Videos of the death of Rachel Corrie have horrified viewers around the world and caused Israel immense public damage in the nine years since the incident.
However, the Haifa court had one focus: to establish whether Corrie’s death had been caused deliberately or negligently by the driver of the bulldozer and whether her estate was entitled to compensation. The fact that Corrie was killed by the IDF bulldozer was not in dispute.
In a detailed, 65-page judgment, the court found that the bulldozer was engaged at the time in a military operation to clear the land and not, incidentally, in demolishing houses.
The area concerned was the “Philadelphia Corridor”, a strip of land separating the Gaza Strip from Egypt.
This corridor was under continuous sniper fire from Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip. The sniper fire forced the bulldozer crews to operate with closed hatches, and the court concluded that because of the limited field of vision from the operator’s seat, the operator of the bulldozer was not aware of Corrie’s presence.
The Court also found that none of the crew operating the bulldozer was aware of Corrie’s presence. In response to an expert witness who argued that the IDF should have equipped the bulldozer with cameras, the court found, basing its analysis on another expert witness, that it was not practicable to equip the bulldozer with sufficient cameras to provide all-round vision in a combat situation.
Corrie was an activist in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Basing its decision on expert academic witnesses who gave evidence on behalf of the state, the court reached the conclusion that the ISM was far from being an innocuous, benign humanitarian body and in fact had been engaged in sabotaging the IDF’s operations, stationing activists to serve as “human shields” for terrorists wanted by Israeli security forces, and providing assistance to Palestinian terrorists and their families.
The court also found that Corrie was aware that she was illegally entering a war zone and deliberately risked her life. However, the court did not base its verdict on Corrie’s behaviour but rather on the existence of a combat situation and absence of maliciousness or negligence on the part of the IDF.
The Court’s well-argued decision may help persuade jurists that there was no deliberate attempt to cause Corrie’s death. Nevertheless, the incident was a tragedy and one that added to the negative image of Israel.
Robbie Sabel is a professor of international law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.