Israeli High Court Rules Against Family of Slain American Peace Activist Rachel Corrie
The parents of American activist Rachel Corrie respond to the Israeli Supreme Court’s decision to not hold Israel liable for civilian deaths in combat zones
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Human rights activists are condemning a February 12 Israeli Supreme Court ruling against the family of slain American activist Rachel Corrie, upholding a lower court decision finding Israel not liable for Corrie’s death, because it happened in a combat zone.
In 2003, 23-year-old Rachel Corrie, a member of the International Solidarity Movement, was killed by an Israeli bulldozer made in the U.S. as she attempted to stop the demolition of a Palestinian home. The driver claimed to not see Corrie, even though she was wearing a bright fluorescent orange vest.
This is Rachel Corrie in her own words, speaking to the Middle East Broadcasting Company just days before her death.
RACHEL CORRIE, ACTIVIST: In the time that I’ve been here, children have been shot and killed. On 30 January, the Israeli military bulldozed the two largest water wells, destroying over half of Rafa’s water supply. Every few days, if not every day, houses are demolished here. People are economically devastated because of the closure of the borders into Egypt.
NOOR: In response to the ruling, Human Rights Watch said, quote, this ruling has disturbing implications beyond the Corrie family’s case, as it sends the message that Israeli forces have immunity even for deaths caused by alleged negligence. The ruling is a stark reminder that in some areas Israeli jurisprudence has veered completely off the track of international law.
Well, now joining us to discuss this from Seattle, Washington, are Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of human rights activist and observer Rachel Corrie. Through efforts with the U.S. and Israeli governments and Israeli in courts, the Corries have continued to seek accountability in the case of their daughter and to urge changes in U.S. foreign policy in Israel and Palestine.
Thank you both for joining us.
CRAIG CORRIE, RACHEL’S FATHER: Thank you.
CINDY CORRIE, RACHEL’S MOTHER: Thank you for having us.
NOOR: So your family has been waging this fight to get justice for Rachel for over a decade now. And it seems–and this has been reported–that this ends your chance to get some form of that in Israeli court. Can you start off by giving us your reaction to the ruling?
CINDY CORRIE: We got word of the ruling about one hour before it was going to be published on the Israeli Supreme Court website. It was 3 a.m. here in Olympia, Washington, where we live, and our attorneys contacted us.
We were not greatly surprised by the ruling. We still have not read it in English, but our attorneys have informed us in detail, and of course we’ve seen Human Rights Watch’s interpretation as well.
We were, as I said, deeply disappointed by the verdict, but not surprised. We have taken a long path through the Israeli court system. We filed this case in 2005. It didn’t come to the district court until 2010. The verdict in the district court was in 2012. And now the Supreme Court hearing was last year in May, and then their decision just this week. So we have been present in Israel for every hearing that happened, both in the District Court and in the Supreme Court. We’ve become familiar, quite familiar with that court system and, of course, have learned through our attorneys and through legal and human rights organizations in Israel about the challenges of being there. So I guess if this does, we believe, bring us quite close to the end of the road as far as legal actions that we can take in Israel, there are some very limited options, and we and our attorneys are taking a little bit of time to think about any next steps. There is one piece of the case that is still in a lower court, and that pertains to the autopsy in Rachel’s case.
But we know that there’s a lot of educating the needs to happen around this because of the really devastating nature of the verdict that pretty much provides impunity to Israeli military, to soldiers, no matter what they do in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the area.
NOOR: And so over the past 12 years now, your family has kind of become champions of Rachel’s cause, along with many supporters around the world. Why did you feel it was so important to have, to even file this case? Because you only sought $1 in damages. So it was really symbolic. Talk about what you were trying to achieve with this case.
CRAIG CORRIE: Well, the day after Rachel was killed, Prime Minister Sharon promised President Bush a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into Rachel’s killing. And it’s the U.S. position that that still hasn’t happened. They keep calling for a credible investigation into Rachel’s killing.
So the only means that we as a family can push for without going through our government or their government is a civil lawsuit. It doesn’t take the place of an investigation. That became very obvious as the court proceedings went on. But it does allow us to get some Israeli military witnesses on a witness stand, how our attorney asked them questions. And so we got some more answers, and we got answers that put Israel on the record or their witnesses.
And I also think that while people feel like we lost because we didn’t get a check and while part of the suit was for $1–that was really what we asked for in punitive damages–there were still other kinds of damages that could have been there.
