As the Rachel Corrie Civil Suit Ends Testimony Today, Thoughts on How Israel Treats Foreign Nationals

9:41 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Rachel Corrie covered with her flag in a Palestinian morgue

I. The Israeli government and military would prefer that no foreign nationals critical of the policies of that government be given any sort of forum that either brings public attention to abuses, war crimes and human rights violations against Palestinians, or humanizes the Palestinians’ plight in ways that seek to give the latter more freedom over the administration of their own affairs.  Although most foreign nationals who want to help the Palestinians gain more freedom despise the thugs of Hamas and buffoons of Fatah, defenders of Israeli human rights abuses and war crimes unceasingly attempt to frame defenders of Palestinians as friends of Hamas.  The reality is that the IDF and Israeli government need Hamas desperately, to keep propped up as a vicious boogeyman.  They would rather have a few rockets rain down on their own people in Sderot, than have none at all.

The 2010 Gaza flotilla was brutally intercepted by Israeli naval forces.  After taking the Turkish vessel, MV Mavi Marmara, the Israelis summarily executed several Turks, and then crafted a disturbingly false narrative about how heavily armed these evil, swarthy (read non-white “other”) Turks were.  It fit the racist meme that abides so comfortably in the increasingly openly racist Israeli military and society at large.  And, sadly, that same meme works well with the kinds of Americans who thrive on Fox News myths about swarthy people out of control.

The MV Mavi Marmara was taken violently on purpose.  Had I been the commander of the naval operation, knowing for weeks that the MVMM would be among the mix of vessels, all I would have had to say would have been, “find me a way to peacefully stop the big Turkish cruise ship, or I will demote you,” and a solution would have been found within an hour.

Apparently, the Israeli military learned enough from 2010 that nobody was murdered this year.  This is good.  The 2011 flotilla organizers were, frankly, as unimaginative as possible, though.  Expecting the Greek government to not react to the combined pressures of the U.S. and Israeli governments during an almost catastrophic internal crisis was a major strategic error.

But both the 2010 and 2011 flotillas have had an impact upon the people of the Gaza Strip that has been positive.  The recent improvements in the amounts of needed goods entering Gaza is a direct result of continuing efforts by the movements sponsoring or being inspired by the flotilla movement.  Some Israeli commentators and government officials have acknowledged just that.  American citizen Furkan Doğan and his Turkish brothers did not give their lives in vain.

This weekend’s”Welcome to Palestine flytilla,” farcical on many levels, has not been covered well by the American media, but the Europeans, whose countries were the points of departure for the protesters, saw a healthy dose of coverage over the past three days.  And so did firedoglake.

Nothing troubles Israeli policy makers in terms of their continuing expansion into new lands in the West Bank, outright theft of land and resources, and seemingly blasé murder of one innocent Palestinian after another, than when a foreign national objecting to these illegal practices is hurt or killed.  Especially if that foreign national is white.  (As clarification, I consider Turks white, for what it is worth, but watching Israeli and some American press coverage of Turkish issues, it appears some do not.)

II. On Sunday, July 10th, the wrongful death civil suit brought by the parents of Rachel Corrie against the Israeli Defense Forces, will see its last day of testimony:

Former Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz – the final witness in the case – is scheduled to testify Sunday, July 10, in the Corrie civil trial against the State of Israel.

Colonel Zuaretz was the commanding officer of the Israeli military’s Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade in 2003, when American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed. Troops under his command were responsible for the actions resulting in her killing. Zuaretz is the highest ranking officer called as a government witness in the civil trial who had command responsibility in Gaza. He is possibly the highest such officer ever to face cross examination in a civil suit regarding the actions of the Israeli military against civilians in Gaza during the second intifada. His testimony is expected to shed light on the Israeli military’s failures as an occupying power to protect civilian life and property in the region.

