation into Rachel’s killing. 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 testimony given by soldiers; and ignored damning statements in the military log confirming a “shoot to kill” order and a command mentality to continue work in order to avoid setting a precedent with international activists.
On August 28, 2012, Judge Gershon ruled against the Corrie family, handing down a verdict stating the Israeli military was not to blame for Rachel’s death and that she alone was responsible for her demise. The Judge lauded the military police investigation and dismissed the case, adopting the Israeli Government’s position that the military should be fully absolved of civil liability, because soldiers were engaged in operational activities in a war zone.
The verdict was widely condemned by legal and human rights organizations monitoring the case, citing misrepresentation of facts and the fundamental principle of international humanitarian law – that in a time of war, military forces are obligated to take all measures to avoid harm to both civilians and their property. President Jimmy Carter stated that the court’s decision confirmed “a climate of impunity, which facilitates Israeli human rights violations against Palestinian civilians in the Occupied Territory.”
Seating in the courtroom is limited, and members of the press are advised to arrive early with press credentials. Proceedings will be in Hebrew. The family is seeking permission from the Court to provide simultaneous translation for court observers. However, pending the Court’s decision, journalists should make plans to bring their own translator. Cameras and audio recording equipment will not be permitted once proceedings begin. Photos may be taken before the judges enter the room.
A performance of My Name is Rachel Corrie, a play drawn from the diaries and e-mails of Rachel and staged around the world, will be presented in Hebrew on Monday, May 19 at 21:00 at the Arab-Hebrew Theatre in Jaffa. It will be followed by a panel discussion with the Corrie family, moderated by human rights lawyer Michael Sfard. For more information, visit The Coalition of Women for Peace, which is sponsoring the event.