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In Rachel Corrie verdict, Israel deals new blow to international law

The verdict on the 2003 killing of Rachel Corrie absolved Israel of any wrongdoing, essentially blaming the victim for her death. The trial revealed Israel’s approach to the most fundamental principles of international law, and especially to the duty to protect non-combatants.

By Jeff Halper

Rachel Corrie’s parents in press conference after verdict Tuesday (Leehee Rothschild)

For those who hoped for a just verdict on the death of Rachel Corrie, the American student and ISM activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 as she was defending a Palestinian home about to be demolished, this is a sad day. Not surprising, but still sad and bitter. The judge who decided the case, Oded Gershon, absolved the army of all blame, despite massive and internally contradictory testimony to the contrary. Moreover, he essentially blamed Rachel for her own death, commenting that a “normal person” would have run away from the bulldozer rather than confront it.

Palestinians and Israel human rights activists have learned that justice cannot be obtained through the Israeli judicial system. The Haifa District Court, in which the trial was held, could not have ruled other than how the state wanted. For the past 45 years of Israeli occupation, the Supreme Court has excluded from its rulings all reference to international humanitarian law and to the Fourth Geneva Convention in particular, which protects civilians living in conflict situations and under occupation. Only Israeli law applies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories – military law and orders – and the courts have restricted even that form of law by declaring that in instances of “security,” they defer to the military. As in Rachel’s case, the IDF thus has carte blanche to commit war crimes with impunity, with no fear of accountability or punishment.

Sending IDF American-made Caterpillar bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes in Gaza or anywhere in the Occupied Territories is a war crime. To what degree Israel ignores, violates and distorts international law was particularly evident in the testimony of Pinhas “Pinky” Zuaretz, the brigade commander who supervised the illegal “clearing” of Palestinian homes from that area of Gaza. “There are no civilians in military conflicts,” he testified, directly contradicting one of the most fundamental principles of international law, the duty to protect non-combatants.

When justice and law become separated as they have in Israel, the law is demeaned and becomes merely another tool of oppression. As a human rights defender, a status articulated and defended by the UN, Rachel Corrie had every right – even a responsibility – to intervene in the violation of universal human rights. It is incumbent on governments, courts and concerned individuals alike to ensure that human rights are enforced, especially when those being oppressed have no power to defend themselves. The attempt of this Israeli court to present Rachel’s death as the consequence of the irresponsible actions of a person who should not have been defending Palestinian human rights in the first place denies both the culpability of a state engaged in illegal activities and the duty of citizens to work for universal justice.

While we all would have hoped that Rachel and her family could have received justice from the Israeli legal system – something also denied to the other human rights defenders, including Israelis, who have been killed and injured in their battle against the Israeli occupation – the issue at stake is even larger: holding Israel accountable for its actions. But eliminating any reference to international law, the Israeli judiciary, all the way up to the Supreme Court, has helped construct a legal system in which justice is impossible.

Universal jurisdiction requires that state courts enforce the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The International Criminal Court could be an appropriate venue to try Israeli military officials and their civilian superiors, including the defense minister at the time of Rachel’s death, Shaul Mofaz; the Chief of Staff, Moshe Ya’alon (now Israel’s deputy premier); the commander who presided over Gaza, Doron Almog; “Pinky” and the driver of the bulldozer. But since Israel (like the United States and China) is not a party to the ICC, that will not happen.

Until such a time that international law, human rights and justice are genuinely incorporated into national legal systems, in Israel and internationally, the rights and lives of all of us, “normative” citizens as well as the oppressed, are in jeopardy. This is what Rachel and her family have shown us so clearly. This is their genuine contribution, even if justice has been denied them. It is up to all of us to join with the Corries to carry on Rachel’s struggle for a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis – and for a world based on human rights and universal principles of justice.

Jeff Halper is the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached here

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    1. Nate

      Thanks for posting this unintentionally hilarious article! I haven’t laughed so hard in weeks. All this talk about int’l law, and then Halper says the Corrie case should go to the ICC. Shows how much he knows.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        Another Zionist who considers justice a joke.

        Reply to Comment
      • Calm down, be sure the time will come.

        Reply to Comment
      • Stuart Cryer

        what a Nazi would have said about a Jew who died to protect the rights of the dispossessed in the ghettos …

        Reply to Comment
    2. Danny

      Rachel Corrie mistakenly assumed that her American citizenship would give her some sort of immunity from Israel’s longstanding policy of targeting civilians. She must have thought – “that driver sees me, he can plainly deduce that driving his bulldozer over me will constitute a clear war crime, he won’t dare hit me with it.” What Ms. Corrie didn’t take into consideration is that Israel has no qualms about killing civilians (not even American ones) because it is such an accomplished whitewasher of its army’s crimes. So much so, that it didn’t even receive a reprimand in 1967 after destroying the U.S.S. Liberty, killing more than 30 U.S. seamen. Israel knows all it has to do is feign sorrow at the “mistake” and all will be forgiven.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The State of Israel won cos the judge’s view that no normal right thinking person would have placed themselves in the dangerous position that Corrie did.