The trial began in March 2010, and has taken longer than expected, partially because of a strike by court workers in late 2010.  A few of the revelations from the trial have been jarring.  Here are the most notable:

On March 14, 2010, IDF forensic examiner Yehuda Hiss admitted to not allowing U.S. embassy personnel observe him conducting Corrie’s autopsy.  His testimony revealed that the U.S. Embassy had lied to the Corrie family.  Hiss also testified, rather disturbingly:

Dr. Hiss also disclosed that he had kept samples from Rachel’s body for histological testing without informing her family. Dr. Hiss admitted that he did not inform the family about their right to bury the samples and that the samples were likely to have been buried with other body samples from the Institute, but he was uncertain. This was the first time that the family of Rachel Corrie received confirmation that the Israeli Forensic Institute had indeed kept samples of her body, despite prior attempts to receive this information. Dr. Hiss has been the subject of a prior lawsuit in Israel brought by families for whom he did not return body parts and samples.

On March 15, 2010, British citizen and nurse, Alice Coy, a witness to Corrie’s death, testified that despite published IDF reports that there were no home demolitions ongoing where Corrie was killed, that certainly was not the case.  She also testified that “When the Israeli Military interviewed her on April 1st about Rachel’s killing, the soldier who documented her testimony refused to record her statement that she believed the bulldozers were going to destroy civilian homes.”  Eventually, the home Corrie tried to protect on March 16, 2003 was destroyed by an IDF bulldozer.

Max Blumenthal covered Hiss’ background:

Who is Dr. Hiss? The chief pathologist of Israel for a decade and a half, Hiss was implicated by a 2001 investigation by the Israeli Health Ministry of stealing body parts ranging from legs to testicles to ovaries from bodies without permission from family members then selling them to research institutes. Bodies plundered by Hiss included those of Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. He was finally removed from his post in 2004 when the body of a teenage boy killed in a traffic accident was discovered to have been thoroughly gnawed on by a rat in Hiss’s laboratory. In an interview with researcher Nancy Schepper-Hughes, Hiss admitted that he harvested organs if he was confident relatives would not discover that they were missing. He added that he often used glue to close eyelids to hide missing corneas.

Max also wrote about the testimony that week of a Col. “Yossi”:

In a small courtroom on the sixth floor of Haifa’s District Court, a colonel in the Israeli engineering corps who wrote a manual for the bulldozer units that razed the Rafah Refugee Camp in 2003 offered his opinion on the killing of the American activist Rachel Corrie.

There are no civilians during wartime,” Yossi declared under oath.

Yossi made his remarkable statement under withering cross examination by Hussein Abu Hussein, the lawyer for the family of Corrie

Col. Yossi’s statement of belief or of policy (he wrote a book on it, after all) is more troubling to me than that of Dr. Hiss.  Essentially, Israel considers itself to be at war with not just Hamas, but with any government, any movement and any individual who seeks to “delegitimize” its expansionist policies and racist implementation of it.  People like me, CTuttle and anyone else who is critical of these policies is a potential target for whatever might be deemed appropriate for us, should we get in the way.

On March 22 and 24, 2010, it was revealed in the trial that:

One commander of the unit involved in the incident interrupted the testimony of the operator of the bulldozer that killed Rachel, telling him that the head of the Southern Command of the Israeli military ordered him to stop talking, not to sign anything and not to cooperate with the investigation. When asked if he considered this an intervention into the interrogation, the investigator testified that he did.

and:

Though the camera posted on the border was taping 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the investigator testified that he did not see footage from the camera, nor did he ask to, stating that it was someone else’s responsibility.

When the trial resumed on September 5, 2010, a military police investigator, “Oded,” revealed that even though he had been assigned to investigate Corrie’s death, he was unqualified, and was not helped by the IDF, in any event:

Oded confirmed that a commander of the unit involved in Rachel’s killing interrupted the questioning of the bulldozer operator, telling him that Doron Almog, head of the Israeli military’s Southern Command, had ordered that the questioning cease. He also said that, in his experience, interference of this nature from military commanders was not uncommon.

When asked why he did not challenge the intervention, Oded said that as a junior investigator, it was not his place to do so. He was 20-years-old at the time, with only a high-school education and three-months of training in investigation.

Corrie’s case was the first civilian killing that Oded investigated from beginning to end.

