Rachel Corrie Death Verdict: Israel Condemned by Human Rights Groups for Faulting Corrie

On Tuesday, an Israeli court in Haifa ruled the state holds no responsibility for the death of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed in 2003 when a bulldozer ran over her while she was attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Corrie's parents sued the Israeli government on their daughter's behalf for a symbolic one dollar; the trial started in March 2010. Details of both sides' arguments can be found here. In his ruling, Judge Oded Gershon said that while Corrie's death was a "regrettable accident … she chose to put herself in danger. She could have easily distanced herself from danger like any reasonable person would."

According to numerous eyewitness accounts of the event, Corrie was standing between a bulldozer and the Palestinian home it meant to demolish wearing an orange vest and carrying a bullhorn. While the driver and other military personnel testified that she could not be seen, The Sydney Morning Herald states:

"Wearing a bright orange vest and standing on a mound of dirt in front of a house that was to be demolished in the Rafah refugee camp, Ms. Corrie's family and witnesses to her death say the driver of the armed Caterpillar D9 bulldozer would have clearly seen her as he drove towards her, crushing her then reversing over her body."

Hussein Abu Hussein, the lawyer representing Corrie's parents, issued a statement in response to the verdict: 

"While not surprising, this verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. Rachel Corrie was killed while non-violently protesting home demolitions and injustice in Gaza, and today, this court has given its stamp of approval to flawed and illegal practices that failed to protect civilian life. In this regard, the verdict blames the victim based on distorted facts and it could have been written directly by the state attorneys."

A number of human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Al Haq, a Palestinian organization, have also condemned the ruling. HRW said the ruling was in violation of international law, which is intended to protect non-combatants in war zones, and that it sets a "dangerous precedent." Bill van Esvelt, a senior Middle East researcher at HRW said, "The idea that there can be no fault for killing civilians in a combat operation flatly contradicts Israel's international legal obligations to spare civilians from harm during armed conflict and to credibly investigate and punish violations by its forces."

Jessica Montell of B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, tweeted a Ha'aretz article that details U.S. ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro's response to Israel's investigation into Corrie's death. According to the article, Shapiro told the Corrie family that the investigation was not as "thorough, credible or transparent" as it should have been. Despite this, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, while offering her condolences to the Corrie family, declined to comment on Shapiro's remarks.

Montell's tweet also links to a B'Tselem page that outlines the Israeli military's policy of not automatically opening investigations into cases of soldiers killing Palestinians. Instead, the military unit that was involved in the killing conducts an internal inquiry itself and its findings are transferred to the military police. However, according to B'Tselem, even cases in which inquiries are opened, the investigations are either flawed or negligent, and have "conveyed a message to commanders and soldiers that there is little chance they will be held accountable even if they stray from the orders they receive and injure innocent persons."

Part of the growing trend of Israel's refusal to credibly investigate its army regarding potential war crimes was the Gaza invasion of 2008-2009, which resulted in anywhere between 295 and 926 Palestinian civilian deaths. The only Israeli solder to be convicted of a crime, despite the U.N. supported Goldstone Report's finding that massive war crimes had been committed, was sentenced to seven and a half months for the theft of a credit card.

Two days before she was killed, Rachel Corrie was quoted describing the situation in Gaza,  saying, "I'm witnessing the systematic destruction of people's ability to survive. It's horrifying."