      Grubby. Indicative of the prevailing moral cancer in Isael.

      But correct.

      Rachel was not normal.

      She was an extraordinary right thinking person.

      May be there be many others.

      Until land-grabbing bellicose theocrats are shown to be a true affront to civilisedf modernity.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Volp

        Clearly David was also like Rachel no rational person would dare face a Goliath. Accordingly if Goliath had killed him, that would have been Davids fault.

        Reply to Comment
      • DEF

        The overbearing ignorance of most of these comments is staggering – Israel is a democracy with an independent judiciary – one that has, time and time again, decided cases against the army and government –

        The Corries, while perversely soaking up the limelight, can (and likely will) still appeal to the Israeli Supreme court – read the actual judge’s opinion – read just a bit about the history of the Israeli judicial system –

        Israel has a strong and vocal core of support for Palestinian rights and most Israelis firmly support a two-state solution.

        Where exactly are the Arab moderates?

        ISM might want to grow a pair and go defend minority rights in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, or a few other places.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Barbara Exley

      thank you Jeff for your courage and commitment to speak truth on behalf of all peoples. Hope to see you on my trip in November. God be with you…and Shalom

      Reply to Comment
    5. There is a sense of inevitability in much Israeli discourse on the conflict–“it must be so,” nothing else could possibly be. Corrie is defined as abnormal because only one logic exists. In the Soviet Union c 1970-85, protesting was a sign of mental illness; so Sakharov ended up in a mential ward. This is not to say Israeli is as the USSR–it is not. Yet a similar control of thought in extremes exists.

      I have for some time thought that until progress is made in the standing of Palestinian Israeli citizens, judicial effort in the occupied areas is impossible. One first needs to develop jurispurdence in a less hostile setting.

      Reply to Comment
      • Kolumn9

        Israeli Arab citizens already have the same judicial standing as all other citizens. I have no idea what you are waiting for.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Mareli

      Corrie’s behavior should not have been the issue. The driver’s behavior, in deciding to run Corrie down when he knew she was there and could have avoided killing her, was the issue. He could have called to have her removed (I presume he had a radio or other communicative device). He was guilty at least of manslaughter.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Laurent Szyster

      Sébastien Briat was an anti-nuclear activist from Meuse, France who gained international media attention in 2004 when he was struck and killed by a train carrying nuclear waste near Avricourt, France, after chaining himself to the tracks while participating in a protest against nuclear power. Briat was 21 years old at the time. A local Green leader highlighted the wider significance of the incident as an illustration of the protestors’ security and safety concerns relating to the transport: “A train could hit something at any moment, and there’s nothing that the SNCF nor the organisations which are meant to provide security can do about it.”[1]

      Afterward, it was reported that Briat had violated a number of key safety rules that protesters normally followed. Briat had chained himself shortly after a curve in the track, behind a hill, near a forest, which made it impossible for the conductor to see him in time to stop. In addition, Briat did not wait for the train to stop before chaining himself to the track. Finally, Briat did not have other protesters stationed further down the tracks to alert the conductor with smoke signals. More experienced protesters normally take safety precautions to avoid these mistakes. [1]


      Shit happens.

      If ship happens to a young moron in France it’s a tragic accident of stupidity.

      But when shit happens in Gaza it must somehow be an evil zionist war crime.

      Reply to Comment
      • Svenja

        I am not sure if you noticed at second glance wow your post perfectly answers itself.
        Just go sentence by sentence through the article you’re citing, and let me know if you need help.

        keywords: visibility, precautions, possibility to stop the moving vehicle in time, fellow activists alerting driver.


        Reply to Comment
        • Laurent Szyster

          Standing on top of a pile of earth in front of a moving bulldozer is total madness.

          Because, as any construction worker will tell you, it takes only a split second of distraction from the driver to get you buried under.

          Do that repeatedly with military bulldozers that have less visibility, in a war zone where drivers are under more stress, and it will eventually lead to bad shit.

          Rachel Corrie and her ISM moronic friends behaved as recklessly as Sébastien Briat.

          And bad shit did happen.

