The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Barb Olson: Rachel Corrie ruling a setback for justice and human rights

BARB OLSON, Cap Times, Aug 31, 2012

The verdict in the civil lawsuit against the state of Israel for the killing of peace activist Rachel Corrie more than nine years ago was announced Aug. 28 at the District Court in Haifa, Israel. While many human rights advocates had high hopes that the court would provide a much needed venue for justice, this verdict marks yet another setback for the cause of human rights in Palestine.

Rachel Corrie was a 23-year-old American human rights activist from Olympia, Wash. She was crushed to death on March 16, 2003, by Israeli soldiers driving a huge militarized Caterpillar bulldozer as she nonviolently protested the demolition of Palestinian civilian homes in Rafah, where the Israeli military was razing entire neighborhoods along the Egypt-Gaza border.

At the time, four eyewitnesses testified that Rachel, wearing a fluorescent orange vest and shouting through a bullhorn, was clearly visible to soldiers in the bulldozer as they approached. They stated that after trapping Rachel under a mound of dirt, the operator lowered the bulldozer’s blade and backed it over Rachel, crushing her skull and breaking her back.

Yet an Israeli government investigation found no fault on the part of the soldiers. Instead, they publicly blamed Rachel for her own death.

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government has mainly stood on the sidelines, despite the State Department’s conclusion that the Israeli investigation was not thorough, transparent or credible. Instead, a State Department official urged the Corrie family to seek redress through the courts.

After a U.S. federal court ruled that Caterpillar could not be sued because it would intrude on the US government’s foreign policy-making powers, the Corries in 2005 filed a civil suit in Israeli courts charging the State of Israel with responsibility for Rachel’s killing.

Now, two-and-a-half years after the trial began, the Corries are still left searching for justice and accountability for the murder of their daughter. It is especially troubling that the court, like the Israeli military before it, held the bulldozer driver blameless because Rachel “put herself in a dangerous situation” without acknowledging Israel’s obligation under international law to spare civilians from harm in territory that it occupies. The judge also found no fault with the Israeli military’s investigation into the incident, even though the U.S. ambassador to Israel just last week reiterated the State Department’s opinion that the investigation was highly inadequate.

This ruling is a continuation of the long campaign of ridicule, slander and vilification by the Israeli government and its supporters against Rachel Corrie. One can only imagine the pain suffered by her family, who for almost a decade have relentlessly pursued justice for their daughter and the cause of human rights for which she gave her life.

Despite the disappointing trial verdict, Rachel Corrie continues to be hailed as a hero by the oppressed and by all those who are part of the larger struggle for human rights for all people, especially Palestinians living under Israeli occupation. Rachel’s story should inspire us, as Americans, to ask as she did why billions of our tax dollars continue to support Israel’s occupation, land thefts, home demolitions and human rights abuses in Palestine. It should inspire us to continue Rachel’s dream of forging people-to-people relationships with Palestinians, and to heed the call of our Palestinian civil society counterparts for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel until it comes into compliance with international law.

While this verdict is a momentary setback for human rights advocates of all stripes, we must all still strive to create a world where all people, without exception, can live in peace with justice and freedom. Rachel Corrie: Presente! Your sacrifice has not been in vain.

Barb Olson is a member of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.