Israeli report clears troops over US death

An Israeli army investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, has concluded that its forces were not to blame for her death.

It accused Corrie and other members of the International Solidarity Movement of “illegal, irresponsible and dangerous” behaviour.

Corrie, 23, was crushed to death by an army bulldozer in Rafah, Gaza, as she protested against house demolitions.

The investigation, led by the chief of the general staff of the Israeli Defence Force, found that Israeli forces were not guilty of any misconduct.

The result of the investigation comes as Tom Hurndall, 21, from London lies in hospital with severe brain damage after being shot in the head on Friday by an Israeli soldier as he tried to help a Palestinian woman and her children.

Mr Hurndall was also a peace activist working with the ISM.

He was shot in a different area of Rafah while wearing the same kind of bright orange vest as Corrie when she died. Yesterday his family arrived from London to visit him in hospital in the southern Israeli town of Beersheva.

The army report obtained by the Guardian says Corrie: “was struck as she stood behind a mound of earth that was created by an engineering vehicle operating in the area and she was hidden from the view of the vehicle’s operator who continued with his work. Corrie was struck by dirt and a slab of concrete resulting in her death.

“The finding of the operational investigations shows that Rachel Corrie was not run over by an engineering vehicle but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete which was moved or slid down while the mound of earth which she was standing behind was moved.”

However, Joe Smith, 21, from Missouri who witnessed Corrie’s death said that the army’s description bore little resemblance to what he saw. “Rachel was kneeling 20 metres in front of the bulldozer on flat ground. There was no way she could not have been seen. We only maintain positions that are clearly visible.

“She had been doing this all day but this time the driver did not stop. Once she had fallen under the bulldozer, the driver stopped when she was under its middle section and reversed,” he said.

The report also says that the army was patrolling no man’s land by the border zone, searching for explosives. But according to Mr Smith, Corrie believed that they intended to demolish the house where she had been staying.

The report points out that Rafah is an extremely dangerous place where Israeli troops regularly come under attack from guns and explosives.

A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Force said yesterday that while it did not accept any responsibility for Corrie’s death, it was going to change its procedures to prevent future accidents.

He said that the level of command of similar operations would be raised and civilians in the area would be dispersed or arrested before operations.

In addition, observers would be used and CCTV installed on the bulldozers to compensate for blindspots which the IDF believe contributed to Corrie’s death.

Tom Wallace, a spokesman for the ISM, said that the army’s investigation had been far from credible and transparent as it had promised.

“The conclusions are outrageous. If they found that the driver was not culpable what did they find to explain this? How could they find a driver who had run someone over in a slow and deliberate manner in no way responsible?” he said.

Corrie’s parents, Craig and Cynthia, from Washington, had called on the US state department to investigate the death of their daughter.

They were unavailable for comment yesterday.