ISRAHELL: Rachel Corrie’s Family Finally Puts Israel in the Dock

Seven years after Rachel Corrie, a US peace activist, was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, her family was to put the Israeli government in the dock today.

A judge in the northern Israeli city of Haifa was due to be presented with evidence that 23-year-old Corrie was killed unlawfully as she stood in the path of the bulldozer, trying to prevent it from demolishing Palestinian homes in Rafah.

Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cindy, who arrived in Israel on Saturday, said they hoped their civil action would shed new light on their daughter’s killing and finally lead to Israel’s being held responsible for her death. They are also seeking damages that could amount to millions of dollars if the court finds in their favour.

An internal army investigation was closed shortly after Corrie’s death, exonerating both the bulldozer driver and the commanders who oversaw the operation.

Three Britons and one US citizen, who were standing close to Corrie when she was killed, are expected to challenge Israel’s version of events, arguing that the bulldozer driver knew Corrie was there when he ran her over.

The Israeli government had sought to block the activists from entering Israel for the hearing but finally relented three weeks ago, when Britain and the US exerted strong pressure.

The four, like Corrie, belonged to the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which brings activists to Israel to resist the occupation non-violently alongside Palestinians.

Cindy Corrie, from Olympia, Washington, said: “My family and I are still searching for justice. The brutal death of my daughter should never have happened. We believe the Israeli army must be held accountable for her unlawful killing.”

For many observers, Rachel Corrie’s death in March 2003 rapidly came to symbolise the injustices of Israel’s occupation. Diary entries, many of them written while she was living with Palestinian families, were adapted into a play that has been performed around the world.

However, as one Israeli commentator noted in the liberal daily newspaper Haaretz on the first anniversary of her death: “In Israel, her name has been all but forgotten.”

Corrie’s family hopes the court case will rectify that.

Rachel, a film released last year about her life and the events in Rafah, is due to be screened in Tel Aviv on March 16, on the seventh anniversary of her death and in the midst of the legal proceedings.

Until the court case in Haifa, the Corrie family had run into a series of administrative and legal brick walls in trying to get their daughter’s death independently investigated and to hold those responsible to account.

Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister at the time of Corrie’s death, promised a “thorough, credible and transparent investigation” would be conducted.

But an internal military inquiry clearing the two soldiers operating the bulldozer was widely criticised, including by US officials. Human Rights Watch said it “fell far short of the transparency, impartiality and thoroughness required by international law”.

The army’s report claimed that Corrie had been “hidden from view” behind a mound of earth and that the bulldozer had never come into contact with her. It concluded that “Corrie was struck by dirt and a slab of concrete” as earth slipped on top of her.

The four former ISM activists due to appear in court this week have been told not to comment before giving their testimonies.

But previous witness statements, backed by photographic evidence, have questioned the army’s account. Photographs show Corrie, wearing an orange fluorescent jacket and holding a megaphone, confronting the bulldozer over several hours. They also show the bulldozer’s track marks over Corrie’s body moments after she was crushed.

Tom Dale, a British activist who was next to Corrie when she was killed, wrote two days later that she had climbed on top of a mound of earth as activists nearby shouted at the bulldozer driver to stop.

The bulldozer, he wrote, “pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time.”

In 2007 a US court denied the Corrie family the right to sue the Caterpillar company, which supplies the Israeli army with the special D-9 bulldozers that killed their daughter and that Israel regularly uses to demolish Palestinian homes.

This week’s hearing is the outcome of a private lawsuit filed by the Corries in March 2005, at the suggestion of the US state department.

Mrs Corrie said: “We hope this trial will also illustrate the need for accountability for thousands of lives lost, or indelibly injured, by the Israeli occupation and bring attention to the assault on non-violent human-rights defenders.”

Mr Corrie added that the family had had to endure “lies and misrepresentations” about the circumstances of their daughter’s death. The family also accused Israel of resorting to procedural delays to drag the case out.

Although Israel has agreed to let in the four ISM witnesses, it has refused to allow Ahmed Abu Nakira, a doctor in Gaza who treated Corrie, to attend the hearing or to be questioned over a video link.

The lawsuit accuses the Israeli government of being responsible either for Corrie’s intentional killing or for the negligent conduct of its soldiers towards unarmed demonstrators.

Israel claims it is not liable because the army’s actions were “acts of war” and because Corrie recklessly endangered herself.

Around the time Corrie was killed, three Britons — Iain Hook, Tom Hurndall and James Millar — were fatally shot by Israeli soldiers. Only in the case of Hurndall, another ISM volunteer who was shot in Rafah a month after Corrie, did an investigation lead to a soldier being found guilty and jailed.

Hussein Abu Hussein, the Corrie family’s lawyer, said they were seeking $324,000 compensation for specific costs related to Corrie’s death, including the funeral, legal expenses and flights. In addition, the family will ask for general compensation for their suffering and Rachel’s loss of earnings, and punitive damages from the state.

In recent weeks the ISM’s office in the West Bank has been raided several times by the Israeli army, with computers and documents taken.

Mr Abu Hussein said he would be arguing in court that the D-9’s manual specifically states that work must not be carried out with civilians nearby, and that the state ignored a judicial decision that a US embassy representative be present at Corrie’s autopsy.

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

ISRAHELL UPDATE: Israel’s War on Protest (A MUST READ)

The Israeli courts ordered the release this week of two foreign women arrested by the army in the West Bank in what human-rights lawyers warn has become a wide-ranging clampdown by Israel on non-violent protest from international, Israeli and Palestinian activists.