          Reply to Comment
    8. Kolumn9

      Going into a warzone and assuming that the same rules apply as during a sit-in at a local university is the mark of a total moron. The argument made by Halper demonstrates the same sort of idiotic logic. Hopefully the unfortunate death of Rachel Corrie will demonstrate to morons world-wide that if they enter a war-zone their pretty words and foreign passports are not going to protect them. Also, if they see a bulldozer approaching them at 1 mile per hour the appropriate action is to get out of the way. One would think anyone with a modicum of intelligence would grasp this.

      Reply to Comment
      • Sean Mullin

        Kolumn9, the more eloquent and comprehensive the argument, the more infantile your response. Thought about counseling?

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          She was a retard who put herself in a warzone at the service of any and all enemies of Israel and didn’t have the sense to move out of the way of a military bulldozer going at 1 mph. Good riddance.

          Reply to Comment
      • Pretty hard situation to deal with, as the “war zone” is in the soul and mind of the occupiers.
        The Ghetto is inside.

        Reply to Comment
    9. sh

      A war-zone against sitting ducks. A great victory it was too.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Aaron the Fascist Troll

      My unsolicited advice: If you want to make a case against house demolitions, don’t drag your martyr Rachel Corrie into it. Once you say the words “Rachel Corrie,” you’re just preaching to the choir; everyone else has left the church. There are a lot of people who might be quite sympathetic to a moral or legal case against house demolitions, but who don’t think too highly of the late Ms. Corrie and her friends. My advice is to address those people.

      Reply to Comment
    11. It isn’t a war crime if there is a pressing military need. You failed to mention it.
      While I refuse to believe without any proof that there was a tunnel inside that house used for smuggling weapons (cutting the enemy’s weapons supply is a pressing need which will end the fighting sooner) I refuse to take ISM’s word for it. They use deception as a mean to delegitimise the existance of Israel. They published a picture of her standing in a manner that the D9 driver had a clear line of sight and claimed it was minutes before she died. It was later disproven. The photo was taken a few hours before.
      The ISM is known to support armed struggle against military targets.
      Strange how pacifist support war.

      Sticking to the facts is important.

      Nevertheless, this incident should be investigated and if there is a chance the driver could have seen her he should pay for it.

      Reply to Comment
    12. Bluegrass Picker of Afula

      Rachel Corrie was directly complicit in smuggling shrapnel materials (nails, pins) for Qassam rockets into Gazan war factories. Some of my neighbors carry that shrapnel in their bodies at this moment

      Reply to Comment
    13. Miguel Raldiris

      I believe that unless the Israeli themselves put an end to this type of madness where only the (perceived) self-interest of the Jewish people matter, then History will have to repeat itself.
      Since practically the beginning of history there have been many instances where a people, race, religion, thought they were the chosen ones. They sincerely believed that they were special because they were their god’s chosen or protected ones, and therefore could do as they pleased.
      Among the many recent examples we have the German Nazis under Hitler who believed that they were the Master Race chosen to reign over all others who were different. They too thought that they were different, special, and since they had absolute power under their jurisdiction, they believed that they could act with impunity. The only law and opinion that mattered was theirs. World opinion could go screw themselves.
      But, as always in History, the time of reckoning came. As we say in Puerto Rico, ”the omelet got turned over”, and the Nazis had their day of reckoning.
      Jews, with their thousands of years of History should know better than most that power (and the assumed unaccountability that power seems to grant) does not last forever. That all abuses of power will one day have their Nuremberg trial.
      I try to see some good in everything. The good I can see in this verdict is that now everyone can see that the Emperor has no clothes. All who thought that there was even a semblance of Justice in Israel are now disabused of that ridiculous notion. Now the entire world can see what the Palestinians have known since 1948, that in Israel, unless you are a Jew then there is no justice for you in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Miguel, I really think you have no idea what you’re talking about. The Jewish religious notion of being special, doesn’t have much to do with superiority, much more with having a special designation in the world. This is of course interpreted in a simpler manner by simple people. In any case, this notion surely doesn’t affect our dealings with our neighbors. I’ve spent enough years in the IDF and in Israel and I’ve never witnessed a thought of “We’re superior, others may die”

        Let’s see:
        1. You live in a distant country
        2. You probably have no idea what’s going on here, besides what’s the press and sites like these feed you
        3. You don’t know what really happened in this case because you were not there
        4. You didn’t even read the verdict, to try and see if it makes sense

        And yet you have the audacity to make claims about the Justice Israeli citizens receive?! Or compare us to Nazis based on your own opinion of how we perceive ourselves to be superior?!