Like El’ad [who testified in March], Oded stated that neither he nor any other investigator visited the site of the killing.

Oded’s testimony revealed that much of the conversation recorded by the bulldozer teams in the area of Corrie’s death had been in Arabic, and that he did not speak the language.  More Israeli racism and dual standard came out:

Oded testified that none of the investigators interviewed any of the Palestinian witnesses – including medical personnel who examined Rachel immediately following the incident. When asked why, he said he did not think they could provide any useful information.

When the trial resumed on October 10, the Corries argued that witnesses from the IDF should be visible in court, rather than kept behind a screen:

Lawyers for the family of Rachel Corrie filed an appeal with the Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday, challenging a decision to allow soldiers to testify behind a screen in the lawsuit filed against the State of Israel for the unlawful killing of the American peace activist in Rafah, Gaza.

State attorneys made the highly unusual request in court on Thursday, October 7 arguing that they were necessary to protect the soldiers’ safety and prevent their images from being circulated. Haifa District Court Judge Oded Gershon granted the request, ruling that all but two soldiers, who were both already known to the public, would be permitted to provide their testimony hidden from public view.

Corrie attorneys opposed the motion, arguing that allowing the soldiers to testify behind a screen infringes upon the fundamental right to an open, fair and transparent trial. They argued that the government request was based on an overbroad security certificate issued by Defense Minister Ehud Barak in 2008, was not supported by concrete evidence to substantiate their concerns for the soldiers’ safety or security. The lawyers will also ask the Supreme Court to review Judge Gerhson’s decision not to allow the family to see the witnesses even if the public could not.

The Corries lost their motion, and the driver testified behind a screen on October 23:

In over four hours of often confused testimony, Y.P. seemed to struggle to read and understand his own affidavit signed in April. He could not remember basic facts, such as the date of Rachel’s killing or time of day it happened. He repeatedly contradicted his own statements on the stand and testimony given to military police investigators in 2003.

Highlights of testimony include the following:

  • Y.P stated that after he drove over Rachel and backed up, she was located between his bulldozer and the mound of earth that he had pushed, corroborating photographic evidence and testimony from international eyewitnesses given to the court in March. His testimony calls into question that of the commander inside this same bulldozer, whose written affidavit states that Rachel’s body was located in a different location, on the far side of the mound of earth created by the bulldozer. In court, Y.P. was asked if based on this contradiction he wanted to change his testimony. He firmly stated no.
  • In testimony to military police investigators only three days after the incident, Y.P. said the blind spot in front of the bulldozer was 3 meters. In contradicting court testimony, he claimed the blind spot was 30 meters – ten times the distance first stated.
  • Y.P. knew about regulations that the bulldozer was not to work within 10 meters of people. He was aware civilians were present, but said he was given orders to continue working. He said I’ m just a soldier. It was not my decision.
  • He claimed he did not see Rachel before the event. Nor did he recall seeing her specifically at all that day, despite the fact that she had protested the bulldozer’s activity for several hours and was the only female activist wearing a bright orange fluorescent jacket.

The Corries were disappointed they could not see their daughter’s killer:

Following the driver’s testimony, Cindy Corrie stated, “It was very difficult not to hear or detect anything in this witness’s words or voice that suggested remorse. Sadly, what I heard from the other side of the screen was indifference.”

Israeli blogger and peace activist, Dimi Reider, who was there, noted at the time:

Cindy Corrie said yesterday she didn’t hear the driver express any remorse for what had happened. On reflection, I think this may not be as clear cut. While he certainly didn’t apologize, voice any regret or in any way reacted to the Corries’ presence in the same room with him, I was struck how he avoided using the first person when referring to Rachel’s death; asked to affirm his identity and role on the day, he said, “I was the driver of the bulldozer on the day she.. the girl.. was run over.” He maintained this alienation throughout the day; the closest he came to acknowledging his direct, personal role, was in the repeated phrase, “I understood I may have hit someone.” Perhaps this is just wishful thinking on my part, but I couldn’t avoid thinking this alienation signalled that like many a combatant, in some place within him, the driver understands exactly what he has done, and perhaps wishes that things have turned out otherwise; while distant, he certainly didn’t sound blasé.