The arrest of the two women during a nighttime raid on the Palestinian city of Ramallah has highlighted a new tactic by Israeli officials: using immigration police to try to deport foreign supporters of the Palestinian cause.

A Czech woman was deported last month after she was seized from Ramallah by a special unit known as Oz, originally established to arrest migrant labourers working illegally inside Israel.

Human rights lawyers say Israel’s new offensive is intended to undermine a joint non-violent struggle by international activists and Palestinian villagers challenging a land grab by Israel as it builds the separation wall on farmland in the West Bank.

In what Israel’s daily Haaretz newspaper recently called a “war on protest”, Israeli security forces have launched a series of raids in the West Bank over the past two months to detain Palestinian community leaders organising protests against the wall.

“Israel knows that the non-violence struggle is spreading and that it’s a powerful weapon against the occupation,” said Neta Golan, an Israeli activist based in Ramallah. “Israel has no answer to it, which is why the security forces are panicking and have started making lots of arrests.”

The detention this week of Ariadna Marti, 25, of Spain, and Bridgette Chappell, 22, of Australia, suggests a revival of a long-running cat-and-mouse struggle between Israel and the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a group of activists who have joined Palestinians in non-violently opposing the Israeli occupation.

The last major confrontation, a few years into the second intifada, resulted in a brief surge of deaths and injuries of international activists at the hands of the Israeli army. Most controversially, Rachel Corrie, from the US, was run down and killed by an army bulldozer in 2003 as she stood by a home in Gaza threatened with demolition.

Ms Golan, a co-founder of the ISM, said Israel had sought to demonise the group’s activists in the Israeli and international media. “Instead of representing our struggle as one of non-violence, we are portrayed as ‘accomplices to terror’.”

The first entry of Israeli immigration police into a Palestinian-controlled area of the West Bank, the so-called “Area A”, occurred last month when a Czech woman was arrested in Ramallah. Eva Novakova, 28, who had recently been appointed the ISM’s media co-ordinator, was accused of overstaying her visa and was deported before she could appeal to the courts.

Human rights lawyers say such actions are illegal.

Omer Shatz, the lawyer representing Ms Marti and Ms Chappell, said a military operation into an area like Ramallah could not be justified to round up activists with expired visas. “The activists are not breaking any laws in Ramallah,” he said. “The army and immigration police are effectively criminalising them by bringing them into Israel, where they need such a visa.”

Officials in the Palestinian Authority (PA) have grown increasingly unhappy at Israeli abuses of security arrangements dating from the Oslo era. The PA’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, recently described the Israeli operations into Area A as “incursions and provocations”.

Although the supreme court released the two women on bail on Monday, while their deportation was considered, it banned them from entering the West Bank and ordered each pay a $800 bond.

The judges questioned the right of the army to hand over the women to immigration police from a military prison in the West Bank, but left open the issue of whether the operation would have been legal had the transfer occurred in Israeli territory.

The Spanish government is reported to have asked the Israeli ambassador in Spain to promise that Ms Marti would not be deported.

Ms Marti said they had been woken at 3am on Sunday by “15 to 20 soldiers who aimed their guns at us”. The pair were asked for their passports and then handcuffed. Later, she said, they had been offered the choice that “either we agree to immediate expulsion or that we will be jailed for six months”.

On Wednesday, shortly after the court ruling, the army raided the ISM’s office in Ramallah again, seizing computers, T-shirts and bracelets inscribed with “Palestine”.

“Israel has managed to stop most international activists from getting here by denying them entry at the borders,” said Ms Golan. “But those who do get in then face deportation if they are arrested or try to renew their visa.”

The ISM has been working closely with a number of local Palestinian popular committees in organising weekly demonstrations against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land under cover of the building of the wall.

The protests have made headlines only intermittently, usually when international or Israeli activists have been hurt or killed by Israeli soldiers. Palestinian injuries have mostly gone unnoticed.

In one incident that threatened to embarrass Israel, Tristan Anderson, 38, an American ISM member, was left brain-damaged last March after a soldier fired a tear-gas cannister at his head during a demonstration against the wall in the Palestinian village of Nilin.

In addition to regular arrests of Palestinian protesters, Israel has recently adopted a new tactic of rounding up community leaders and holding them in long-term administrative detention. A Haaretz editorial has called these practices “familiar from the darkest regimes”.

Abdallah Abu Rahman, a schoolteacher and head of the popular committee in the village of Bilin, has been in jail since December for arms possession. The charge refers to a display he created at his home of used tear gas cannisters fired by the Israeli army at demonstrators.

On Monday, the offices of Stop the Wall, an umbrella organisation for the popular committees, was raided, and its computers and documents taken. Two co-ordinators of the group, Jamal Juma and Mohammed Othman, were released from jail last month after mounting international pressure.

The Israeli police also have been harshly criticised by the courts for beating and jailing dozens of Israeli and Palestinian activists protesting against the takeover of homes by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Last month, Hagai Elad, the head of Israel’s largest human rights law centre, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, was among 17 freed by a judge after demonstrators were detained for two days by police, who accused them of being “dangerous”.

Ref: Counterpunch

Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jkcook.net.

A version of this article originally appeared in The National (www.thenational.ae), published in Abu Dhabi.

Suheir Hamad Poetry: On the Brink of… for Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie – Interview
Footage from Rachel’s interview conducted by Middle East Broadcasting Company on March 14th, 2003, two days before she was murdered by the Israeli Defense Forces.

rachel corrie website

Photostory: Israeli bulldozer driver murders American peace activist