On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was crushed and killed by an Israeli soldier operating an armored, modified Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer. Corrie was attempting to nonviolently block the vehicle from destroying the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah in the south of the occupied Gaza Strip.
The Corries’ civil lawsuit charges Israel with criminal negligence and the intentional killing of their daughter, as well as a failure of due regard to the presence of unarmed and nonviolent civilians by operators of a military vehicle and their commanders. Last March, the Corries’ witness testimonies were first heard in court.
US Consul General Andrew Parker and members of Palestinian human rights groups Al-Haq and Adalah, along with the Corries’ friends and family, attended the trials on 5 and 6 September.
State attorneys and their witnesses insisted that the Israeli military bulldozer operators should be absolved of responsibility and liability under Israeli and international law in Corrie’s killing, claiming that her death took place inside a “closed military zone” during an “act of war.”
At the time, the Israeli military was in the process of razing hundreds of Palestinian homes and agricultural land to create its so-called buffer zone where more recently Palestinian farmers and laborers have been shot while tending to their crops or scavenging for scrap metal. The United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the area currently amasses nearly 35 percent of land inside the Gaza Strip, according to a recent report (“Between the fence and a hard place,” August 2010).
Hussein Abu Hussein, the Corries’ lawyer, told The Electronic Intifada that the family is determined to understand exactly what happened when Rachel was killed. “But the more that we hear the testimonies of the state, the more that the family and I discover that Israel continues to lie step by step,” Abu Hussein said.
“We get the impression that the investigation — from the beginning — was never thorough nor impartial, and was not done by experts,” he added.
On 5 September, the first defense witness — who at the time was a 20-year-old sergeant charged with leading internal investigations following the killing, known to the court as “Oded” — confirmed that a senior commander ordered the interruption of the investigations.
Earlier this year, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that it obtained classified military documents that revealed that Oded’s superior, Major General Doron Almog, who was head of Southern Command at the time of Rachel Corrie’s death, demanded that the investigations cease (“Did IDF general cut short probe into US activist Corrie’s death?” 26 March 2010).
In court, Oded stated that he did not question Maj. Almog’s intervention. He also testified that as an investigator, he never Palestinian eyewitnesses, including the paramedics and doctors who treated Corrie immediately after she was crushed.
In addition, the witness admitted that he did not request the army’s video or radio transmissions — which were shown to the court during his testimony — during his limited investigations.
“It was his first experience dealing with the case of a killing,” Abu Hussein said. “He had never been involved in any deep investigations. He did not visit the scene of the crime, and did not confiscate the [video and audio] tapes immediately. And when he finally acquired the tapes, he said he didn’t recognize the voices on the tape.”
In the military’s official transcript of the audio recordings taken after Rachel Corrie’s killing, there were several important details left out. Abu Hussein said that these omissions — clearly heard in the original audio recording — means that there is evidence of negligence.
“There were two Arabic speakers on the tape,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “The first voice asks, ‘Did you kill him?’ and the second voice replies ‘May God have mercy on his soul.’ So you have crucial evidence about the killing — and there is no response.”
Oded told Abu Hussein in court that he didn’t think those parts of the audio recordings were “important.”
The next day, the state attorneys brought two more witnesses to testify inside the courtroom, including a military training officer known as “Yossi,” who stated that “during war, there are no civilians.” Abu Hussein said that Yossi wrote a war protocol manual and asserted that the four-meter-high armored bulldozers with limited visibility should operate while civilians are present.
Abu Hussein remarked that when the trials resume in October and November, the Corrie family might have a chance to hear from the operator of the bulldozer who killed their daughter, but that it is not yet confirmed. “It would give them an opportunity to see the criminals who cooperated in this crime,” he said.
Editor’s note: this article originally erroneously reported that the Israeli military investigator Oded did not interview ISM activists. The article has been corrected.