But the one thing I can’t do is imagine touching a check from the Israeli government. That just isn’t going to make it. So I think with the ruling, what happened, like Human Rights Watch says, is that the judge and the high court judge, in fact the principal judge or the president of the high court went on record as saying that Israel is beyond international law. They’re outside of it. They’re really calling themselves outlaws. And I think that needs to get out. I think that people have to realize that if there’s a reporter in the Gaza Strip, that Israel feels like nobody holds them responsible for killing that reporter, or certainly citizens that we’ve seen just children in Gaza or human rights observers like Rachel. And I think that word has to go out. And now we don’t just do that from our looking at facts and what we see, but we have that actually as part of the Israeli court admission with this finding.
NOOR: And if it’s so challenging for an American family to get justice in Israeli courts, it just raises the question how challenging would it be for Palestinians who are under occupation and have been under occupation for more than four decades now.
CINDY CORRIE: That’s right. And our case was delayed because there were changes to Israeli law made in the Knesset that for a time said that it you were injured in an area of hostility and they could determine where that area was anywhere in Gaza or the West Bank or anywhere else, that you couldn’t bring legal action against the Israeli government. That was challenged by many human rights and legal organizations in Israel. And some parts of that were stepped back. That’s why our case proceeded.
But right now, for Palestinians to even bring a case in the courts in Israel, at least for people in Gaza, I know that they may have to spend up to $5,000 up front paid to the Israeli government just to bring a case forward–and, of course, that amount of money, for most Palestinians, it just makes it impossible to do that. And there continue to be laws added, amendments added to laws in order to just make it nearly impossible for Palestinians to do anything in the Israeli courts.
NOOR: And I wanted to go back to what Rachel was doing that day 12 years ago. She was trying to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished. Now, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions estimates some 20,000 Palestinian structures of homes have been demolished in the occupied territories since 1967. And just recently, rabbis for human rights and the UN have both demanded Israel stop this policies. There have been hundreds of homes ordered demolished this year alone.
CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah. You know, the home that Rachel–the Nasrallah home that Rachel sat in front of was not destroyed that day. It was, however, made unlivable about seven months later. We’ve actually been in that home. And it was subsequently destroyed.
After it was destroyed, the younger brother that lived in the house came to United States [incompr.] to get to United States, he had to go to Tel Aviv with his wife and a baby that was born after Rachel was killed to get a visa. He was allowed permission, after the Israelis destroyed his house, to go to Tel Aviv, in the U.S. government gave them permission, gave them a visa to come to the United States. And, I tell you, a 34-year-old Palestinian male does not easily get permission to come to the United States or go to Tel Aviv.
So what I’m saying is that this home that was destroyed, the Israeli government had nothing against this family. And yet they destroyed their home, along with, if the people were looking at that video of Rachel, everything that was behind her she spoke [of] used to be a community. All that desolation used to be houses. Just think about that and the impact that would have on a community, let alone the children that were actually in those homes when they were destroyed. It’s unbelievable.
CINDY CORRIE: And for your audience who were followed what happened in Gaza last summer, I think you’ll remember that over 100,000 people were displaced from their homes. There are still thousands of people in–as I understand it, still in UNRWA schools, shelters, displaced people. And it’s an enormous problem in Gaza.
Sadly, that’s not the only place where demolitions are happening. Craig and I have been to the Negev area inside of Israel, where Bedouin homes are regularly demolished. There are places where Israeli citizens, Jewish citizens, Palestinian citizens, and, of course, the Bedouin communities themselves, where they’re protesting this and where the same structure will be rebuilt but then destroyed again–and it’s–I think all of us can imagine how devastating it would be to have your home destroyed. As Craig pointed out in Gaza when Rachel was there, Human Rights Watch said that a tenth of the population of Rafah lost their homes.
One of the things most disturbing to me about reporting around home demolitions is that I will often read in AP articles and so forth that the military sort of selectively chose homes to destroy in that area because they were supposedly involved in some kind of terrorist activity. The reality is that it was whole blocks of homes that were destroyed in order to widen a buffer strip along the Israeli-Egyptian border–or, I mean, the Gaza-Egyptian border, not the Israeli border. And that buffer strip took out rows and rows of houses.
The deputy batallion commander who testified in the court and was in charge that day when Rachel was killed was asked by our attorney, how far does this corridor that they, the Israelis had control over, how far does that go? And the deputy battalion commander said it went up to the next row of houses. And there was a lot of discussion in the Israeli military at the time about just continuing that process of taking more and more homes and more and more land in the area.
CRAIG CORRIE: And, of course, they did continue it this summer, this last summer.
NOOR: Well, Cindy and Craig Corrie, I want to thank you so much for joining us and sharing that story.
CRAIG CORRIE: Thank you.
CINDY CORRIE: Thank you so much for having us.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us at The Real News Network.
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