This Tuesday the verdict is expected in a wrongful death suit against the government of Israel brought by the family of an American girl who died when she acted as a human shield against Israeli military anti-terrorism efforts.
As if there weren’t already enough drama and media attention surrounding the Rachel Corrie trial, it appears that U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro this week lent credibility to the plaintiffs’ case against the government of Israel when he reportedly criticized the Israeli investigation into Corrie’s death.
According to several news reports, Ambassador Shapiro told the Corrie family that the U.S. government believes the Israeli investigation was not “thorough, credible and transparent.” That was enough to feed the liberal blogosphere, which touted the US support for the Corries, convicting Israel in their own court hearing.
But is that really the case?
The Israeli investigation, conducted immediately after Corrie’s death, concluded that what happened was a tragic accident brought on largely because Corrie insisted on entering and remaining in a military zone, and ignored repeated and escalating efforts to leave the area. Further, that investigation found that the bulldozer operator could not have seen Corrie when she was struck and killed.
A little background, first.
In late January, 2003, Rachel Corrie moved from Olympia, Washington to Gaza, where she joined the virulently anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement and volunteered to act as a human shield in order to stop Israeli efforts to combat terrorism. She died on March 16, 2003, when she placed herself in the path of an Israeli army bulldozer that was in the process of leveling ground and removing booby traps planted by terrorists.
Between the time that Corrie arrived at the site and her death, the IDF issued multiple warnings and attempted to remove Corrie and her colleagues with shock grenades, tear gas and warning shots. The protesters refused to leave the site.
An Israeli military investigation took place immediately after Corrie’s death. The IDF concluded its investigation in June, 2003, finding that the bulldozer driver could not have seen Corrie, that the death was a tragic accident, and that Corrie had endangered herself by entering and remaining in a combat zone. The investigation determined there was no fault on the part of the Israeli bulldozer driver, and that no charges would be brought.
What happened next within the US government on this issue is nearly as much of a deep mystery as many of Corrie’s supporters believe events surrounding her death is.
When Amb. Shapiro met with the Corries in advance of the court verdict last week, he was representing the US government, speaking to an American family, and discussing the death of an American citizen. Although much has been made of his statement by supporters of the Corries, in fact he was simply repeating what has been described as the official position of the US government with respect to the Israeli investigation into Corrie’s death.
But where did the position come from? Upon what was it based?
It turns out, the position appears to simply be the opinion of Rachel Corrie’s parents, the plaintiffs in the case against the government of Israel.
During his confirmation hearing in May, 2011, now Ambassador Dan Shapiro was asked by Massachusetts Senator John Kerry what steps he would take to ensure, as the State Department Spokesperson had called for, “that the Israeli government would continue a thorough, transparent and credible investigation of the circumstances concerning [Corrie’s] death.”
The State Department spokesperson was echoing what, in 2008, Senator Joe Biden asked during the confirmation hearing for Ambassador James Cunningham, now ambassador to Afghanistan, who was leaving his position at the US Consulate in Hong Kong.
Biden asked the future ambassador to Israel about the Rachel Corrie incident. He asked whether, “in your opinion, has a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation taken place?” The Ambassador did not answer in the affirmative. Instead, Cunningham stated that “The Department remains committed to providing the highest standards of citizen services to the Corrie family. If confirmed, I will continue to press the Government of Israel for a thorough and transparent investigation of the tragic death of Rachel Corrie.”
For those few who have followed the path of the “official US administration position” regarding Israel’s investigation into Corrie’s death, the trail leads to a letter allegedly written in June, 2004, to the Corries by Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Wilkerson was replying to the Corries who asked him whether, in his opinion, the investigation conducted by Israel was “thorough, credible and transparent.” According to legend, Wilkerson replied: “no.”
Indeed, according to Rachel Corrie’s father, it was Wilkerson himself who told the family they should sue the government of Israel.
