Profile: Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie is interviewed by MBC television on 14 March 2003
Image caption,
An Israeli army investigation found Rachel Corrie's death was an accident

Rachel Corrie, an American who was killed while trying to stop an Israeli army bulldozer demolish a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip in 2003, was a committed peace activist.

She was a student at Evergreen State College in her local town of Olympia in Washington State, which is known for its liberal sensibilities.

The 23-year-old arranged peace events there before joining, through local group Olympians for Peace and Solidarity, a Palestinian-led organisation that uses non-violent means to challenge Israeli army tactics in the West Bank and Gaza.

Speaking after she died in hospital on 17 March 2003 - two years before Israeli troops and settlers left Gaza - her parents paid tribute to her concern for human rights and dignity, remembering how she was "dedicated to everybody".

"Rachel was filled with a love and sense of duty to our fellow man, wherever they lived, and she gave her life trying to protect those that could not protect themselves," her father Craig said.

Corrie's mother Cindy said her daughter had spent nights sleeping at wells to protect them from bulldozers.

"She lived with families whose houses were threatened with demolition and today as we understand it, she stood for three hours trying to protect a house."

'Pushed backwards'

Corrie had been with some eight other activists from the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM) acting as human shields in an effort to stop the demolition in the Rafah refugee camp.

The Israeli authorities said at the time that demolitions were necessary because Palestinian gunmen used the structures as cover to shoot at their troops patrolling in the area, or to conceal arms-smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

Image caption,
Corrie was photographed standing in front of a bulldozer the day before she died

Human rights groups said the demolitions represented collective punishment.

Corrie - who was wearing an orange fluorescent jacket to alert the bulldozer drivers to her presence - had previously described the hazards of her work.

An email distributed by the ISM detailed a confrontation on 14 February between another bulldozer and her own group, which she refers to as the "internationals".

"The internationals stood in the path of the bulldozer and were physically pushed with the shovel backwards, taking shelter in a house," she wrote. "The bulldozer then proceeded on its course, demolishing one side of the house with the internationals inside."

'Not run over'

Witnesses said that on the day she died, Corrie had climbed on top of a pile of earth which lay in the path of a bulldozer.

"The bulldozer went towards her very slowly. She was fully in clear view, straight in front of them," fellow activist Tom Dale said.

"Unfortunately she couldn't keep her grip there and she started to slip down. You could see she was in serious trouble; there was panic in her face as she was turning around."

"All the activists there were screaming, running towards the bulldozer, trying to get them to stop. But they just kept on going," he added.

Richard Purssell, another activist, said: "The driver didn't slow down; he just ran over her. Then he reversed the bulldozer back over her again."

However, an internal investigation led by the Israeli military's chief of staff concluded within a month of Corrie's death that its forces were not to blame, that she had been hidden behind a mound of earth and the bulldozer driver had not seen her.

"Rachel Corrie was not run over by an engineering vehicle but rather was struck by a hard object, most probably a slab of concrete which was moved or slid down while the mound of earth which she was standing behind was moved," it said.

While the investigators expressed sorrow for any incident in which innocent people were harmed, they felt that the "illegal and irresponsible" actions of the ISM "contributed to the tragic and distressing results".

'Last resort'

Corrie's parents refused to accept the findings and maintained that the military's investigation had not been "thorough, credible and transparent", as then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had promised.

Image caption,
Rachel Corrie's family say they believe the driver of the bulldozer saw her

In March 2010, the family filed a civil suit in the Haifa district court against the Israeli government over the incident, accusing the military of either unlawfully or intentionally killing her or of gross negligence. The family described it as their "absolutely last resort".

Craig Corrie said he still believed his daughter had been seen by the driver of the bulldozer, and that the order to use bulldozers should never have been given while non-combatants were in the area.

But on 28 August, Judge Oded Gershon dismissed the civil lawsuit, ruling that Corrie's death was a "regrettable accident" that had been not caused by the negligence of the Israeli state or army.

He also found that there had been no fault in the internal Israeli military investigation, which cleared the driver of the bulldozer of any blame. The judge said the driver had not seen the American activist, who he said could have saved herself.

"She did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done," he added. "She consciously put herself in danger."

He ruled that there was no justification to demand the state pay any damages, but said the Corrie family would not have to pay costs.

Afterwards, Cindy Corrie said she was "deeply troubled" by the verdict and that the family intended to appeal to Israel's Supreme Court.

"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 told a news conference.

"From the beginning it was clear to us that there was a process of investigation, operational investigations, military police investigations, and it was confirmed to us today that that extends through the court system in Israel - 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."

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