In Rachel Corrie suit dismissal, one small question is key


The verdict by an Israeli court in the case of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed in Gaza by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003, may have captured international attention and touched on a range of ethical issues at the center of Israel’s military operations. 

But at its core, Tuesday’s ruling on whether Israel was responsible for Corrie’s death nine years ago hinged on one simple question: Did the bulldozer driver who ran over Corrie see her or not?

The judge in Haifa District Court ruled that he did not. Corrie’s family maintains that he did. 

Larger issues were part of the proceedings and their surroundings: What are the responsibilities of civilian activists in an armed conflict? Does a civilian area with terrorist activity count as a war zone? What distinguishes between an organization that peacefully opposes the Israeli occupation of Gaza and one that aids terrorists?

Those matters, however, took a back seat to the actual reasoning of the legal ruling by Judge Oded Gershon. 

Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, Wash., has become a symbol for some American and other groups that oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. Her parents founded the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which “supports grassroots efforts in pursuit of human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice,” according to its Web site, and a play titled “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” opened in London in 2005.

On March 16, 2003, Corrie was an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which was protesting in the southern Gaza city of Rafah during the Second Intifada. Her supporters say she was acting as a human shield for a house that was about to be demolished by the Israeli army when she became enveloped in the pile of dirt created by an armored bulldozer as it moved toward the house. Corrie died soon after in a nearby hospital. The Israeli military denies that a house demolition was taking place.

Her parents brought a lawsuit in Israel that accused the state of responsibility for their daughter’s death. But in clearing the state of all charges, Gershon said that Corrie voluntarily risked her life by entering a place where there was daily live fire. Moreover, the Haifa judge said the bulldozer driver did not see Corrie as she was standing behind a pile of dirt, and that Corrie did not move out of the way when she saw the bulldozer moving toward her, instead climbing on the pile of dirt. 

Corrie “put herself in a dangerous situation opposite a bulldozer when he couldn’t see her,” Gershon said, reading the verdict. “She didn’t move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her death even after all of the IDF’s efforts to move her from the place.”

Gershon also dismissed charges that the state tampered with the evidence in its investigation into Corrie’s death. He added that the demolition of the home by the Israel Defense Forces on that day was an “act of war” and the area was a closed military zone. 

The judge reserved some of his harshest words for Corrie’s organization, saying ISM was “mixed up in terror” and accusing the group of aiding terrorists behind a facade of human rights activism. 

“There’s a big gap between the organization’s declarations and the character of its actions,” Gershon read from the verdict. “ISM activities include placing activists as human shields for terrorists,” and “financial, logistical and moral assistance to Palestinians, including terrorists.”

But speaking at a news conference following the verdict, the Corrie family and its lawyer presented a narrative that contradicted the judge’s. 

The lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, called Corrie and the other ISM volunteers “all peaceful activists. The army did not try to stop them. There was no command that it’s a closed military area. There was no threat to the lives of the soldiers. How could he say that?” 

Hussein added that the driver of the bulldozer must have seen Corrie, as she was protesting in one spot for five hours before she was run over. 

The Corrie family said it planned to appeal the verdict, which it must do within 45 days.

Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, blamed the ruling on “a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military and the soldiers who conduct actions in that military, to provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted from what they do.”

“This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel,” she said. 

Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, said after the ruling that though they had sued the state, he rejected “the idea that simply making some of these things known is an attack on Israel.” Israeli anti-occupation activists, he said, have supported the Corries “from the first moment we’ve done this.” 

The Corries grew most passionate, however, when discussing what happened on the day their daughter died. They contradicted a statement from Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office declaring that “the driver of the bulldozer and his commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie.” 

Corrie’s sister, Sarah Corrie Simpson, still wants answers from the driver. 

“I can say without a doubt that I believe my sister was seen as that bulldozer approached her,” she said. “I hope someday he will have the courage to sit down in front of me and tell me what he saw and what he feels.”

Copycat bulldozer rampage in Jerusalem injures 28


JERUSALEM (JTA)—In an imitation of an attack nearly three weeks ago, an Arab construction worker rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem on a bulldozer, crushing cars and hitting a bus before being shot dead by Israeli border police.

At least 16 people were injured in the attack early Tuesday afternoon, including a 9-month-old baby and his mother. One of the injured remains in serious condition at Shaare Tzedek Hospital, reports say.

The driver was identified in news reports as Ghasan Abu-Tir, 22, of eastern Jerusalem. He held an Israeli identification card.

His relative, Palestinian Authority Parliament member Muhammad Abu-Tir, is jailed in Israel, Ynet reported.

The attack in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood was similar to a July 2 attack when a bulldozer driver from eastern Jerusalem killed three Israelis before being shot dead by an off-duty soldier.

While that assailant was assumed to have had political motives, Israeli authorities never established clear links to Palestinian terrorist groups.

Israeli police sealed off routes leaving Jerusalem following Tuesday’s attack in an attempt to catch two suspected accomplices who were seen leaving the scene.

The attack, at the corner of Keren Hayesod and King David streets in the heart of Jerusalem, took place within sight of the luxury King David Hotel, which will host U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) during the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority set to begin Tuesday evening.

The bulldozer driver, who according to witnesses wore a large white skullcap common to religious Muslims, chased the No. 13 bus while raising the shovel of his front-end loader, the driver of the bus told the Ha’aretz newspaper.

“I was driving on the main road when the [bulldozer] hit me in the rear, on the right-hand side,” driver Avi Levi told Ha’aretz. “After I passed him he turned round, made a U-turn and rammed the windows twice with the shovel. The third time he aimed for my head, he came up to my window and I swerved to the right, otherwise I would have gone to meet my maker.”

Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski told Israel’s Channel 10 that the two bulldozer attacks could affect the future hiring of Arabs from eastern Jerusalem.

“We should reconsider the employment of these people,” he said.

Lupolianski, who was near the area of the attack and rushed to the scene, added that “tools of construction become opportunities for attacks.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, which took place while he was meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres in the president’s residence located a few miles from the scene. It was the first meeting in the residence with a P.A. president.

Obama at a news conference in Jordan condemned the attack.

“Today’s bulldozer attack is a reminder of what Israelis have courageously lived with on a daily basis for far too long,” Obama said in Amman. “I strongly condemn this attack and will always support Israel in confronting terrorism and pursuing lasting peace and security.”

Three dead in Jerusalem terrorist bulldozer attack


JERUSALEM (JTA) – The deadly terrorist attack by an Arab bulldozer driver on a crowded street here Wednesday raised questions anew about how Israeli authorities can protect against attacks by lone assailants from eastern Jerusalem.

At least three people were killed and dozens injured in the noontime attack on Jaffa Road.

Husam Duwayat, a 30-year-old father of two from eastern Jerusalem, plowed through traffic on one of the busiest streets in the Israeli capital, overturning a commuter bus, crushing cars and sending pedestrians in a mad rush for safety.

“It was terrible, like nothing you could imagine,” a bus passenger who gave her name as Bat-El told Israel Radio.

Policemen and an armed civilian ended the rampage by scrambling aboard the 20-ton bulldozer and shooting Duwayat at point-blank range. The brutal scene was captured on film and broadcast around the world.

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