        Reply to Comment
    14. AJS

      Of course it was her fault she died. What an idiot! I totally agree with the court ruling. Normal people, when confronted with imminent danger, usually get out of the way. Duh! And, to now find out that she gave that British jerk the bullhorn just moments before…. why didn’t he scream to the driver to stop? It’s obvious that she willingly gave her life (committed suicide) for her cause: the demonizing of Israel. As Golda Meir famously remarked: there will be peace when they (the Arabs and their leftist cohorts) love their children more than they hate us.”

      Reply to Comment
    15. Mitchell Cohen

      Love her or hate her, there are two questions:

      1) Did Rachel Corrie ignore warnings (including those of her own country) about going into Gaza, let alone in a War Zone and knowingly put herself in danger? Having did a stint of reserved duty in Rafiah myself (about 5 months before this incident happened), I can honestly say Rachel Corrie has no business being there and knowingly put herself in danger by being there.

      2) Could the driver of the bulldozer have possibly seen Rachel Corrie?

      Having worked on a number of construction sites with bulldozers operating, I say MOST LIKELY no….

      This is NOT to say Rachel Corrie “deserved” to die or that we should rejoice at her fate. This is to say that her death was MOST LIKELY (I wasn’t there at the time and am not G-d) not intentional on the driver’s part.

      Yes, the ISM certainly carries no small responsibility for sending those who have come from half-way across the world, are not familiar with the Middle East, let alone Israel/Gaza, straight from an ivory tower into a War Zone….

      Reply to Comment
    16. pelsar

      i noticed that many of the comments and the article itself seem to live in some weird dimension, because they sure dont belong in this reality:

      This adult chose to put here self in a war zone, chose to participate and attempted to stop a military operation by standing in front of a large bulldozer with limited vision….

      she put herself at risk and what happend is why civilians stay away from war zones, they happen to be very dangerous…..especially when you to actively participate

      Reply to Comment
    17. Regarding civilian homes and war zones — if Arab terrorists put the terminals of weapon-smuggling tunnels in people’s homes, which everyone knows they do, then 1)the terrorists are responsible for hostile counter-measures, whether blowing up those homes, flattening them, or whatever — even if the Israelis sometimes mistakenly target the wrong homes (because the Arab terrorists have made such targeting, and some inevitable errors, necessary) and 2) the terrorists have made the areas around such homes war zones. If ISM people try to block military counter-measures, they are not defending civilians against anti-humanitarians, they are preventing military measures taken to counter OTHER military measures (eliminating weapons smuggling) — military measures which, in violation of international law, are hidden in civilian property, thus putting the civilians at risk. It is the Arab terrorists and the ISM (by aiding them) who put civilians at risk, on the Arab side. And by the way, Arab terrorists explicitly target Jewish civilians on the grounds — which I have heard or seen argued a hundred times — that ALL Israeli civilians are by virtue of nationality enemy combatants. That aside from the fact that Corrie, dwelling in a dangerous fantasy world, basically committed suicide, just as if she had jumped out in front of a bus.
      –Jared Israel

      Reply to Comment
    18. One other thought. As far as I understand what happened, Israel DID do something wrong: it allowed the ISM people to move about on what was in fact part of a battlefield instead of doing what it should have done — arresting them, jailing them in Israel, and putting them on trial. As far as I understand what happened — and please correct me if I am overlooking something — the only reason Israel did not arrest them is that once again it bowed before the gang-up of manipulated international opinion, the result of which is always that instead of facing a small public relations problem (in this case for arresting these worse-than-maniacs) it faced a much bigger one. Tolerating this kind of interference in a MILITARY action fuels the idea that said action is illegitimate — politically harmful even if none of the ISM creatures had been injured or killed.

      — Jared Israel

      Reply to Comment
    19. mplo

      Rachel Corrie’s death was unfortunate, needless, and preventable. Israel doesn’t belong in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or East Jerusalem in the first place, nor should Israel be destroying Palestinian families’ homes, or roughing up, maiming and/or killing innocent Palestinian Civilians, or subjecting them to humiliating checkpoints, etc.

      The Israeli soldier clearly did know what he was doing when he mowed Ms. Corrie down with his bulldozer. Israel, the United States, and the West, generally, bear responsibility, for their complacency, but I also think that the ISM bears a certain amount of accountability for Ms. Corrie’s death, as well. She should’ve been better protected by the ISM. Sure, they should’ve stood with Rachel, but, instead of letting Rachel Corrie stand singlely between the bulldozer and the Nasrallah’s home in Gaza, her friends/colleagues in the ISM also should’ve stood between the bulldozer and the Nasrallahs’ home, alongside Rachel, for better protection. Had they operated in a larger arena by doing that, Rachel could very well be alive today.

      Reply to Comment
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