But in all subsequent references to the alleged shortcomings of Israel’s investigations, the specifics are always referred to as “charges” or “complaints” made either by the Corries or by the International Solidarity Movement, the outfit which sent Rachel Corrie into harm’s way.
So how is it possible to determine conclusively whether the US believes Israel’s investigation was flawed? The best evidence, startling enough, comes from the Corries themselves.
Because, at the same time that their supporters have been touting the view that the US has condemned Israel for a shoddy investigation, the Corrie family has consistently complained about the State Department’s refusal to act in a manner consistent with such a position. In other words, the Corries apparently know the US does not believe that the Israeli investigation was inadequate.
the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for Israel in 2003, 2004 and 2005 (released in 2004, 2005, and 2006, respectively) address Rachel’s killing without mentioning the lack of a credible investigation into her death. The 2004 report suggested that “the Corrie family” believed the Israeli investigations to be inadequate, while the 2005 report noted “inconsistencies” between Israeli investigations and “statements among those observing the incident.” Exclusion of U.S. government opinions in the reports creates a misleading sense that the U.S. was ignorant of the inadequacy of Israeli investigations.
The answer seems to be that it was Rachel Corrie’s parents who believe that Israel’s investigation of their daughter’s death was flawed. And it was the alleged response of one State Department employee to the Corries, in a private letter, that led to a the myth of the “official US government position” in the form of a mantra that took on a life of it’s own.
It is not surprising that Ambassador Shapiro gave comfort to the Corries on the eve of their trial’s verdict, in language which has been bandied about in the State Department for years. Nonetheless, a full understanding of how that mythic position arose should salve the sting of criticism against the Israeli government by its closest ally.
The Corrie family took Wilkerson’s advice and sued the government of Israel in a wrongful death suit in an Israeli district court in Haifa, Israel. That case went to trial in March, 2010. Since that time there have been 15 court hearings at which 23 witnesses testified, producing more than 2,000 pages of court transcripts. Judge Oded Gershon is expected to issue the verdict tomorrow, August 28.
What Actually Happened To Rachel Corrie,
the Most Famous Martyr of the Palestinian Cause
By Jewish Press Staff
“Couldn’t the bulldozer driver see or hear Corrie?” asks blogger Lenny Ben-David in I*Consult. He points out that the noise generated by the bulldozer is deafening, and Corrie, who had used a megaphone before, did not have it on the afternoon in question.
“The field of vision on the armored bulldozer is exceptionally limited, and the driver could not see her,” argues Ben-David.
And while Corrie’s associates testified that she was standing in front of the bulldozer, which would still place her below the driver’s line of sight, their own witnesses at the time of the incident reported, and the NY Times dutifully cited that “when the bulldozer approached a house today, Ms. Corrie, who was wearing a bright orange jacket, dropped to her knees.”
“The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went,” an International Solidarity Movement (ISM) associate said in 2003. “She knelt there, she did not move.”
Another ISM witness said: “She did not ‘trip and fall’ in front of the bulldozer. She sat down in front of it, well in advance.“
They were trying to make her appear very martyr-like, hence the silent, meditative figure sitting motionless before the Zionist bulldozer. But as soon as it turned out the driver couldn’t spot her sitting down – the ISM pulled her up to a standing position.
Dead martyrs are very handy that way.
The area in which Corrie died was a closed military zone and Corrie ran to the site specifically to interfere with the efforts of the IDF.
“The IDF’s ground-clearing operation was carried out only 50 meters from the Egyptian border – near the infamous Philadelphi road,” writes Ben-David. “Up until Corrie’s death, the IDF had uncovered more than 40 tunnels from Egypt used to smuggle weapons and terrorists into Gaza. In recent years, after the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the number of tunnels approached 1,000.”
“Why was the ISM trying to block the bulldozers seven years ago?” asks Ben-David, suggesting they were “attempting to protect Hamas’ tunnels.”
But there was a less than wholesome subtext to the Corrie incident, exposed, of all strange possibilities, by Newsweek writer Joshua Hammer in a lengthy article in Mother Jones. That morning, before her fatal accident, Rachel Corrie had been fighting off jovial advances from her Palestinian host:
“Don’t go,” Naela’s father teased her. “Stay here and marry me.”
