Rachel Corrie lawsuit: an example of international solidarity

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Tuesday morning 28 August 2012 an Israeli judge will announce the verdict for a civil lawsuit the Corrie family opened in 2005.

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The day after Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist from Olympia, Washington, was driven over by a 55 ton bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised US President George W Bush that Israel would conduct a “thorough, credible and transparent” investigation into the incident.

US fails to facilitate a diplomatic resolution

The family spent the two years following her killing in over 200 meetings with US government officials before filing a lawsuit. “We turned over every stone to get a diplomatic resolution,” said Rachel’s sister Sarah Corrie. After exhausting other options, Rachel’s family launched a civil suit in March 2005 that charges the State of Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing and failure to conduct a full and credible investigation in the case.

In April 2003, an internal Israeli investigation into the death of Rachel found the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) free from blame. In a message to the Corries last week US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, reaffirmed the US position that the military probe was not as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been.

1st American civilian trial

The IDF killed two UK citizens in Rafah, Gaza during the same 7-week period as Rachel’s death. However, Rachel’s is the first foreign lawsuit to conclude in a full civilian trial.

Tom Hurndall, a 22 year old activist, carried a young Palestinian girl out of gunfire when he was felled by an Israeli sniper bullet to the head. Comatose, he died in hospital 9 months later. An Israeli military court sentenced Tom’s killer to 8 years imprisonment although he was released 3 years early.

Award-winning filmmaker, James Miller, was carrying a white flag when he was shot and killed by the IDF in Rafah. His family accepted a 1.5 million pound settlement in 2006.

“We want our government to provide accountability,” said Rachel’s mother Cindy Corrie. The Corrie family critiques US institutional follow through particularly compared to the UK’s response to its citizens’ deaths.

The UK initiated a government process of coroner’s inquest for Tom Hurndall and James Miller. The inquests concluded that Tom’s case was one of “intentional killing” and James’ case was one of murder, a precedent for a war crime under international law.

A Human Rights Icon

Rachel Corrie has become a symbol of resistance to Israeli policies and impunity in a way that other internationals killed by the IDF have not. Part of the credit is due to the Corrie family whose approach to the case has been purposefully principled. Cindy said that the family has intentionally refrained from using the term ‘murder’ and that, above all: “we want to know the truth.”

In the US, Rachel and her family’s example have galvanized Palestinian solidarity work. The family’s home city of Olympia, Washington has been a central hub for political activism. The Rachel Corrie Foundation and Evergreen College are based in the city and have produced several victories. The Occupy Olympia movement launched a Rachel Corrie community center in 2011 demonstrating the wide appeal of a name tied to Palestinian rights.

In Gaza, Rachel’s name heads municipal road signs, a “Rachel Corrie Children and Youth Center” and several other institutions. On the anniversary of her death in 16 March 2010, the West Bank Municipality of Ramallah dedicated a street to international activists under her name, said her father Craig Corrie.

Solidarity

The Corries’ legal team stated that, “Rachel’s case underscores some of the problems in the Israeli military justice system and policy of impunity that has affected the rights of many Palestinians for years.”

The family is interested in addressing the broader system of accountability in their solidarity with Palestinian families who have lost loved ones and thereby furthering the work Rachel was involved in when she died. Rachel’s sister Sarah Corrie said that, “issues that come out of the trial are home demolitions and a lack of credible military investigations in Israel…We hope that others will use court information to make changes in the system.”

The verdict arrives in the context of massive ongoing home demolitions by the Israeli state. The recently approved Prawer Plan threatens 70,000 Bedouin Israeli citizens in the Naqab with forced displacement. Under immediate threat are another 5,000 Palestinians living in West Bank ‘Firing Zones’. Furthermore, the frontline of displacement is in East Jerusalem where home demolitions are a continuous part of the landscape.

“If it’s this hard for a family of an American to get accountability in Israel, what’s it like for a Palestinian family,” said Sarah. Headed by attorney Hussein abu Hussein, the legal team emphasized the ability an American’s lawsuit has for highlighting issues that would go underreported or ignored otherwise.

The Corrie family has found sympathy and understanding among local Palestinian families who have undergone demolitions and flagrant killings in a way that is unavailable in their Pacific Northwest home. “People here have been extremely supportive,” said Sarah.

In return, the Corries’ lawsuit may have broader implications on recurring Israeli abuses.

To mark the verdict the Rachel Corrie Foundation is calling for, “actions to end the housing demolitions that deny Palestinians the basic human right of being secure in their homes.”

In the past week protests in Beit Ommar, Ni’lin, Bil’in and al Ma’sara remembered Rachel Corrie. A demonstration to bring attention to the Rachel Corrie case is planned outside the court on Tuesday morning.

The verdict will be announced on 28 August 2012, 9:00 a.m. at the Haifa District Court.

*This article was originally published by the Alternative Information Center on 27 August 2012. 

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