Corrie lawyers expose army smear campaign against ISM

Palestinians in Beit Jala carry a banner on the anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death, March 2010.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Israeli army spokesperson Brigadier General Ruth Yaron testified this week in what was expected to be the final hearing of the Rachel Corrie trial, now in its fifteenth month of oral testimonies.

But once again, the conclusion of the oral testimonies has been pushed back and the Corrie family continues to wait for a final decision.

Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz, the commanding officer of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade at the time of Rachel’s death, was expected to testify in court but could not appear.

The lawsuit, filed in 2005 by the Corrie family, charges the Israeli government and the Ministry of Defense with criminal negligence, causing the death of 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie.

Rachel was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer on 16 March 2003 while attempting to shield the demolition of a home near the Rafah crossing in the occupied Gaza Strip. The case seeks one dollar in damages from the Israeli military. The highly symbolic reparation demand illustrates that the more meaningful redress for the Corries will be holding the Israeli army and government accountable for their criminal negligence and guilt in the killing of their daughter.

Smearing the International Solidarity Movement

On Sunday, the court heard a five-hour cross-examination of Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, who served as the Israeli military’s spokesperson from 2002-05.

Under examination was a report Yaron had written and submitted to the court on the activities of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), with which Corrie had been volunteering in Gaza. In the report, Yaron maligns the work of the ISM by arguing that there is a significant disparity between how the organization presents itself and its actual practice. Yaron argues that the ISM misrepresents itself as dedicated to nonviolent direct action, but in reality participates in and supports violence directed at the State of Israel.

Throughout the trial, the government’s defense has been based on the claim that the Israeli army was facing a genuine security risk from the houses along the Philadelphi corridor near the Rafah crossing, where Rachel and her ISM colleagues were based. According to previous testimony by a military commander, “S.R.,” the army claimed that all the homes in the area were harboring “terrorist activities.”

The home that Rachel was defending when she was killed belonged to pharmacist Dr. Samir Nasrallah, the father of three children. Dr. Nasrallah has never been charged with terrorism.

While Yaron authored the report as a purported “expert” of society and national security, prosecuting attorney Hussein Abu Hussein examined the documents and said that neither her expertise nor her credibility hold up.

“She was giving public relations for the army after the killing of Rachel, so she clearly cannot be objective,” Abu Hussein told The Electronic Intifada after the hearing concluded.

Perhaps more problematic was the lack of evidence Yaron provided in her report to substantiate her claim that the ISM does not practice their ideology of nonviolence. In her report, Yaron included no more than four documents, none of which were based on scholarly research or thorough investigation.

NGO Monitor, mistranslations

One of Yaron’s sources was NGO Monitor, a notoriously right-wing organization that uses bullying methods to intimidate left-wing nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) critical of Israeli policy. NGO Monitor has been widely criticized as propagating misinformation. Most recently, NGO Monitor was widely discredited when it falsely reported that the New Israel Fund was funding the Coalition of Women for Peace.

Abu Hussein said that NGO Monitor “is known as a rightist and biased NGO, [which] in the last two years — at least — has published leaflets and information that target Arab and Israeli Jewish NGOs.”

Moreover, in her report Yaron mistranslated part of the ISM’s former mission statement, which read, “As enshrined in international law and UN resolutions, we recognize the Palestinian right to resist Israeli violence and occupation via legitimate armed struggle.”

Yaron translated the English word for “recognize” to the Hebrew word for “support.” When pressed by the prosecution on this mistranslation, Yaron said, “The correct translation is not just about word for word; it must convey the spirit of the text. I was translating for the spirit of the text.”

The ISM mission statement had gone on to read: “However, we believe that nonviolence can be a powerful weapon in fighting oppression and we are committed to the principles of nonviolent resistance.”

As the mission statement has since changed, Yaron’s report relied on an article published by the British newspaper The Telegraph that manipulates ISM’s words to allege the organization supports terrorism and violence (“The ‘peace’ group that embraces violence, 15 January 2004).

Neta Golan, one of the co-founders of the ISM, told The Electronic Intifada that the ISM exclusively engages in nonviolent actions initiated by Palestinian themselves. “We are very careful not to be colonial activists, not telling Palestinians how to resist, or what they need to do. We are here to support existing Palestinian movements, and that statement was about us trying to reiterate that we don’t have an agenda to impose on the Palestinian struggle,” she said.

In addition to misrepresenting the ISM’s mission statement and referring to NGO Monitor, Yaron neglected to consider other literature on the ISM, from noted scholars such as Rashid Khalidi and the late Edward Said.

“She ignored the fact that the ISM was nominated twice for the Nobel prize,” Abu Hussein said. “Her known point of view is that the Palestinian narrative is a terrorist’s narrative. She is not an objective expert, she is biased.”

“Culture of lies”

The trial of Rachel Corrie has been an unprecedented opportunity to hold the Israeli military and government accountable for the death of an innocent civilian. During the trial, Abu Hussein uncovered five instances during Yaron’s tenure as army spokeswoman when she failed to accurately represent the actions of the Israeli military.

When Abu Hussein accused the army as cultivating a “culture of lies,” Yaron retorted that Israel is exceedingly moral and fair, claiming that they carry out investigations into the deaths of all civilians — whether Palestinians or foreign nationals.

This assertion is based on little truth. Since October 2000, Israel has defined the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip as an “armed conflict,” and suspended the vast majority of investigations into civilian deaths.

Furthermore, in an earlier testimony in September 2010, a military training officer, “Yossi,” iterated this policy of impunity by stating “during war, there are no civilians.” His comment suggested that the Israeli military regarded Corrie — and all Palestinians — as a non-civilian.

Pending Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz’ availability, the next hearing will take place on 10 July. Colonel Zuaretz was in charge of the bulldozer unit in 2003 and is potentially the highest-ranking military officer yet to come under cross-examination for Israeli military actions against civilians in the Gaza Strip during the second intifada. This is the second time the state has delayed Colonel Zuaretz’ testimony.

There is intense anticipation surrounding the testimony and cross-examination of Colonel Zuaretz, which will deal with the military’s negligence and failure to protect civilian life in the occupied Gaza Strip. The Corrie family has waited eight years to see justice brought to their daughter. The conclusion of this phase of the trial will mark the beginning of the judge’s deliberation, the deadline of which has yet to be determined.

Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in the West Bank. She can be reached at charlottesilver A T gmail D O T com.