Slain peace activist’s story tours the globe, drawing fiery reactions.
Ramallah – Israel’s Supreme Court has put an end to decade-long legal proceedings on whether the Israeli army would be held liable for the March 2003 death of American national Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to prevent a housing demolition in the Gaza Strip.
Corrie’s family was pursuing a case against Israel’s defence ministry, alleging the army was guilty either of intentionally murdering Rachel, or of negligence while operating the bulldozer. The family appealed a 2012 ruling delivered by a lower court in Haifa that declared Corrie’s death an accident.
Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld that decision, which employed the “combat activities exception” clause of the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, noting the State of Israel cannot be held accountable for events that take place in a war zone.
We had hoped for a different outcome, though we have come to see through this experience how deeply all of Israel's institutions are implicated in the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military.
“Our family is disappointed but not surprised,” Corrie’s family said in a statement after the ruling. “We had hoped for a different outcome, though we have come to see through this experience how deeply all of Israel’s institutions are implicated in the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military.”
The Israeli army did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the verdict.
The decision has left some questioning the impunity afforded to the Israeli army.
“A key aim of the laws of war is to protect civilians from unnecessary harm,” Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera. “The ruling dangerously disregards the laws of war by granting blanket immunity to Israeli forces when engaged in ‘wartime activity’, without even assessing their conduct.”
The Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law was originally enacted in 1952, aiming to provide clear guidelines on when the State of Israel would be liable for damages against civilians. The law has been amended many times, often for the benefit of the military.
“It was amended in 2002, during the second Intifada, to define ‘war operations’ as ‘any action combating terror, hostile acts, or insurrection, and also an action intended to prevent terror, hostile acts, or insurrection that is taken in a situation endangering life or limb,'” Jamil Dakwar, a Palestinian citizen of Israel and lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Al Jazeera. “It was meant to provide protection from Palestinians suing the Israeli military.”
Dakwar – who has been providing the Corrie family with pro bono legal counsel since June 2003, six months after their daughter’s death – said the most recent amendment to the law was in 2012, further expanding the definition of war operations.
Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, said the 2012 amendment introduced “near-insurmountable obstacles to justice, accountability and redress for civilian victims harmed by acts of the security forces” carried out in the occupied Palestinian territories.
With the high court opting to enforce that amendment, the results could be damaging for non-violent activists in the occupied Palestinian territories. The ruling disregards “fundamental protections of the lives of civilians, especially human rights defenders in times of armed conflict. This is an outrageous outcome, and it deviates from internationally accepted norms. There should be responsibility for military actions,” Dakwar said.
According to the family’s statement, the high court has allowed separate proceedings “regarding inappropriate ways in which Rachel’s autopsy was conducted” to move forward in a lower court.
Corrie’s life and death have become the focus of international attention in the 12 years since she was killed. A play based on her writings, titled My Name is Rachel Corrie, will be staged in New York for the first time in April.
The family is now urging “the international community, and not least the US government, to stand with victims of human rights violations and against impunity, and to uphold fundamental [tenets] of international justice.
“We have taken this path for Rachel… [S]he has inspired all of our actions and will continue to do so.”