August 28, 2012
Judge Oded Gershon has ruled in favor of the state of Israel in the Corrie family wrongful death lawsuit. Rachel Corrie was crushed to death on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli military Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer as she protested the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza. (for more on the case see here).
Note the quote from Judge Gershon in the following Haaretz report which blames Rachel for her own death:
The Haifa District Court rejected on Tuesday accusations that Israel was at fault over the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed by an army bulldozer during a 2003 pro-Palestinian demonstration in Gaza. . .
In a ruling read out to the court, judge Oded Gershon called Corrie's death a "regrettable accident", but said the state was not responsible because the incident had occurred during what he termed a war-time situation. . .
"I reject the suit," the judge said. "There is no justification to demand the state pay any damages."
He added that the soldiers had done their utmost to keep people away from the site. "She (Corrie) did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done." . . .
"I am hurt," Corrie's mother, Cindy, told reporters after the verdict was read.
Corrie family attorney Hussein Abu Hussein issued the following statement following the verdict. The ruling marks yet another victory for Israeli impunity in the occupied territories:
While not surprising, this verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. Rachel Corrie was killed while non-violently protesting home demolitions and injustice in Gaza, and today, this court has given its stamp of approval to flawed and illegal practices that failed to protect civilian life. In this regard, the verdict blames the victim based on distorted facts and it could have been written directly by the state attorneys.
We knew from the beginning that we had an uphill battle to get truthful answers and justice, but we are convinced that this verdict distorts the strong evidence presented in court, and contradicts fundamental principles of international law with regard to protection of human rights defenders. In denying justice in Rachel Corrie's killing, this verdict speaks to the systemic failure to hold the Israeli military accountable for continuing violations of basic human rights.
We would like to thank everyone who supported the family and the legal team; including activists, NGOs, legal observers, US embassy officials, interpreters, reporters who covered the trial, and we look forward to talking to you at the press conference.
Omar Barghouti sent out the following reaction to the verdict, putting it in the broader context of the Israeli legal system's "structural flaws" that were criticized in the Goldstone Report:
It's a sad day for humanity, for the Corries, for Palestinians, for all people of conscience around the world ...
Cindy and Craig, we share your hurt. We share your indignation at this Israeli mockery of justice which is typical of this unjust system.
This latest and widely expected Israeli court whitewash underlines what the UN Goldstone Report had proven after the Israeli massacre in Gaza in 2008-09. Referring to "structural flaws" in the so-called Israeli justice system, the report concluded that Israel cannot be trusted to administer justice according to international standards.[Goldstone Report, paragraph 1756]
Precisely! In too many cases to enumerate here, Israel's courts have rarely sentenced Jewish-Israeli criminals for killing or injuring Palestinians or wantonly destroying their property. According to Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din,
"... 91% of investigations [by Israeli police in the OPT] into crimes committed by Israelis against Palestinians and their property are closed without indictments being served. 84% of the investigation files are closed because of the investigators' failure to locate suspects and evidence. ... Indictments were served in less than 3% of these cases."
Even as early as 1996, at the height of the so-called "peace process," an Israeli settler fatally pistol-whipped 11-year-old Palestinian child Hilmi Shusha near Bethlehem for no apparent reason. An Israeli judge first acquitted the murderer, saying the child "died on his own as a result of emotional pressure., After numerous appeals and under pressure from the Supreme Court, which termed the act "light killing," the judge reconsidered and, as the Intifada was raging, sentenced the killer to six months of community service and a fine of a few thousand dollars. The boy’s father accused the court of issuing a "license to kill." [Reuters, January 22, 2001; Phil Reeves, "Fury as court frees settler, The Independent, January 22, 2001]
Gideon Levy of Haaretz eloquently described the fine at the time as the "end-of-the-season" clearance price on Palestinian children’s lives, referring to the findings of B’tselem, Israel’s leading human rights organization, which documented dozens of similar cases in which perpetrators were either acquitted or received a slap on the wrist. [Gideon Levy, Haaretz, January 28, 2001]
Adding insult to injury, the complicit Israeli judge in this case implied that Rachel was not a "thinking person" because of her heroic nonviolent attempt to stand against an indisputable war crime.