After the Israeli court strike was over, and the courts caught back up, there were more sessions this spring.

On April 4, 2011, the trial resumed, with more confusing testimony by IDF personnel.  One witness, Captain S.R, corroborated the accuracy of International Solidarity Movement witnesses, that has long been challenged by right-wing American and Israeli bloggers:

The commander of the unit that killed Rachel Corrie told a Haifa court on Sunday that he was ordered to continue bulldozer work even though it presented danger to civilians, including foreign activists, who were present in the area and could not be dispersed.

Known to the court as Captain S.R., the Bedouin officer said that he actually requested to halt bulldozer operations on the day Rachel was killed, because he thought civilians might be hurt, but was ordered to continue.

On the day she was killed, Captain S.R. radioed to Israeli army command and said that something from the bulldozer fell on Rachel. However, in court, he admitted he did not see the exact moment of the incident and that this was only a fleeting hypothesis. He said he reached Rachel’s body less than one minute after the incident and it was immediately clear by marks in the ground that Rachel had been hit by the bulldozer.

Captain S.R.’s testimony about the location of Rachel’s body after she was hit corroborated that of international eyewitnesses and the bulldozer driver, all of whom said that after the bulldozer backed up, Rachel’s body was located between the bulldozer and the mound of earth that it had pushed. This calls into question the testimony of the bulldozer commander, and the position of the State, that Rachel’s body was in a different location: on the far side of the mound of earth created by the bulldozer. Captain S.R. confirmed that evidence photos taken by the protesters that day accurately reflect the scene of the incident after Ms. Corrie was hit.

  • He confirmed that a female soldier viewed the site through a remote camera that day, and instructions could be given to his unit based on what was seen.
  • The Captain’s review of an interview he gave to Israeli Channel 2 TV’s “Uvda” program confirmed the existence of IDF video footage that has not been submitted into evidence by the State or provided to the Corrie family’s attorneys through discovery. The interview, aired on April 5, 2003, included a segment of March 16th, 2003 Israeli military video of the operations. His testimony confirms additional IDF video exists, even though the lead Military Police investigator responsible for obtaining evidence in the case stated firmly that there is no additional video.
  • He confirmed that a written document does exist that outlines regulations, specific to civilians, for a “removal procedure” – a set of instructions outlining how to remove civilians in situations such as these. Attorneys for the State continued to claim the regulation does not exist – in direct contradiction to the sworn testimony of their own witness moments before.

The testimony continued with “S.L., who in 2003 was head of the Mechanized Engineering Equipment Department.”

In an affidavit submitted to the court, referring to regulations, S.L. said, “in no way is the directive applicable to the operational conditions in which the bulldozer operated in this case.” However, in court on Sunday, he contradicted that assertion and admitted that regulations requiring that D9 bulldozers not operate within 20 meters of people did, in fact, apply.

When asked if there were “lessons learned” in response to this incident, he said he was unaware of any changes made in training and affirmed that to date, cameras to improve visibility have not been added to the bulldozers. He said the Israeli army experimented with cameras but found they were not a good solution because they were too easily damaged and because neither the bulldozer operator nor his commander had ability to pay attention to the cameras under operational circumstances. However, he confirmed that unmanned “drone” bulldozers with cameras attached were used by the Israeli army during the Lebanon invasion of 2006.

On April 11, 2011, witnesses again testified behind a screen.

Deputy Battalion Commander Sh.R, a Major responsible for overseeing 450-500 soldiers in Gaza, said he was located about 1 ½ kilometers from the scene at the army’s Liaison Unit with Foreign Forces (Yaklaz), and that although the bulldozer work was under the direct ground supervision of Captain S.R., he was in a position to influence the work and was ultimately responsible for the decisions made that day. This was significant because in the preceding hearing, Captain S.R., a Bedouin officer who testified earlier in the week, told the court he requested to halt his work because of the presence of the protesters, and potential danger to them, but received orders to continue.

