On the Rachel Corrie Verdict and Doing the “Reasonable” Thing

I’m sure many people find it perfectly reasonable that an Israeli court recently ruled Palestinian solidarity protester Rachel Corrie caused her own death in 2003 by standing in front of a moving bulldozer. After all, as Judge Oded Gershon pointed out, she knew the risks. She “chose to endanger herself” by going into a “closed military zone” to try and stop the destruction of a Palestinian home in southern Gaza.  Then she refused to step aside, as “any reasonable person would have done.”

If this verdict all sounds perfectly “reasonable” to some, I believe it is only because it was presented devoid of any real context. It utterly ignores the fact that it is the Israeli military – and by extension, Israel itself – that creates the rules that govern the “reality” of this situation. The court could rule any way it pleased – even despite all evidence to the contrary – because at the end of the day it answers to no one but itself.

Why was this civilian area deemed a “closed combat zone?” Because the Israeli military deemed it as such. This, despite the fact that no combat was taking place in the area on that day and no closed military zone order was ever presented in court. This despite the compelling claims that these home demolitions have nothing to do with Israeli’s security and everything to do with collective punishment.

If you have any doubt about the length and breadth of Israel’s military impunity, I urge you to read this article by the Guardian’s Chris McGreal – to my mind the most important article about the Corrie verdict thus far:

The case laid bare the state of the collective Israeli military mind, which cast the definition of enemies so widely that children walking down the street were legitimate targets if they crossed a red line that was invisible to everyone but the soldiers looking at it on their maps. The military gave itself a blanket protection by declaring southern Gaza a war zone, even though it was heavily populated by ordinary Palestinians, and set rules of engagement so broad that just about anyone was a target.

Yes, Rachel Corrie knew the risks. As an activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), she went through extensive training to prepare herself to engage in this form of nonviolent protest.  Eyewitnesses testified that she wore a high visibility orange vest and stood in full view of the soldier driving the bulldozer. But tragically, I doubt all the precautions in the world could ever have protected her from what McGreal refers to as “the collective Israeli military mind.”

Or, for that matter, Israeli military justice. As is now well known – and has even been admitted by US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro – the IDF’s investigation into Rachel’s death was a sham, carried out by a team of 19-year-old inexperienced boys who never interrogated a single Palestinian or non-military witness. This is a critical point: Israel has to date not carried out a full, credible investigation of its military’s actions on that day – actions that resulted in the death of an American citizen. As Rachel’s mother Cindy has correctly pointed out: “a lawsuit is not a substitute for a legal investigation, which we never had.”

I have met Rachel’s parents Cindy and Craig on several occasions now and I know them to be among the most compassionate and principled social justice activists I have ever met.  Yes, they are pursuing this case because of what happened to their daughter, but anyone who knows them knows they are driven by a deeply held belief in justice.  Notably, they only sought one dollar in damages from the Israeli government – an award which Judge Gershon refused to grant them in his ruling.  I have no doubt that Cindy Corrie meant it from the bottom of her heart when she said after the verdict:

This is a sad day, not only to us, as a family. This is a sad day for Israel, a sad day for human right activists, a sad day for international law, a sad day for justice.

I do agree with Judge Gershon when he ruled that Rachel did not step aside “as any reasonable person would have done.”  As too many nonviolent protesters know all too well, when you find yourself in the midst of an unjust context, doing the just thing is rarely the most reasonable option. (I’m sure many didn’t consider it “reasonable,” for instance, when marchers in Selma walked straight into a line of armed state troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965.)

Look at the clip above. It comes from a Korean news story about the Palestinian nonviolent protest movement in the West Bank. In this clip, you can see ISM founder Huwaida Arraf protecting protesters from armed soldiers with her own body. Nothing reasonable there. How many of us have one iota of her – or Rachel’s – courage to stand firm in the face of such overwhelming injustice?

At the press conference following the verdict, the Corries were asked how they felt that the judge said that Rachel should have moved out of the bulldozer’s way. Cindy Corrie’s response:

I don’t think that Rachel should have moved. I think we should all have been standing there with her.

6 Replies to “On the Rachel Corrie Verdict and Doing the “Reasonable” Thing”

  1. It’s hard to know what is being asked for when the Corrie family asks for a “Legal investigation”. I imagine they want the prosecutors office to look at the legal culpability of the bulldozer driver. There is no way to prove the driver saw Rachel, so there is no case under criminal law. Especially with the testimony that Rachel kneeled down or fell in front of the bulldozer. I suppose if the driver were drunk… But that has not been claimed.

    The only other possibility is for the prosecutor to look at the possibility of criminal charges against the Israeli officers above the driver. I can see some fault there — they could have posted more guards to keep the protesters away from the area of where the bulldozers were operating. But it was shown that they cleared the area of unauthorized people and Rachel snuck in past the barriers. According to evidence before the court, Rachel actually fell down prior to being killed, and was not visible. There was gunfire against the IDF mere hours before Rachel’s death, indicating the designation of “Combat Zone” was correct. No prosecutor is going to bring a criminal case that weak.

    That left the civil suit, which went over all the available evidence of negligence and looked for signs of a deliberate intent to kill Rachel (violating her civil rights), and found none. If that’s not a legal investigation, what is?

    Of course, what the Corrie family really wants is their daughter back. But this is not within the power of man.

    1. When the Corrie family asks for a “legal investigation,” it means they are asking for a credible, transparent and impartial investigation into the events of that day and after. This is standard procedure in countries that respect the rule of law. To date this has not occurred. This is not a controversial point – even the US Ambassador to Israel has admitted this.

      In the absence of such an investigation, it is difficult to understand why are so confident of the claims you make in your comment. And your statement that there was “gunfire against the IDF” in the area before Rachel’s death is simply false. There has been no evidence brought to substantiate this. In fact, we only have this on the IDF’s say so. To date the military has not produced any documentation to prove it had designated the area a “closed combat zone.”

      Yes, the Corries would love to have their daughter back. Any parent would. But given the facts of this horrid tragedy, what they – and any of us should want – is to see justice done.

  2. Erudite, deeply empathetic and, ultimely, very Jewish…”To act justly and to love mercy”. Thank you Rabbi. -B. Hirschman

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