What can we learn from the Rachel Corrie case

12:00 Aug 27 2012 Haifa

What can we learn from the Rachel Corrie case
Rachel Corrie standing before an IDF bulldozer in Rafah. Photo by AP

A court will rule on Tuesday on the suit filed by the family of the American activist against the state over responsibility for her death.

By Amira Hass for Haaretz

On a foggy winter morning in early 1967, several young men were strolling through London's Hampstead Heath park. One of them was carrying a bucket, an odd sight, though one that didn't arouse any attention because the young men had purposely picked a time when the park was fairly empty to carry out their intention without being impeded: the first successful trial of a leaflet bomb, a pre-Internet era invention.

For several years and during the peak of oppression and silencing of apartheid opponents, the leaflet bomb, or bucket bomb as it also came to be called, delivered the African National Congress's message to South Africa's black people. Devised and developed by political exiles living in Great Britain, the organizers enlisted a network of thoroughly white volunteers who traveled to South Africa carrying thousands of leaflets printed on tissue-thin paper and small bomb components concealed in false-bottomed suitcases. These components would later be assembled in hotel rooms in Johannesburg and Cape Town, concealed in buckets bought at neighborhood stores.

The buckets would be packed with leaflets and then left at busy streets during rush hours, when and where blacks were hurrying back from work to their distant homes. Detonated by timers, the small bombs would scatter the leaflets throughout the streets. The volunteers knew that were they caught, the representatives of law and order would torture them and then indict and convict them of terrorism. This was pre-Google. There were no computers to search and discover that the volunteers' white pigmentation hid incriminating membership and activity in British left-wing groups.

A collection of their memoirs was published this year in a book called "London Recruits: The Secret War Against Apartheid" (compiled and edited by Ken Keable, The Merlin Press, U.K. ). The introduction to the book was written by Ronnie Kasrils, responsible for creating the network and later on a minister of intelligence services in post-apartheid South Africa. "What drives individuals to engage in struggles for a just cause in distant lands at considerable personal cost?" ask Kasrils, the son of a Jewish family and a member of the Communist Party, and answers: principles, beliefs, a healthy dose of adventure and romanticism and a sense of international solidarity. Coincidentally or not, many of his recruits were Jews.

In the introduction to the book, he continues to say that history demonstrates that even today there are women and men with similar principles and passion: "In Palestine today the sacrifice of the young American volunteer Rachel Corrie, crushed during an Israeli house demolition in Gaza, represents a milestone of such solidarity."

On Tuesday, Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon will publish his ruling on the civil suit brought by Corrie's family against the State of Israel for being responsible for her death and for failing to hold a full and credible investigation into the circumstances of the killing. The state had declared that Corrie was responsible for her own death.

An Israeli military bulldozer, manufactured by Caterpillar, crushed the 23-year-old Corrie to death as she and her fellow members of the International Solidarity Movement lived among Palestinian civilians in Rafah, in an area whose houses were slated for demolition for Israeli military needs. They tried to remind the Israeli army that it was operating among what was, first and foremost, an occupied civilian population.

Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003. The family brought suit via attorney Hussein Abu Hussein in 2005. Testimony was first heard on March 10, 2010, since when there have been 15 hearings and 23 people have testified. More than 2,000 pages were generated by this legal proceeding - a sociological study of the Israeli army.

Abu Hussein claimed that the commanding officers were motivated by the desire to put an end to the nuisance represented by the activists. He cited the summary of the battalion deputy commander, unnamed, given less than 90 minutes after Corrie was killed: "As a result of the situation that has been created and the repeated but unsuccessful efforts to keep these people away, the event that occurred was unavoidable. The D-9's field of vision is small; the D-9 identified the impact only after it happened. As an army, we must not allow such incidents to affect our routine missions. The problem of foreigners is well known in this area, and as a policy we do not stop our missions because of the presence of foreigners in the area, so as not to set a dangerous precedent ... The seriousness of the incident, from a media perspective, is clear, as well as the damage the incident has caused us as an army, but, to repeat, the incident was unavoidable and it is necessary to confront the foreigners and prohibit them from entering the Gaza Strip ... It should be noted that directives regarding when to open fire apply to any adult on the axis in a shoot-to-kill manner."

Pinhas Zuaretz was the southern brigade commander of the Gaza Division on the day the IDF bulldozer crushed Corrie to death. He came to Israel to testify from the United States, where since his discharge from the army he has served as deputy national director and director of development of the Friends of the IDF. In court, he stated categorically that Corrie and her friends were "either negligent or naive, cynically sent to the front by terrorists," because anyone wandering around the Philadelphi Axis was "doomed to death ... because their intentions were not innocent ... " and, of course, that is precisely where the activists were gathered.

Still, the soldiers in their briefing were told not to harm them, he said in his testimony, and therefore were equipped for dispersing demonstrations. In response to a question, he said that the place Corrie was killed was in the suburbs of the city of Rafah.

Abu Hussein asked him if he had any idea how many Palestinians were killed during his tenure as brigade commander, between August 2002 and March 2003. Irit Kelman Brom, attorney for the state, objected, asking "why is that relevant?"

Hussein Abu Hussein replied: "In the Rafah area alone, 101 people were killed, including 42 children aged 10-18."

Zuaretz: "What is the source of your data?"

Abu Hussein: "My data is based on B'Tselem data."

Zuaretz: "Awesome."

Abu Hussein: "Excuse me?"

Zuaretz: " (... ) Your data is far from the truth. I have no idea what makes this relevant, like. Are you B'Tselem's representative here? What's all this nonsense?"
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