By Marium Mohiuddin
TMO Contributing Writer
Twelve years ago this year, a brave 23-year-old U.S. human rights activist stood in front of an Israeli military bulldozer to protest the demolition of homes in Gaza. Sadly that day, the world lost a fearless freedom fighter, Rachel Corrie was crushed to death.
Shock doesn’t completely sum up how the world felt after hearing this horrific news. Since then, Rachel’s death has brought people together in solidarity and put a larger spotlight on a growingly intolerable situation.
Last month, after waging a 10-year battle against Israel by her parents to hold someone accountable for her death, Israel’s high court rejected the family’s appeal. The Corrie family brought a civil suit against the Israeli army in 2005 after a military prosecutor closed the case with no charges.
Rachel’s parents, Cindy and Craig, have been trying to make Israel liable for her death saying that Israel’s defense ministry had either killed her deliberately or was guilty of negligence. They went on to try to prove that the driver of the bulldozer had a clear view of Rachel when he decided to run her over. However, the judge ruled with the state, agreeing that the soldier had not seen her and that she “chose to endanger herself … and thus found her death.” Last month the proceeding came to a close when Israel’s high court upheld that decision.
“During war there are no civilians,” said an Israeli military leader told the court in 2010. As part of a policy that is still in effect, the Israeli military and police do not investigate complaints of attacks against civilians in “closed military zones.” The court rejected the Corries’ arguments that no “war activity” was underway when Rachel was killed, essentially making all of Gaza—with its 1.8 million children, women and men—a war zone and therefore every civilian can fall prey.
However, the court did not apply the Geneva Conventions, the body of law designed for war and occupation, or cite the obligations that parties to the conflict take all feasible precautions to spare civilian life at all times.
Instead, it found that Israel could not be held accountable for any deaths or other harms to civilians caused by its military’s actions, based on the exemption of the military from civil liability under Israeli law.
The court ruling has not stopped the global community from honoring Rachel and the work she did to bring attention of the plight of the Palestinians, though an arrest on Sunday of two Palestinians by Israeli troops at an event in a West Bank village to mark the 12th anniversary of the death Rachel’s death, a reminder of how much work still need to be done.
The activists planted 40 olive trees in the village of Qariyut to protest the blockage of the main road connecting the village to Road 60, which leads to two main cities in the West Bank, Nablus and Ramallah. Qariyut, which is surrounded by many Israeli settlements and outposts, is a threatened land, and this space was a prime political target.
“Today we’re planting trees to remember and honor the memory of Rachel Corrie, who was killed defending Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip,” said activist Wael al-Faqih.
Photographs of Rachel were hung on the newly planted trees, alongside pictures of other international activists killed or injured while involved in solidarity action in Palestine, including Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist who was kidnapped and killed in the Gaza Strip in April 2011; Thomas Hurndall, a British activist who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper in January 2004; and Tristan Anderson, a U.S. citizen who was critically injured in March 2009 after being shot in the head with a tear gas grenade by Israeli Border.
Sunday’s arrests are a reminder that despite the efforts of the Corrie family—and Palestinian civil society – the record during these past years is one of ongoing impunity with more and more violations of international law being committed by the Israeli military in the Gaza Strip: From 2008 to 2009, an estimated 80 percent of the more than 1,400 Palestinians killed were civilians, and this past summer more than 2,130 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, were killed during a 50-day assault on Gaza. In comparison, 73 Israelis, of whom seven were civilians, were killed during the conflict last summer.
According to the United Nations, at least 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in single Israeli attacks. Illegal settlement construction has continued in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as has the crackdown by Israel of peaceful protests in the occupied Palestinian territory.
According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, the Israeli human rights organization, 18,555 structures have demolished since just January 1, 2015. These demolitions of structures, land, and livelihoods have displaced approximately 490,000 Palestinians – with 552 homes demolished in the West Bank alone.
In addition, the Israeli Supreme Court also rejected the Corries’ claim that the Israeli military’s investigation into Rachel’s death was fundamentally flawed because officials failed to question key witnesses and secure the evidence properly. It was revealed over the course of the district court proceedings that an Israeli official not only breached a judicial order when he conducted an autopsy without a U.S. embassy representative present but took tissue and organ samples from Rachel’s body that have still not been returned to the Corrie family.
Twelve years ago former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised President George W. Bush that there would be a “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation into Rachel’s killing. Even the U.S. government had earlier concluded that this promise had yet to be met, but the Israeli Supreme Court accepted the testimony and evidence presented by the Israeli officials wholesale.
Indeed, it was the U.S. that urged the Corries to press for justice in the Israeli courts, though, in 2006, the U.S. Departments of Justice and State filed a brief opposing the lawsuit in Washington on behalf of the Corries and Palestinian victims against Caterpillar, Inc., the U.S. corporation that sold Israel the bulldozers knowing that they were being used to commit international law violations. The U.S. has yet to make a public statement in reaction to last month’s Israeli decision.
Since filing the case in Haifa, Israel, in 2005, the Corries have traveled back and forth to Israel for 15 hearing dates spread across 16 months in 2011 and were present both for the delivery of the district court decision in 2012 and for the Supreme Court hearing in 2014.
“Our family is disappointed but not surprised,” the Corries said following the court hearing. “We had hoped for a different outcome, though we have come to see through this experience how deeply all of Israel’s institutions are implicated in the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military.”
With Israel’s track record of not providing justice to victims – especially to Palestinian and U.S. victims—it is no wonder that Palestine has recently joined the International Criminal Court (ICC). The lack of proper investigations across the board demonstrate that Israel is unwilling, if not maybe unable, to conduct thorough, credible and transparent investigations into crimes by its military.
Because its jurisdiction only reaches back to June 2014, the ICC will not be able to provide the accountability and justice that the Corries have so far been denied in Israeli and U.S. courts. But many hope that it will be able to provide at least some measure of justice for the thousands of Palestinian victims of serious violations committed by the Israeli military. With a preliminary examination opened by the ICC prosecutor in January, the days – years – of impunity may be coming to an end.
Since Rachel’s death, a number of churches, unions, universities, and others have divested from Caterpillar. Some of those who have divested include: the American Presbyterian Church, along with the Church of England, the World Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church in America, the University of California (Irvine, Berkeley, Riverside, San Diego, Santa Cruz, Davis, Los Angeles), Stanford University, Loyola University of Chicago, IMPACT (Ireland’s largest public sector and trade union), the United Church of Canada, the UCC, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, England’s University of Sussex, a number of organizations making up part of the European Union, and Caterpillar Inc. was removed from three “socially responsible” stock indices by the American investment firm MSCI.
She is honored as a hero and an inspiration. Palestinian activist continue to cross the border to shine a light on the unbalanced and unjust situations. Abdullah Abu-Rahma said that an average of five international solidarity campaigners enter the Palestinian territories every month. They live with the Palestinians and take part in their anti-occupation protests. Many are arrested during the demonstrations and then deported. Most are members of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM).
In 2013, following the Court’s exoneration of the Israeli army, then-Palestinian MP Jamal al-Khoudari said Corrie would continue to be an unforgettable symbol of freedom for the Palestinian people.
“The Palestinian people will remain indebted to Corrie, her family and her lovers,” al-Khoudari had said, adding “she will continue to be a symbol of freedom and sacrifice.”
Editor’s note: Marium Mohiuddin is a contributing writer. Her views are her own.