No Justice for Rachel Corrie

From the October 2012 PNL #818

Aly Wane

On August 28 Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa District court dismissed the civil lawsuit brought on behalf of Rachel Corrie’s parents against the State of Israel for the unlawful killing of their daughter. Rachel was a US peace activist and member of the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation in Palestine by using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles. On March 16, 2003, she intentionally placed herself between an Israeli bulldozer and a Palestinian home in Rafah that was being demolished and was tragically run over. The Haifa court argued that the driver of the bulldozer didn’t see Rachel and thus could not be found liable for her death. It is estimated by B’Tselem, an Israeli Human Rights organization, that the Israeli army demolished 1,700 houses in Rafah from 2000 to 2004, leaving 17,000 people homeless. Rachel was one of many activists who tried to prevent such home demolitions.

The civil lawsuit came after an internal investigation by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) was widely condemned as inadequate in 2004, including by top US officials such as Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to then US Secretary of State Colin Powell. In 2004, he told the family on behalf of the State Department that the US did not consider the investigation into Rachel’s death to be “thorough, credible and transparent.” Corrie’s parents knew that this was going to be an uphill battle and this fight was mostly a symbolic one for them: they only asked for one dollar in case of a legal victory. They simply wanted some measure of acknowledgment of culpability by the state. Not surprisingly, this never came.

There are two chilling takeaways from this. First, while Corrie’s case garnered international media attention, she was but one of many young people, mostly Palestinians, who have been killed with impunity by the IDF. Corrie received much attention because she was the first foreign national to be killed while protesting the Israeli occupation. However, two years before her death, Khalil al-Mughrabi, a Palestinian 11-year-old, was shot and killed by an IDF soldier while playing soccer. In 2006, Iman al-Hams, a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, was also shot and killed by an Israeli Army officer. In both cases, soldiers were acquitted. In an ideal world, these cases would garner as much mainstream media attention as Corrie’s case, but the reality is that most Western media outlets have accepted Palestinian “collateral damage” as an acceptable price to pay for the “safety of Israel.”

The most disturbing conclusion, however, is that it seems the Israeli legal system is increasingly shielding itself from norms of International Law and creating immunity for its soldiers in ways which violate basic human rights. Indeed, the most powerful rationale for the acquittal of the IDF in Rachel’s case is that Israel declared all of Southern Gaza a military zone, refusing to acknowledge the difference between enemy combatants and civilians. Every nation has the right to defend itself against aggressors, but it must do so within a legal framework that attempts with all its might to protect non-combatants.

Israel’s stance will not make it safer. This disregard for civilian lives can only harden the opposition and give ammunition to those who truly want to do it harm. As we strive to achieve peace in this conflict, we must keep advocating for justice in the cases of all non-combatants in war zones, be they Palestinian, Israeli or otherwise. Without this basic respect for each individual life, peace will be hard to achieve. Rachel will not be forgotten.