Family of slain Olympia activist awaits verdict

JERUSALEM — Almost a decade after their daughter was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer as she tried to block its path in a Gaza Strip conflict zone, Rachel Corrie’s parents are preparing for a judge’s ruling in their high-profile civil lawsuit against the military.

They hope Tuesday’s court decision will conclude a case that’s turned their daughter into a rallying cry for pro-Palestinian activists, taken years of their life and drained their savings.

“We are here with a great deal of anticipation for Tuesday,” said Corrie’s mother, Cindy, 64, a homemaker and musician from Olympia, Washington. “We are hoping for some accountability here for what happened to Rachel.”

Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist, was 23 when she was killed in March 2003 while she and other activists sought to block an Israeli military bulldozer they believed was about to demolish Palestinian homes in the Gaza border town of Rafah. The driver has said he didn’t see Corrie, and the death was accidental.

The Israeli army had been undertaking systematic house demotions in the densely populated border area, trying to halt shooting and mortar attacks against soldiers and Jewish settlers who used the route. The house destruction sparked international condemnation at the time.

While several foreign activists were killed or wounded in confrontations with the Israeli military during the last decade, Corrie’s case has taken on special meaning for Palestinian activists.

For her supporters, she became a symbol of what they say is Israel’s harsh repression of nonviolent protest to occupation. They saw in her a young middle class American who died believing that she was defending the homes of strangers. She was a passionate writer whose works showed how deeply moved she was by the suffering she saw around her.

Corrie’s parents published those letters, and artists made a play about her life.

Corrie belonged to the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, whose activists enter conflict zones and try interfere with activities of Israel’s military. Supporters of Israel argue that Corrie, like thousands of other foreign activists, recklessly chose to risk her life.

“Rachel Corrie was injured as a result of her prohibited action, for which she is solely responsible, due to her considerable negligence and lack of caution,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

The family’s case is the first civil lawsuit of a foreigner harmed by Israel’s military to conclude in a full civilian trial. Others have resulted in out-of-court settlements.

Since the Corries went to court in 2005, there have been 15 hearings and testimony from 23 witnesses.

They hope the court will apportion blame to the bulldozer driver and his superiors, who have all been cleared of wrongdoing in a military court.

The Corries are seeking a symbolic $1 in damages, along with compensation for the money they’ve spent bringing the case to trial.

The Corries said their case underscored how difficult it was for families to pursue justice for loved ones killed by Israeli forces.

Criminal convictions of soldiers, who are tried in military courts, are rare. In one case, an Israeli military court in 2005 convicted a former soldier of manslaughter in the shooting of a British activist, Tom Hurndall.

Israeli rights group B’Tselem said in 304 cases where soldiers killed Palestinians, only nine indictments were filed. Another 27 cases were awaiting a decision of the military advocate general and 14 cases were under investigation.

It has “conveyed a message to commanders and soldiers that there is little chance they will be held accountable,” said Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem. The Israeli military declined to comment.

The Corries said they spent over $200,000 of their own savings to fly in witnesses, attend hearings and translate over 2,000 pages of court transcripts. They were supported by an army of volunteers, including lawyers, translators and media activists.

“We found ourselves in a war of attrition with a state against a family. That’s what it feels like,” said Rachel’s father Craig, 65, a Vietnam war veteran and a retired life insurance specialist.

One of the last photographs of Rachel Corrie shows a blonde woman staring pensively into the distance, her pen poised above her notebook, a gray scarf around her neck. It’s often turned into a graffiti painting on walls in Gaza.

She’s frozen in time, said her father Craig.

“Just think how she would have grown. She would be 33 years old now. And yet in her mind she stopped growing when she was almost 24. It’s a strange sort of thing.”

It was that memory that kept them going. “I think Rachel would be proud of us,” he said.

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