Major  Sh.R, in his testimony, presented a hard doctrinaire IDF line.  At the Rachel Corrie Foundation trial blog, the major’s assertion is challenged:

Sh.R. defined the “Philidelphi Route” not just as the narrow, Israeli controlled, military road running parallel to the Gaza/Egypt border, but rather as the entire width of land between the Egypt border and the first row of Palestinian houses inside Gazan territory. He also insisted that Palestinians in these houses were those digging tunnels, snipers attacking the military, or smuggling weapons, and that clearing and destroying homes was done only after it was “beyond a reasonable doubt” that homes were empty. His description, although emblematic of the Israeli military’s position regarding the area in 2003, completely ignores the fact, and credible documentation by U.N. humanitarian agencies and human rights groups, that the land was once filled with densely populated civilian homes, the first row of which receded rapidly as the Israeli military bulldozed row upon row of houses, widening the border’s buffer zone and claiming the newly razed Palestinian territory for its own. Comparative satellite photos from a 2004 Human Rights Watch publication titled Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip document this “wholesale destruction” of Palestinian homes along Gaza’s southern border.

In his continuing testimony, the major made an interesting assertion:

Sh.R. stated he knew unarmed protestors were in the area, but in his opinion, stopping the work was not an option. He said the protesters were not a threat to the force, but added that if every foreigner came to raise banners, terrorists would also come and he would lose his ability to control the region. He admitted that avoiding a precedent was a consideration in the decision to continue working. He stated that in his opinion, the protesters should have been barred from entering Gaza. [emphasis added]

Major Sh.R. said more than he may have intended.  Additionally, his further testimony, linked to the deaths of other foreign nationals during the same time period as Corrie, is quite troubling.  The Corrie Foundation article on this states:

Although, he described in testimony that regulations state you don’t shoot unless there is intent and means to hurt you, a written summary of events recorded in the daily operations log on March 16, 2003, stated, “those foreigners should be handled and their entrance into the Gaza Strip should be forbidden. Additionally, the work must continue in the area in question. The firing orders state that every adult person should be shot to kill.” Within seven weeks of Rachel’s killing, award winning journalist James Miller and activist Tom Hurndall, both British citizens, were shot and killed along the same two mile stretch of the Rafah, Gaza border.

One should realize that this corridor of densely packed civilian housing that the IDF was willing to kill so many people over, has since been abandoned by the IDF.

The local platoon commander that day, A.D, provided more information that should be troubling, in regard to Israeli military disregard of international law:

  • work, although he could not remember anything about the specific file that day.
  • The APC had a periscope from which they could see a longer distance from the vehicle.
  • Commander R.S. spoke frequently on the cell phone and, in order to use it, he had to remove his helmet. This contradicts earlier military testimonies that claimed helmets worn would never be removed and, thus, soldiers would not have heard the protesters shouting through the megaphone nearby.
  • He could not recall the specific safety instructions for the D9 bulldozer, but said the unit would continue working as carefully as possible. He believed work was allowed if protesters were within 15 meters of the vehicle, but not if they were within 5 meters.
  • He knew that the protesters were civilians and “Americans.”
  • He said there was a first aid kit within the APC, and he believed it was likely that the radio communications person in the vehicle was also a trained medic. However, he confirmed that the medical kit was not thrown to the protesters after Rachel was hit. Testimony made clear that no serious attempt was made by the military to provide medical assistance to Rachel at the scene prior to Palestinian medics evacuating her.

The soldiers offered no medical assistance. Corrie might have been saved, but was not.

This is consistent with the evidence provided by the video smuggled off of the MV Mavi Marmara by Iara Lee, which clearly showed both that the Israeli soldiers wounded and captured by resistors on that ship were immediately given medical assistance, and that the Israeli military refused any medical attention to the wounded Turks, as they went about assassinating at close range.

On May 22, former IDF spokesperson, Ruth Yaron took the stand.  From the Corrie Foundation trial blog:

Yaron’s testimony focused on the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), in a weak attempt by the State to justify the military’s killing of Rachel by delegitimizing the organization’s mission of resisting the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian lands using only non-violent, direct action, methods. Rachel was an unarmed civilian, non-violently protesting against home demolitions in Rafah, Gaza, when she was killed. Yaron provided no first-hand knowledge of events, and relied heavily on second or third hand sources and hearsay.