Given that Israel's courts, like their South African counterparts during apartheid, have systematically and consistently been a reliable pillar of Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid, Israel's war crimes and crimes against humanity ought to be prosecuted in international courts where justice has a chance to see the day of light.
This should also convince anyone who still needed to be convinced that without effective BDS against Israel it will never comply with international law. This is the lesson of South Africa.
Activists in the U.S. have announced plans to redouble their efforts to push for divestment from Caterpillar in the wake of the verdict. From the We Divest campaign:
The We Divest Campaign, a national coalition demanding pension fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands, is intensifying its call for divestment from Caterpillar Inc. in the wake of an Israeli court ruling today siding with the government in the civil court case brought by the Corrie family. The case alleged that the State of Israel was responsible for the killing of 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by a Caterpillar bulldozer as she attempted to use nonviolent civil disobedience to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli army in Gaza in March 2003. The court’s decision followed an Israeli investigation that the US ambassador to Israel recently criticized as lacking credibility.
In a series of actions timed to coincide with the issuing of the verdict, human rights advocates in cities across the US will protest in front of local TIAA-CREF offices this week and deliver a letter urging trustees to divest fully from Caterpillar and other companies that profit from Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories. The We Divest Campaign is supported by the Corrie family and the Rachel Corrie Foundation.
"At the time of her death, Rachel was trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes by Caterpillar bulldozers," said Riham Barghouti, a member of the We Divest National Coordinating Committee. "Israel’s illegal policy of destroying Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, sometimes extending to entire villages, remains as urgent an issue today as it was when Rachel was killed. In Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley and Hebron Hills, Palestinians continue to live with the daily threat of their homes and property being confiscated or demolished by Israeli authorities. If TIAA-CREF trustees want to live up to their motto of investing 'for the greater good,’ they must stop profiting from companies such as Caterpillar that are enabling Israel to carry out such gross human rights violations."
Jewish Voice for Peace has also condemned the verdict. It includes a statement from Rachel Corrie's parents. Excerpts:
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is deeply disappointed by the verdict read by Judge Oded Gershon this morning in the civil court case brought by the Corrie family against the State of Israel...
This verdict--declaring American peace activist Rachel Corrie’s death to be merely an accident--reflects the impunity of the Israeli army and the deficient investigation undertaken by Israel after Rachel’s death. The U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told the Corrie family last week, ahead of Judge Gershon’s decision, that Israel's investigation into the death of their daughter was not satisfactory, and wasn't as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been.
...JVP joins the Rachel Corrie Foundation in urging concerned activists in the US to mark the trial verdict with actions to end the housing demolitions that deny Palestinians the basic human right of being secure in their own homes. We urge activists to visit the local offices of retirement fund TIAA-CREF to deliver a letter remembering Rachel Corrie and drawing attention to Israel’s policy of home demolitions, frequently carried out using Caterpillar bulldozers.
While TIAA-CREF recently dropped Caterpillar from their social choice funds, they continue to invest over $1 billion in Caterpillar in their general funds. Jewish Voice for Peace is the founding member of the national coordinating committee of the We Divest campaign (wedivest.org) demanding that TIAA-CREF divest from companies, like Caterpillar, that are profiting from the Israeli occupation.
In response to the Judge Gershon’s verdict, Cindy and Craig Corrie, Rachel’s parents said: "We are deeply saddened and troubled by what we heard today in the court of Judge Oded Gershon. This was a bad day, not only for us, but for human rights, for humanity, the rule of law, and the country of Israel. From the beginning, it was clear that there was a system to protect the military and soldiers, to provide them impunity. This extends to the courts. The diplomatic process failed us. The Israeli court system demonstrated that it failed us too. Rachel was a human being who deserved accountability, and we as her family deserve that too."
Sydney Levy, Director of Advocacy at Jewish Voice for Peace said: "We at JVP deplore Judge Gershon’s verdict, and we applaud the Corrie family and their legal team for successfully putting on trial Israel’s flawed justice system. This verdict is yet another flagrant disregard for international law by Israel, which is obligated, as are all countries, to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from the dangers of military operations. The Israeli military undoubtedly violated this principle in the killing of nonviolent human rights activist Rachel Corrie."