Rachel Corrie lawsuit result 'dangerous precedent' say human rights groups
Human rights organisations have warned of a "dangerous precedent" following an Israeli court's dismissal of a civil lawsuit over the death of US activist , which stated that Israel could not be held responsible because its army was engaged in a combat operation.
Corrie "was accidentally killed in the framework of a 'war-related activity' ... [and] the state bears no responsibility for the damages inflicted on the plaintiffs resulting from a war-related action," said Judge Oded Gershon at Haifa district court.
The 23-year-old activist was crushed by a military bulldozer which she believed was intent on demolishing a Palestinian home in Rafah, southern Gaza, in March 2003. Gershon ruled that it was a "regrettable accident" that Corrie had brought upon herself. There had been no fault in the internal Israeli military investigation, which cleared the bulldozer driver of any blame, the court found. "The deceased was in a blind spot – the operator didn't see her," said Gershon.
Corrie had "put herself in a dangerous situation" and could have saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger, he said. The area was "the site of daily warfare" and a closed military zone, and the US government had warned its citizens not to go there.
Hussein Abu Hussein, the Corrie family's lawyer, said the ruling sent "a very dangerous message and precedent that there are no restrictions on Israeli military behaviour in Gaza and the West Bank". The ruling would "close the doors of justice to civilian victims", including foreigners, and "expand a legal black hole" in which seeks to evade responsibility for its actions.
The verdict, he said, was "yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness. We knew from the beginning that we had an uphill battle to get truthful answers and justice, but we are convinced that this verdict distorts the strong evidence presented in court, and contradicts fundamental principles of international law with regard to protection of human rights defenders. In denying justice in Rachel Corrie's killing, this verdict speaks to the systemic failure to hold the Israeli military accountable for continuing violations of basic human rights."
Human Rights Watch said the ruling contravened international law, which is intended to protect non-combatants in war zones, and set "a dangerous precedent". "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," said Bill van Esveld, a senior Middle East researcher at HRW.
Shawan Jabarin, director of the Palestinian human rights organisation, Al Haq, said: "Israel has claimed that it is not responsible for the death of a civilian in armed conflict. However, this flatly ignores international law, which stipulates that Israel is under an obligation to take all measures to ensure that no civilians will be harmed during hostilities, and must at all times distinguish between military targets and civilians.
"The presence of a civilian in a combat zone does in any way not affect their right to protection. Instead, their protected status applies regardless of their location in a conflict, and international law clearly states that they must be protected against acts of violence in all circumstances."
Corrie's parents, Cindy and Craig, of Olympia, Washington State, sued the state of Israel, accusing it of the unlawful or intentional killing of their daughter or of gross negligence.
The family was "deeply saddened and deeply troubled" by the ruling, Cindy Corrie said afterwards. "I believe this was a bad day, not only for our family, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel." The state, she said, "has worked extremely hard to make sure that the truth about what happened to my daughter is not known and those responsible will not be held accountable". The family will appeal to the supreme court.
The Israeli justice ministry described Corrie's death as "a tragic accident". The bulldozer driver and his commander were "exonerated of any blame for negligence", it said in a statement.
At the time of Corrie's death, house demolitions were common; part of an increasing cycle of violence from both sides. The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) said the homes it targeted were harbouring militants or weapons or being used to conceal arms-smuggling tunnels under the border. groups said the demolitions were collective punishment. Between 2000 and 2004, the Israeli military demolished 1,700 homes in Rafah, leaving about 17,000 people homeless, according to the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem.
Corrie was one of a group of around eight international activists acting as human shields against the demolitions. Fellow activists said she was clearly within the line of sight of the bulldozer driver, who drove straight at her.
Israel promised a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation into her death. Within a month, an IDF internal inquiry had concluded that the driver of the bulldozer had not seen the activist and that no charges would be brought.
During the Corries' civil lawsuit, which lasted almost two and a half years, the bulldozer driver testified anonymously from behind a screen for "security reasons". He insisted that the first time he saw the activist was when he "saw people pulling the body out from under the earth".
His commanding officer, Colonel Pinhas Zuaretz, told the court that Rafah was a war zone in 2003 and said that "reasonable people would not be there unless they had aims of attacking our forces".