Haifa — The verdict by an Israeli court in the case of Rachel Corrie, an American activist killed in Gaza by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003, may have captured international attention and touched on a range of ethical issues at the center of Israel’s military operations.
But at its core, Tuesday’s ruling on whether Israel was responsible for Corrie’s death nine years ago hinged on one simple question: Did the bulldozer driver who ran over Corrie see her or not?
The judge in Haifa District Court ruled that he did not. Corrie’s family maintains that he did.
Larger issues were part of the proceedings and their surroundings: What are the responsibilities of civilian activists in an armed conflict? Does a civilian area with terrorist activity count as a war zone? What distinguishes between an organization that peacefully opposes the Israeli occupation of Gaza and one that aids terrorists?
Those matters, however, took a back seat to the actual reasoning of the legal ruling by Judge Oded Gershon.
Corrie, a 23-year-old from Olympia, Wash., has become a symbol for some American and other groups that oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its policies toward Gaza. Her parents founded the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which “supports grassroots efforts in pursuit of human rights and social, economic, and environmental justice,” according to its website, and a play titled “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” opened in London in 2005.
On March 16, 2003, Corrie was an activist with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement protesting in the southern Gaza city of Rafah during the second intifada. She was acting as a human shield for a house about to be demolished by the Israeli army when she became enveloped in the pile of dirt created by an armored bulldozer as it moved toward the house. Corrie died soon after in a nearby hospital.
Her parents brought a lawsuit in Israel that accused the state of responsibility for their daughter’s death. But in clearing the state of all charges, Gershon said that Corrie voluntarily risked her life by entering a place where there was daily live fire. Moreover, the Haifa judge said the bulldozer driver did not see Corrie as she was standing behind a pile of dirt, and that Corrie did not move out of the way when she saw the bulldozer moving toward her, instead climbing on the pile of dirt.
Corrie “put herself in a dangerous situation opposite a bulldozer when he couldn’t see her,” Gershon said, reading the verdict. “She didn’t move away like anyone of sound mind would. She found her death even after all of the IDF’s efforts to move her from the place.”
Gershon also dismissed charges that the state tampered with the evidence in its investigation into Corrie’s death. He added that the demolition of the home by the Israel Defense Forces on that day was an “act of war” and the area was a closed military zone.
The judge reserved some of his harshest words for Corrie’s organization, saying ISM was “mixed up in terror” and accusing the group of aiding terrorists behind a facade of human rights activism.