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The Israeli Court System on Trial: The Rachel Corrie Appeal
Katherine Gallagher
The Huffington Post
21.5.2014

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/the-center-for-constitutional-rights/the-israeli-court-system_b_5363288.html


On March 16, 2003, 23-year old human rights defender Rachel Corrie was
crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer while protecting
Palestinian homes in Gaza from demolition. For the past 11 years, Rachel`s
family has sought accountability for her killing, while also shining a
spotlight on Israel`s ongoing violations in the Occupied Palestinian
Territory and the widespread impunity Israeli officials enjoy. This week`s
appeal hearing before the Israeli Supreme Court will likely signal whether
there will finally be a modicum of justice for Rachel -- and a measure of
accountability to be had in an Israeli court.

In 2003, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon promised George W. Bush
there would be a `thorough, credible and transparent` investigation into
Rachel`s killing. The U.S. government was not satisfied with the
investigation done by the Israelis. Instead of opening its own investigation
into the death of the American peace activist, however, the U.S. urged the
Corries to press for justice themselves, in the Israeli courts. (Ironically,
in 2006 the United States Departments of Justice and State filed a brief
opposing the Corries` lawsuit in Washington against Caterpillar, which sold
Israel the armored bulldozers knowing they were being used to commit
international law violations; that case was dismissed). In 2005, the Corries
filed their civil action in Haifa, Israel. The family spent much of 2010 and
2011 traveling back and forth for the 15 hearing dates spread over 16
months.

Rather than find flaws with the military`s investigation -- as the U.S. had
-- the judge accepted the testimony and evidence by the Israeli officials
wholesale. Judge Gershon found in 2012 that Rachel was ultimately
responsible for her own death because she traveled to Gaza and was present
in an area where Israeli forces were operating. Effectively ignoring the
obligations the Geneva Conventions place on Israel to protect civilians, he
described her killing as an act of war, and as such, based on the exemption
of the military from civil liability under Israeli law, found the military
could not be held responsible. In essence, the district court agreed with an
Israeli colonel who testified that all of Gaza -- with its 1.8 million
children, women and men -- is a warzone and there are no civilians in war.
The verdict was widely criticized by human rights organizations, and former
U.S. President Jimmy Carter stated that it confirmed `a climate of
impunity,` which facilitates further Israeli human rights violations.

After the verdict, Rachel`s mother, Cindy Corrie, said, `[o]ur lawsuit was
not a solution but rather a symptom of a broken system of accountability
within Israel and our own government.`

The Corries are now calling on the Israeli Supreme Court to enforce -- not
ignore -- the law. In addition to their arguments that no `war activity` was
underway and Rachel fell within the protections of humanitarian law, the
Corries claim the Israeli military`s investigation into Rachel`s death was
fundamentally flawed because officials failed to question key witnesses and
secure the evidence properly. They also assert that officials breached
policies when they conducted an autopsy without a U.S. embassy
representative present.

In its appeal, Israel took things to a whole new level, arguing in its brief
to the Supreme Court that Rachel fell outside the protections of
international humanitarian law. Israel`s novel argument -- which goes
against both international law and Israeli precedent -- is that only the
`occupied population,` i.e., certain Palestinians, enjoy the protection of
international humanitarian law, and that non-Palestinian civilians,
including U.S. human rights defenders and presumably NGO workers, can be
targeted by Israeli forces. If the court accepts this argument, it would set
a dangerous precedent and place human rights defenders in the Occupied
Palestinian Territory at even greater risk than they already are.

With Israel`s dismal track-record of providing justice to victims --
including both Palestinian and U.S. victims -- it is no wonder that calls
for Palestine to join the International Criminal Court (ICC) have only
gotten louder. Earlier this month, an impressive list of international and
Palestinian human rights organizations sent a letter to Palestinian
President Abbas calling on Palestine to ratify the Rome Statute so that the
ICC `can step in to address impunity when domestic authorities are genuinely
unable or unwilling to do so.`

On the eve of the appeal, Rachel`s father Craig Corrie said, `The Supreme
Court now has a choice, to either show the world that the Israeli legal
system honors the most basic principles of human rights and can hold its
military accountable, or to add to the mounting evidence that justice cannot
be found in Israel.`

The world will be watching.


___________

Katherine Gallagher is a Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for
Constitutional Rights in New York, and a Vice-President of the International
Board of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). She was
co-counsel for the plaintiffs in the U.S. case, Corrie, et al. v.
Caterpillar, and observed the Corrie trial in the District Court in Haifa in
October 2010.
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