Haifa court rules against Rachel Corrie family

Judge invokes "combatant activities" exception, says US activist who was killed by IDF bulldozer could have avoided danger.

Activist Rachel Corrie before being killed by IDF buldozer 3 (photo credit: reuters)
Activist Rachel Corrie before being killed by IDF buldozer 3
(photo credit: reuters)
A Haifa District Court invoked the “combatant activities” exception, and said on Tuesday that the US activist who was killed in disputed circumstances involving an IDF bulldozer could have avoided the dangerous situation, but calls her death a “regrettable accident.”
In the verdict, Judge Oded Gershon invoked the exception, noting that IDF forces were attacked in the same area in which Corrie had been killed just hours earlier while protesting an IDF home demolition in Rafah on March 16, 2003.
The combatant activities exception essentially says that a country’s armed forces cannot be held liable for civil damages for physical or economic harm to civilians in an area defined as a war zone.
The Supreme Court has previously held that the Rafah area was a war zone during the second intifada, when the incident occurred, even if combat was not occurring at every moment.
Although that ruling already sealed the case against the Corries, the judge went on to reject most of the main points in the Corries’ narrative.
The court held that the driver had not and could not have seen Corrie because the bulldozer has an obstructed view.
Reading a summary of his 62-page decision, the judge described Israel’s investigation into the incident as appropriate and said it had not made any mistakes.
Notably, the judge did not address the criticism of the investigation by the US government, which the Corries had repeatedly emphasized during the case.
Saying that Corrie could have avoided danger, he dismissed claims that the IDF was negligent in the incident.
The army did not violate Corrie’s right to life, he continued, asserting that she inserted herself into a dangerous situation.
Whereas the plaintiff said that Corrie’s standing on a mound in front of the bulldozer showed that the driver must have seen her, the court noted this as a mistake by Corrie as it caused her to fall – after which she was even harder to see.
The court was also highly critical of the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement in general, and of Corrie’s involvement in their activities. The judge went as far as to accuse the ISM of indirectly assisting terrorists in some cases.
In his verdict, Gershon dismissed criticism that the state had failed to have a US representative present to observe Corrie’s autopsy as a non-critical procedural error.
He said that even though in principle a US representative should have been there, the Corries had failed to make any cogent arguments about how the absence of a representative had actually substantively impacted the case.
Corrie, 23, from Olympia, Washington, died in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip when a bulldozer struck her during a protest by the ISM.
Corrie’s family filed the civil suit against the Defense Ministry in the district court seven years ago. They claim that the IDF either deliberately killed Corrie or is at least guilty of gross negligence.
Senior IDF officials including Col. Pinhas Zuaretz, the former commander of the Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade, have testified in the trial.
Immediately after the trial ended in July, Corrie’s family alleged that important evidence – including several surveillance tapes that show color footage of events before and after the activist’s death – were withheld as part of a cover-up over the circumstances of her death.
The color footage was used in a Channel 2 documentary, but the IDF has denied that it exists, the family claims.
IDF officials did submit as evidence a black and white surveillance video with footage shot immediately before and after Corrie’s death.
The family also claims there are discrepancies between a photograph of the bulldozer that they say killed Corrie taken by International Solidarity Movement activists, and a bulldozer shown on footage presented by the IDF.
Joanna Paraszczuk contributed to this report.