On March 16, 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, a member of the International Solidarity Movement stood with others to defend a Palestinian home from demolition by Israeli Defense Forces. The photos of Rachel, in her bright red ISM jacket, confronting the Goliath earth mover were some of the first indications Americans had of how the IDF was using bulldozers as weapons of war. Though Rachel was plainly visible to the driver he continued to move forward, using his machine to crush her to death.
On August 28, 2012, Israeli judge Oded Gorshen ll invoked the “combatant activities” exception, noting that IDP forces had been attacked nearby and ruled Corrie’s death an “accident.”
Corrie was one of a group of around eight international activists acting as human shields against the demolitions. According to witness statements made at the time and evidence given in court, she clambered on top of a mound of earth in the path of an advancing Caterpillar bulldozer.
“She was standing on top of a pile of earth,” fellow activist and eyewitness Richard Purssell, from Brighton, said at the time. “The driver cannot have failed to see her. As the blade pushed the pile, the earth rose up. Rachel slid down the pile. It looks as if her foot got caught. The driver didn’t slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again.”
Tom Dale, an 18-year-old from Lichfield in Staffordshire, said: “The bulldozer went towards her very slowly, she was fully in clear view, straight in front of them. Unfortunately she couldn’t keep her grip there and 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.”
In response to the ruling by the Haifa court, the American ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, restated a position that the U.S. government has long held: “Israel’s investigation into the death of American activist Rachel Corrie was not satisfactory, and wasn’t as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been.”
“The lawsuit is just a small step in our family’s nearly decade-long search for truth and justice,” said Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, in a press statement. “The mounting evidence presented before the court underscores a broken system of accountability – tolerated by the United States in spite of its conclusions that Israel’s military investigation was not ‘thorough, credible, or transparent.’”
Oral testimony in the case began March 10, 2010. There have been 15 court hearings since with 23 witnesses testifying. The trial has exposed serious chain-of-command failures in relation to civilian killings and indiscriminate destruction of civilian property at the hands of the Israeli military in southern Gaza.
“This trial is an attempt to hold accountable not only those who failed to protect Rachel’s life but also the flawed system of military investigations which is neither impartial nor thorough,” said Hussein abu Hussein, the family’s attorney. “Under international law, Israel is obligated to take all feasible precautions to spare civilians from the dangers of military operations. The Israeli military flagrantly violated this principle in the killing of Rachel Corrie and it must be held accountable.”
Rachel Corrie’s courageous witness – only one story among thousands of Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals who demand justice for Palestinians and peace for Israel – didn’t stop with her death. American churches initiated a boycott of Caterpillar, the supplier of bull dozers to the IDF. Rachel’s parents have spoken at thousands of venues, continued the civil and criminal court cases, and started the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. Many, like me, include Rachel Corrie on our “martyrs roll,” remembering her as one who died in service of others defending justice and peace.
Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners associate editor. She blogs at rosemarieberger.com.