Last week the family of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003 while trying to protect a Palestinian house from demolition, appealed a civil suit to Israel’s high court. In 2012 parents Craig and Cindy Corrie lost a Haifa district trial. The judges ruled because Corrie, 23, was in a “combat zone,” the soldier who killed her and the Israeli military could not be held liable.
Representing the Corrie family, Hussein Abu Hussein, chairman of Adalah — the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel — argued the lower court’s verdict should be overturned due to a botched military investigation. “Nobody investigated the command center that was observing this sector or the tape,” said Abu Hussein during the hearing. He added, “There are no laws to protect the destruction of evidence.”
Abu Hussein said the video evidence that was included was marked by “blurring in the very beginning of the tape” and it disappeared for seven days after it was discovered during the military investigation. Another video of Corrie’s final moments found by documentary filmmaker Simon Bitton and featured in the film “Rachel,” which is longer and in color, was never presented to the court. Furthermore, two 19-year old soldiers who the appeal alleges had “no experience in investigations” conducted the army review.
The soldier who drove over Corrie told army investigators in 2003 that he did not see her until after she was crushed. Corrie stood a mere 10 meters from the bulldozer driver in the seconds before he drove over her. State attorney’s also said from that distance “she yelled, but they [the soldiers] couldn’t hear.”
Corrie was dressed in a gray pullover with a bright orange hazard vest. Lawyers for her family said she had screamed along with other foreigners present. Yet the driver maintained he was not negligent because a mound of dirt blocked her from his line of sight. In the appeal, Abu Hussein presented photographs from before and after the Corrie’s death where there was no visible mound.
Lawyers representing the state argued that the cause of death was not being contested, the liability is. They maintained that Corrie was in a danger zone and so she alone was negligible for her own killing.
“All of the soldiers,” argued the state’s attorneys, “said there was a vital need of this particular operation,” to demolish houses near the “Philadelphia corridor,” a buffer zone near the Rafah crossing inside Gaza that was controlled by Israeli forces at the time of Corrie’s death.
State attorneys claimed that the soldiers were not able to suspend their operation to remove Corrie from standing in front of the house she was protecting, because such a break from the army mission could risk the lives of the Israeli citizens. “They couldn’t predict the fact that the activists would behave in such a manner as they did.”
“It seemed from what I could tell the judges asked important questions,” Cindy Corrie said after the appeal was presented to the panel of jurists. “They seemed to understand the key issues that are involved. We have to trust that they will take a good look at that and look at how the decisions they make here will greatly impact what happens to human rights defenders like my daughter.”
She continued: “One of the hardest things for me is the context of why Rachel was there gets lost sometimes and there were massive home demolitions going on. Rachel was not on the Philadelphia corridor, the original Philadelphia corridor that Israel has access to under international law.” Corrie’s mother said that she was killed while protecting a house that was outside of the militarized buffer zone.
The presiding judges on the appeal will not convene a public hearing to deliver their verdict; it is to be delivered on the court’s website. “We don’t know when, it could be in one week, it could be in one month, it could be in one year,” said a spokesperson for the Corrie family.