Rachel Corrie Case Hinged on Driver

Did Bulldozer Driver See Pro-Palestinian Activist Or Not?

Narrow Issue: The family of Rachel Corrie, lower right, prepare to hear the ruling of an Israeli court over the American activist’s death in Gaza.
getty images
Narrow Issue: The family of Rachel Corrie, lower right, prepare to hear the ruling of an Israeli court over the American activist’s death in Gaza.

By JTA

Published August 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

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.

Rachel Corrie
getty images
Rachel Corrie

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.

“There’s a big gap between the organization’s declarations and the character of its actions,” Gershon read from the verdict. “ISM activities include placing activists as human shields for terrorists,” and “financial, logistical and moral assistance to Palestinians, including terrorists.”

But speaking at a news conference following the verdict, the Corrie family and its lawyer presented a narrative that contradicted the judge’s.

The lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, called Corrie and the other ISM volunteers “all peaceful activists. The army did not try to stop them. There was no command that it’s a closed military area. There was no threat to the lives of the soldiers. How could he say that?”

Hussein added that the driver of the bulldozer must have seen Corrie, as she was protesting in one spot for five hours before she was run over.

The Corrie family said it planned to appeal the verdict, which it must do within 45 days.

Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, blamed the ruling on “a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military and the soldiers who conduct actions in that military, to provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted from what they do.”

“This was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel,” she said.

Craig Corrie, Rachel’s father, said after the ruling that though they had sued the state, he rejected “the idea that simply making some of these things known is an attack on Israel.” Israeli anti-occupation activists, he said, have supported the Corries “from the first moment we’ve done this.”

The Corries grew most passionate, however, when discussing what happened on the day their daughter died. They contradicted a statement from Israel’s State Prosecutor’s Office declaring that “the driver of the bulldozer and his commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie.”

Corrie’s sister, Sarah Corrie Simpson, still wants answers from the driver.

“I can say without a doubt that I believe my sister was seen as that bulldozer approached her,” she said. “I hope someday he will have the courage to sit down in front of me and tell me what he saw and what he feels.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.