Rachel Corrie's parents present their case in Haifa
From left to right: Cindy Corrie, Sarah Corrie
Simpson, and Craig Corrie (Haaretz/AP)
The first day of the civil case regarding the death of American activist Rachel Corrie in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003 began at Haifa District Court on Wednesday. Her parents, Craig and Cindy, along with her sister Sarah were present in the company of three officials from the US Embassy in Tel Aviv. Following opening statements, the trial against the Israeli Defence Ministry for unspecified damages began with eyewitness testimony from British activists Richard Purssell and Tom Dale, both of whom are members of the International Solidarity Movement, to which Rachel Corrie also belonged. They testified that the Israeli Caterpillar D9 bulldozer deliberately drove over her body for four meters, then went into reverse, fatally injuring her as she tried to protect the home of Palestinian pharmacist Samir Nasrallah from demolition by Israeli forces.
The Corries’ Palestinian lawyer, Hussein Abu-Hussein, demanded that the Israeli government open a new investigation into the death of the twenty-three year-old activist. To this the States Prosecutor replied that "the IDF thoroughly investigated the incident, including a Military Police investigation, in the framework of which considerable evidence was collected." However, the Corries have challenged this position, citing irregularities in the report. These include the report’s assertion that an American consular official had been present at Rachel Corrie’s autopsy, as the family requested. However, no such official had been at hand.
The Israeli case
On Thursday it was the turn of the Israeli government to present its case. The State Prosecutor’s Office requested that the court dismiss the Corries’ suit, claiming 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." Moreover, this regrettable incident occurred during "a military action in the course of war," meaning that the Defence Ministry bore no responsibility for Corrie’s death. Moreover, "Rachel Corrie was injured as a result of her prohibited action, for which she is solely responsible, due to her considerable negligence and lack of caution."
After the court adjourned for the weekend, Craig Corrie told journalists from the Maan New Agency that this argument made little sense. Rachel and the other activists had been busy in the area for hours before the incident. They wore orange reflective vests and had been trained to maintain eye contact with the bulldozer drivers at all times. Moreover, the Defence Ministry has continually changed its story. “Right after she died they said a wall fell on her. Then she tripped on rubble, and now they couldn’t see her.” In his view the Defence Ministry's argumentation “implies that they are apt to use excessive force. From a legal standpoint … it’s incredibly dangerous. …You can’t just declare a warzone and then go out and kill everyone.”
The trial will resume on Sunday and is expected to last several weeks. The judge's ruling may take up to a year. Due to restrictive Israeli border policies, no Palestinians from Gaza will be allowed to attend, including the physician who treated the injured Rachel Corrie and also certified her death. It is also unclear whether any military personnel will be called to the witness stand.
The United States Government, which rarely mounts any public challenges to Israeli actions, has been highly supportive, the family says. Rachel’s elder sister, Sarah Corrie Simpson, told Haaretz that “it was a U.S. government official who first encouraged them to sue the Israeli government.” According to Simpson, it was 9/11 that inspired her sister to become interested in the Arab world and to gain a better understanding of where the U.S. stood vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Her concerns were purely peaceful and humanitarian in nature.
The Corries encounter Israel's special brand of “tough love”
Small group of well-wishers, including many Israelis, were on hand to provide the family with moral support. But not everyone appreciates what the Corries are trying to do. Steven Plaut, a Philadelphia-born associate professor of business administration at the University of Haifa, probably speaks for many in the country when he compares their visit with “the trauma of the summer of 2006, when [Haifa], along with the rest of northern Israel, was targeted by thousands of Katyusha rockets, fired from southern Lebanon by Hizbullah terrorists. Haifa has also been targeted by several suicide bombers who carried out mass murders against civilians in buses and restaurants. Now Haifa is about to become the victim of yet another indignity. It is to be the scene for a legal assault by the parents of Rachel Corrie.” Writing in The Jewish Press on March 3, Plaut calls Corrie a “clueless American-flag-burning undergraduate” who was “sent off to the ‘occupied territories’ to assist Palestinian terrorist groups.” He goes on to say that her death has made her into “a sort of Mother Teresa for the radical left and apologists for Islamofascism. She is the martyr saint of the pro-terror lobby and is even celebrated by Klansman David Duke.”
In a lengthy “Welcome” to Mr. and Mrs. Corrie, Plaut writes among other things:
Your daughter was in a war zone as a belligerent, on behalf of a movement of Arab fascists seeking to destroy Israel and murder as many Jews as possible. Your daughter died while interfering with an anti-terror operation carried out by soldiers in a land in which she had no business being at all.
[Y]ou have never expressed any interest in the devastating nature of the Jews' situation. The Jews have been battling Arab fascism and genocidal terrorism for a hundred years, before, during, and after the Nazi Holocaust of six million Jews. Your daughter was helping those who perpetrate Nazi-like atrocities against randomly selected Jews.
You smugly praise the propaganda play about your daughter, which ignored all the other Rachels - the Jewish victims of terror in Israel who were murdered by genocidal terrorists.
Your daughter, and apparently you as well, never had any understanding of the Middle East conflict. The Middle East conflict is not about the right to self-determination of Palestinian Arabs, but rather about the right to self-determination of Israeli Jews.
What do the Corries hope to get out of the trial? “I hope there would be some resolution for us, personally,” Cindy Corrie told journalists. “We’ve never stopped insisting that we need truth and accountability. Personally, I’m hoping that it will provide some resolution.”