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.