A U.N. official Thursday condemned an Israeli court finding that cleared the army of any blame for the death of U.S. peace activist Rachel Corrie as “a defeat for justice and accountability.”
Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, also called Tuesday’s decision in a civil case brought by Corrie’s family “a victory for impunity for the Israeli military.”
Corrie, 23, was killed by an army bulldozer in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in March 2003 as she and other activists were trying to prevent troops demolishing a house.
Judge Oded Gershon at the District Court in the northern Israeli city of Haifa said her death was the result of “an accident she brought upon herself,” and there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver.
“The deceased put herself into a dangerous situation, she stood in front of a giant bulldozer in a place where the operator could not see her. She did not distance herself as a reasonable person would have done,” he said.
The verdict echoed the findings of an internal investigation by the Israeli military in 2003 which was concluded just four weeks after her death and cleared troops of any responsibility, saying the bulldozer crew did not see Corrie.
Falk, a bete noire for Israeli authorities, said, “The court ignored the testimony of several eyewitnesses that, while non-violently protesting the demolition, Corrie was in the direct line of vision of the bulldozer driver and was wearing a bright florescent orange vest that made her clearly visible at the time of her gruesome death.”
“The judge ruled that there were no grounds for imposing any penalty on Israel, exonerating both military and political officials, from those on the ground in Gaza driving the bulldozers and commanding the troops, to the highest levels of decision-making.
“In so doing, Judge Gershon seemed to endorse the view of a reportedly high-ranking officer who told the court that there are ‘no civilians in war.’”
“Such a shocking rationale flies directly in the face of the Geneva Conventions, which impose on an occupying power an unconditional obligation to protect the civilian population.
“Additionally .... a humanitarian aid worker such as Rachel Corrie is specifically entitled to protection by occupying forces, and the house demolition itself seemed an unlawful encroachment on Article 147, which prohibits targeting civilian property, in this case a home belonging to a civilian pharmacist, his wife and children.”
It was “a sad outcome” both for the Corrie family and “for the rule of law and the hope that an Israeli court would place limits on the violence of the state, particularly in relation to innocent and unarmed civilians in an occupied territory.”
Falk charged that Israeli governmental institutions had “consistently embraced impunity and non-accountability in responding to well-documented violations of international humanitarian law and in many cases Israel’s own criminal law.”
He cited as previous instances Israel’s investigations of the killing of Palestinian civilians during the assault on Gaza in 2009 and the deadly boarding of a Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza by Israeli commandos in 2010.
“The Corrie family has announced their intention to appeal this verdict to the Israel Supreme Court. But it becomes a mockery of justice to leave their application to the partisan mercies of the Israeli judicial system,” Falk said.