Additional information about Yaron’s testimony will be released in the future.

Sunday is supposed to be this long trial’s final day of testimony.  Scheduled is the former Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade Commander, Colonel Pinhas (Pinky) Zuaretz:

Colonel Zuaretz was the commanding officer of the Israeli military’s Gaza Division’s Southern Brigade in 2003, when American peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed. Troops under his command were responsible for the actions resulting in her killing. Zuaretz is the highest ranking officer called as a government witness in the civil trial who had command responsibility in Gaza. He is possibly the highest such officer ever to face cross examination in a civil suit regarding the actions of the Israeli military against civilians in Gaza during the second intifada. His testimony is expected to shed light on the Israeli military’s failures as an occupying power to protect civilian life and property in the region.

It will be some time before a decision is reached, and whichever way it comes out, it is certainly likely to be appealed all the way to the Israeli Supreme Court.

III. As Israel becomes more racist, as land confiscation in the West Bank ramps up, as Netanyahu dares our government to object in the run-up to major fundraising for the 2012 election, and as participants of this summer’s protests to Israeli occupation and apartheid policies seek to find ways to be more effective in the future, it is important to realize that Palestinians don’t resent that so much more attention was brought to Rachel’s demise, or to the flotillas and fytilla than has been brought to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, Lebanese and others, at the hands of the IDF.

It is also important to note that in 2003, when Corrie was killed, perhaps murdered, there was no Hamas boogey man running Gaza.  It was under control of the Palestinian Authority, and was being aggressively colonized by Israeli settlers, using the South African model, as they continue to do in the occupied West Bank.

This weekend the Israelis stopped hundreds of peaceful Americans and Europeans from merely getting off an airplane in Tel Aviv to go to the West Bank.  Almost 100 are in jail right now.  Some will be there for weeks.  Alice Walker, who was on the American boat hoping to go to Gaza, the MV Audacity of Hope, was in the West Bank last spring.  She wrote this:

I have been in Palestine for five days.  It has been amazing.  Deeply distressing and sad in many ways; but also filled with joy, with creativity, exuberance, and hope.  Who knew there was so much life left in Palestine?  That people are in love with literature and poetry?  That young people are on fire about the novels and short stories they’re reading in their classes?  As well as about the revolutions shaking the Arab world? That despite the hardships of  occupation there is a sense among Palestinians that the world is changing and is at last capable of hearing them.  And not just hearing them, but responding.  And not only to their tragic and hair raising reports of the lethal Israeli occupation; an occupation as pathological as any ever to afflict humankind.  No, the thought in the air around here resembles the brilliant red poppy one sees glowing between massive rocks, its roots somehow not crushed, that sings:  Oh yes, I am still here, still red, still blooming as me, in spite of everything!  And guess what?  I have no desire to resemble these rocks that sit on top of me.

This is the peace of non-violent revolt which entails a radical dedication to non-abandonment of the peaceful self.

Long live all of us, and especially the Palestinian people: Tenacious, like the red poppy. Waving bright hope in the smallest wind.   Blooming, joyful, retaining our humor and generosity to the stranger, but also our love of  green grass and Spring.

Each of Earth’s peoples teaches the rest of us  something:  You demonstrate steadfastness: how to hold on, through lies, murder, brutal repression, breathtaking theft, unbearable despair, until at last, singing our own outraged and wild poppy song, we come to join you.

Eight years ago this week, as I sought permission from Rachel Corrie’s family to write music honoring her, Cindy Corrie wrote to me:

Our lives are fairly complicated these days, as I am sure you can imagine….. Our loss is great but creative responses like yours to Rachel’s life and death lift my spirits so.

The Corries continue their complicated fight to lift the spirits of the oppressed Palestinian people. Let us hope the Corries and the Palestinians get some overdue justice, for their children, who deserve more than what we now give them.