The case of Rachel Corrie: Verdict in, but opinion still divided

Published August 28th, 2012 - 06:37 GMT
Corrie's family awaiting the verdict in court this morning
Corrie's family awaiting the verdict in court this morning

The death of 23 year old Palestinian solidarity activist Rachel Corrie was not caused by the negligence of the Israeli state or army, a court in Israel ruled this morning. 

The American student was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16 2003 while trying to obstruct the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah as part of her work with controversial NGO, International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Her family and supporters have spent the best part of a decade embroiled in a battle against the Israeli army and state over the cause of her death. They say the civil lawsuit came as an "absolutely last resort". 

At court this morning, Corrie's family were not after money but the carriage of justice they believe their daughter is owed - they asked only for a symbolic $1 in damages and legal expenses - but more than that they sought an admission from the Israeli military of unlawfully or intentionally killing their daughter, or at the very least a verdict of gross negligence.

Dismissing the case which was brought by the family and opened over two years ago, the Judge at Haifa district court said that there had been no fault in the original internal Israeli military investigation which cleared the driver of any blame. The Judge ruled that the driver had not seen Corrie and said that she was accountable for her own death by failing to move out of the way of danger "as any reasonable person would have done." He ruled that no compensation would be paid though the family would not have to pay costs of the case.

Corrie entered Palestine at the height of the Second Intifada - a time of escalated and embittered violence between the two sides - in which Palestinian suicide bombers grew in number to take on Israeli military force. Corrie was clearly affected by the ongoing destruction around her and felt strongly for the plight of the Palestinian people: "I feel like I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of a people's ability to survive. It's horrifying," she famously said. 

Like the cause she championed, her death polarizes opinion. For her supporters Corrie is held up as a martyr and a symbol of resistance, whilst for others she is a foolish peace-nik at best, at worst an aider and abetter of Palestinian terrorist activities. The Israeli Defence Forces said the houses it turned the state bulldozer to were harboring militants or weapons or being used to conceal arms-smuggling tunnels under the border. Human Rights groups said the demolitions were collective punishment that left thousands of families in Rafah destitute.  

It was for one of those families that Corrie died. According to fellow activists, she climbed on top of a mound of earth in the path of the bulldozer. They claim that, at that height and in a bright orange jacket, the driver could not have failed to see her. Tom Dale, an 18-year-old ISM campaigner and eyewitness to Corrie's death, said: "The bulldozer went towards her very slowly, she was fully in clear view, straight in front of them. Unfortunately she...started to slip down. You could see she was in serious trouble, there was panic in her face as she was turning around. All the activists there were screaming, running towards the bulldozer, trying to get them to stop. But they just kept on going."

Yet the Israeli military maintained that the driver of the bulldozer had not seen the young activist. This line was upheld again in court today.

After the ruling was read out by the judge, the family's lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, said: "We knew from the beginning that we had an uphill battle to get truthful answers and justice. But we are concerned that this verdict denies the strong evidence and contradicts the principles of international law."

The decision left a bitter taste with members of the NGO to which Corrie had devoted her last days. Co-founder of the ISM, Huwaida Arraf, who was present at the hearing, took to Twitter to share her horror at the outcome, warning: "No human rights defender is safe from Israel."

Whilst no one is surprised with the outcome of the case, for Corrie's supporters her Mother's words ring true: "This is a bad day not only for family but for human rights and rule of law." 


What are your thoughts on the Rachel Corrie hearing: Fair trial or travesty of justice? Leave us your comments below!

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