HAIFA, Israel — An Israeli court on Tuesday rejected a civil lawsuit brought by the family of an American activist crushed to death in 2003 by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to block its path in the Gaza Strip, ruling that the killing was accidental.
In his verdict at the Haifa District Court, Judge Oded Gershon accepted the military’s version of events, finding that 23-year-old Rachel Corrie was not visible to the bulldozer driver and was hidden by the blade and a mound of earth.
The judge said that Corrie had “put herself in a dangerous situation” when she stood between the bulldozer and a Palestinian house that she feared would be destroyed, and that she had died in an “accident the deceased brought upon herself.”
Corrie, from Olympia, Wash., was in the southern border town of Rafah with other activists from the International Solidarity Movement, a group that aids Palestinians and works to document and nonviolently disrupt Israeli military actions in the Palestinian areas. The activists were acting as human shields, trying to block the razing of Palestinian homes by Israeli forces along the frontier between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.
The Corrie family argued in the lawsuit, filed in 2005, that Rachel, who was wearing a bright red jacket to identify herself, was clearly visible at the time of the incident on March 16, 2003, and that she had been intentionally run over by the bulldozer driver. The driver testified in court that he could not see Corrie.
Corrie’s mother, Cindy, told reporters after the ruling that the family was “deeply saddened and deeply troubled” by the decision.
“I believe that this was a bad day, not only for our family, but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel,” she said.
The court ruling, which came after military investigations that found no wrongdoing, pointed to “a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military, the soldiers who conduct actions in that military, to provide them with impunity at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted by what they do,” Cindy Corrie added.
In a letter to the Corries in 2004, Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, wrote that Israel had not fulfilled its promises of a thorough, credible and transparent investigation. “The diplomatic process between the United States and Israel failed us,” Cindy Corrie said.
Rejecting the family’s claim for compensation, Gershon said the army had been operating in a war zone, not demolishing homes that day, but leveling land to deny cover to gunmen who regularly attacked troops in the area. He said the army’s actions were a “combat operation” and thus protected from damage claims.
The Israeli army demolished 1,700 houses in Rafah from 2000 to 2004, leaving 17,000 people homeless, according to data compiled by the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and presented in court. The military action was meant to clear swaths near its border positions, affording a clear view to army lookouts and removing possible cover for gunmen among buildings and vegetation.
Hussein Abu Hussein, the attorney for the Corrie family, said he would file an appeal with the Israeli Supreme Court against the verdict, which he said “blames the victim.”
“We knew from the start that a civil lawsuit would be an uphill battle,” Cindy Corrie said. “But as a family we had to push for answers, for accountability and for justice. . . . A civil lawsuit is not a substitute for a credible investigation, which we never had.”