“You’re an old man, and besides, you’ve already got a wife,” Rachel joked back.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’ll teach you Arabic. You’ll teach me English. We make a perfect pair.”
Begging off the family’s continued pleas, at 8:30 Rachel climbed through the hole in the rear of their house and walked down the sandy alley toward her office.
Apparently, the ISM band was fast becoming the focal point for anti-Western resentment, never mind whose side they were on.
Hammer is insightful and, we think, on the money, in describing Corrie’s and her comrades’ state of mind before the fatal confrontation:
She was propelled, in part, by frustration. During the past few days she and the nine other ISM activists had become preoccupied with an anonymous letter circulating through Rafah that cast suspicion on the human shields. “Who are they? Why are they here? Who asked them to come here?” it asked. The letter referred to Corrie and the other expatriate women in Rafah as “nasty foreign bitches” whom “our Palestinian young men are following around.” It was a sobering reminder that outsiders — even international do-gooders — were untrustworthy in the eyes of some Palestinians.
That morning, the ISM team tried to devise a strategy to counteract the letter’s effects. “We all had a feeling that our role was too passive. We talked about how to engage the Israeli military,” Richard “Fuzz” Purssell told me by phone from Great Britain. “We had teams working in the West Bank, going up to checkpoints, presenting a human face to soldiers. But in Rafah we’d only seen the Israelis at a distance.” And as is so often the case in the Middle East, lack of any humanizing interaction meant that the IDF and the ISM knew each other only by their worst acts.
Few activists had spent much time in Israel or spoken to soldiers except in moments of conﬂict; the soldiers experienced the peace activists only as nuisances who were getting in their way in highly volatile situations. That morning, team members made a number of proposals that seemed designed only to aggravate the problem. Purssell, for instance, suggested marching on a checkpoint that had been the site of several suicide attacks. “The idea was to more directly challenge the Israeli military dominance using our international status,” Purssell told me.
Lenny Ben-David points out that Corrie was not singled out, and at least two ISM members were pulled out from under the bulldozers “after they started acting in accordance with their more aggressive policy.”
Hammer reported: “An Irish peace activist named Jenny was nearly run down by a D9. ‘The bulldozer’s coming, the earth is burying my feet, my legs, I’ve got nowhere to run, and I thought, This is out of control,’ she told me. ‘Another activist pulled me up and out of the way at the last minute.’”
“The ISM has a long record of putting its members, particularly young Western women, into harm’s way,” suggests ben David. The list he cites is long:
April 2, 2002, Australian Kate Edwards was shot and wounded in Beit Jala near Jerusalem having been made to stand where Palestinians were firing on the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo.
Also in April, 2002, Irish Caomhe Butterly served as a human shield in Yasir Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, and on November 22 she inserted herself as a human shield again and was wounded during an IDF operation in Jenin. (Butterly was later an organizer and spokesperson aboard the 2010 Gaza flotilla).
On April 13, 2003, Thomas Hurndall was shot and killed when he challenged an Israeli tank force in Gaza.
On April 24, 2010, Bianca Zammit, a Maltese national, joined Palestinians who charged the security fence between Gaza and Israel and was shot through the thigh by a sniper.
On May 31, 2010, Emily Henochowicz, an American Jew, lost her eye after she was hit by a tear gas grenade that ricocheted off a highway divider during a violent demonstration near Qalandia in Judea and Samaria.
There’s appears to be no doubt that the ISM has been methodical about throwing its members into the line of fire.
How much preparation did those hapless martyrs receive?
Well, Kate Edwards actually told a reporter: “I never thought for a moment that they would fire live ammunition at us.”
While Rachel Corrie wrote to her mother about the possibility of an American activist’s death as a propaganda tool:
“You just can’t imagine it unless you see it, and even then you are always well aware that your experience is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen.”
That’s how much.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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