On Sunday, July 10 2011, the final hearing in the civil case filed by the family Rachel Corrie against the state of Israel took place. The final hearing heard the testimony of Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz who was head of Southern Command in 2003 when Rachel was killed by D-9 Caterpillar bulldozer.
Rachel Corrie was an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement, a non-violent movement made up of foreigners, which stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people. ISM activists protest against Israel’s military violence on the Palestinian people. They attend protests against the apartheid wall in Bi’lin and Ni’lin and against settlement expansion at Nabi Saleh. In addition, they protest against house demolitions all over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Rachel Corrie entered the Gaza Strip via Erez crossing in early 2003 and lived in Rafah with a local family. As well as protesting the Israeli Defence Force’s mass home demolitions in Rafah (Rafah was evacuated of nearly 16,000 people from 2000 to 2004 due to this policy), she also established a twinning project between Rafah and her home town of Olympia, Washington. On the day she was killed, Rachel wearing a bright orange jacket in order to be visible to soldiers, went out to protest against levelling and demolition activities being carried out by the IDF in the Philidelphi Corridor (the area on the Gaza-Egypt border where Rachel was killed that was being cleared by the IDF of houses to stop armed activity and arms smuggling by Palestinians). She was killed when a 600ton bulldozer ran her over.
During the hearing, Zuaretz was asked repeatedly by the Corrie’s attorney, Hussein Abu Hussein, if any procedures existed for dealing with civilians while any IDF activity was being carried out. To this he replied that the question was a stupid one because no civilians existed at the time; anyone present in Gaza and especially in the Philidelphi Corridor was believed to be a combatant, or terrorist at Zuaretz called them (I do not use this term because it is an incorrect use of the word – terrorists attack civilians, not armies) by the IDF and therefore they were free to be killed. He stated that “reasonable people would not be there unless they had aims of attacking our forces.” No matter that Rachel, her fellow ISM activists and the family she was staying with were unarmed and that their protest was legal. There existed no procedures for dealing with international activists to remove them from the area or keep them away from areas where house demolitions were taking place. Zuaretz said they could not be arrested because it would endanger soldiers’ lives. He emphasised that Gaza at that time was a war zone, and that in the Philidelphi corridor was a closed military zone. He put 100% of the responsibility for Rachel’s death on Rachel herself for being present in a war zone where a ‘shoot to kill’ policy existed for anyone present (although Rachel was not shot).
Moreover, Zuaretz added that the ISM activists must have had links to ‘terrorists’ because how else would they have been allowed to live and do the work they were doing otherwise? They must have had permission from the ‘terrorist’ groups controlling Rafah to do this. He claimed also that ISM activists were naïve and easily manipulated and were used by terrorist groups as pawns and human shields.
In reply to these claims, Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother at a press conference that took place the day after the final hearing had this to say: “Rachel had a mind of her own… ISM is a movement, people choose to come, it is non-violent resistance.” Her father, Craig Corrie, said “ISM works with families and does not want any part in violent resistance.” Another ISM activist had once told him that “ISM activists are outsiders in the community and not trusted by many people because,” he claimed, “it would be too easy for Israel to place an infiltrator among their ranks.”
The view of Zuaretz is shared by many, evidence of which can be found in the comments of any article in an Israeli newspaper, including this article about key evidence that was withheld by Israel in the hearing. To summarise, (some of them are too hurtful to quote), they call Rachel an idiot, an exploited human shield and largely to blame for her own death.
This view is not limited to Rachel Corrie or to ISM activists. One just has to look to last year’s flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza which ended in the killing of 9 Turkish (and one American-Turkish) civilians by IDF soldiers. Israel believed they were terrorists and many agreed that they were largely responsible for what happened.
This year, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton more or less gave Israel the green light to act with violence towards the latest flotilla activists when she warned them that they would “provoke actions by entering into Israeli waters and creating a situation in which the Israelis have the right to defend themselves” (although it should be noted that last year’s boats were not even in Israeli waters when they came under attack).
Israel does not only lay the blame when activists are killed or injured in an effort to discredit them, it also goes to huge lengths to prevent them existing.
Israel went to huge efforts to prevent this year’s flotilla from even leaving ports in Greece. Those on the so-called ‘flytilla’ faced extra security personnel at European airports and, if they were allowed to fly, their planes were landed far from the airport so that Ben Gurion airport’s security personnel could deal with them least they manage to reach passport control and declare that Palestine was their intended destination and not Israel. Those who did make it into the airport faced abusive treatment from security and were placed in detention to await deportation.
Israel’s actions towards Pro-Palestinian activists are not limited to ISM activists to participate in direct action or to large scale events such as the flotillas and the flytilla, although these are the only ones that make the news. Everyday Israel attempts to dissuade pro-Palestinian activists and make their visits here unpleasant at best, impossible at worst. Flying into Ben Gurion airport, or entering via any land border, one can face intense scrutiny by border guards checking if you are even thinking of visiting the West Bank or intend to visit friends with Arab sounding names and will quickly deny you entry for these reasons (although they would dub you a ‘security threat’). Flying back out is perhaps more stressful, hours of questioning, strip searches, multiple luggage checks, and pers
onal escorts through the airport to board your flight are common if you mention anything about Palestine, the West Bank, or have anything Arabic or Palestinian in your luggage. And it does not matter how old you are, your ethnicity or your religion as this 79 year old holocaust survivor can attest to.
Israel can claim it is preventing foreigners coming to any harm when it prevents activists from entering but the only way Israel can prevent foreigner civilian activists from being hurt is by stopping the systematic violence against Palestinians and guaranteeing their rights. Subsequently, there would be no need for foreigners to come and defend them.
Israel goes to massive efforts to stop any kind of international solidarity with the Palestinian cause. It demonises them publically in the media (see these two YouTube videos for bizarre examples), criminalises their efforts (see the recent passing of a law to ban BDS campaigns), calls them terrorists and extremists, and blames them if they are hurt. Governments refuse to condemn Israel for its violations of international human rights law and now ordinary citizens are unable to stand with Palestinians and are increasingly having their lives put at risk if they do so.
Written by J.R.