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Rachel Corrie verdict exposes Israeli military mindset

Corrie’s parents have not received justice, but their quest reveals the lie of the IDF’s claim to be the world’s ‘most moral army’

Rachel Corrie’s family,father Craig, mother Cindy and sister Sarah Corrie Simpson at the Haifa district court where a judge ruled that Israel did not intentionally kill the pro-Palestinian activist in 2003.
Reporters covering Israel are routinely confronted with the question: why not call Hamas a terrorist organisation? It’s a fair point. How else to describe blowing up families on buses but terrorism?
But the difficulty lies in what then to call the Israeli army when it, too, at particular times and places, has used indiscriminate killing and terror as a means of breaking Palestinian civilians. One of those places was Rafah, in the southern tip of the Gaza strip, where Rachel Corrie was crushed by a military bulldozer nine years ago as she tried to stop the Israeli army going about its routine destruction of Palestinian homes.

An Israeli judge on Tuesday perpetuated the fiction that Corrie’s death was a terrible accident and upheld the results of the military’s own investigation, widely regarded as such a whitewash that even the US ambassador to Israel described it as neither thorough nor credible. Corrie’s parents may have failed in their attempt to see some justice for their daughter, but in their struggle they forced a court case that established that her death was not arbitrary but one of a pattern of killings as the Israeli army pursued a daily routine of attacks intended to terrorise the Palestinian population of southern Gaza into submission.

The case laid bare the state of the collective Israeli military mind, which cast the definition of enemies so widely that children walking down the street were legitimate targets if they crossed a red line that was invisible to everyone but the soldiers looking at it on their maps. The military gave itself a blanket protection by declaring southern Gaza a war zone, even though it was heavily populated by ordinary Palestinians, and set rules of engagement so broad that just about anyone was a target.
With that went virtual impunity for Israeli troops no matter who they killed or in what circumstances an impunity reinforced by Tuesday’s verdict in Haifa.

The Israeli military commander in southern Gaza at the time was Colonel Pinhas “Pinky” Zuaretz. A few weeks after Corrie’s death, I (as the Guardian’s correspondent in Israel) spoke to him about how it was that so many children were shot by Israeli soldiers at times when there was no combat. His explanation was chilling.
At that point, three years into the second intifada, more than 400 children had been killed by the Israeli army. Nearly half were in Rafah and neighbouring Khan Yunis. One in four were under the age of 12.

I focussed on the deaths of six children in a 10-week period, all in circumstances far from combat. The dead included a 12-year-old girl, Haneen Abu Sitta, killed in Rafah as she walked home from school near a security fence around one of the fortified Jewish settlements in Gaza at the time. The army made up an explanation by falsely claiming Haneen was killed during a gun battle between Israeli forces and Palestinians.
Zuaretz conceded to me that there was no battle and that the girl was shot by a soldier who had no business opening fire. It was the same with the killings of some of the other children. The colonel was fleetingly remorseful.
“Every name of a child here, it makes me feel bad because it’s the fault of my soldiers. I need to learn and see the mistakes of my troops,” he said. But Zuaretz was not going to do anything about it; and by the end of the interview, he was casting the killings as an unfortunate part of the struggle for Israel’s very survival.
“I remember the Holocaust. We have a choice, to fight the terrorists or to face being consumed by the flames again,” he said.
In court, Zuaretz said the whole of southern Gaza was a combat zone and anyone who entered parts of it had made themselves a target. But those parts included houses where Palestinians built walls within walls in their homes to protect themselves from Israeli bullets.

In that context, covering up the truth about the killings of innocents, including Corrie, became an important part of the survival strategy because of the damage the truth could do to the military’s standing, not only in the rest of the world but also among Israelis.

The death of Khalil al-Mughrabi two years before Corrie died was telling. The 11-year-old boy was playing football when he was shot dead in Rafah by an Israeli soldier. The respected Israeli human rights organisations, B’Tselem, wrote to the army demanding an investigation. Several months later, the judge advocate general’s office wrote back saying that Khalil was killed by soldiers who had acted with “restraint and control” to disperse a riot in the area.
But the judge advocate general’s office made the mistake of attaching a copy of its own confidential investigation, which came to a very different conclusion: that the riot had been much earlier in the day and the soldiers who shot the child should not have opened fire. In the report, the chief military prosecutor, Colonel Einat Ron, then spelled out alternative false scenarios that should be offered to B’Tselem. The official account was a lie and the army knew it.

The message to ordinary soldiers was clear: you have a free hand because the military will protect you to protect itself. It is that immunity from accountability that was the road to Corrie’s death.
She wasn’t the only foreign victim at about that time. In the following months, Israeli soldiers shot dead James Miller, a British television documentary journalist, and Tom Hurndall, a British photographer and pro-Palestinian activist. In November 2002, an Israeli sniper had killed a British United Nations worker, Iain Hook, in Jenin in the West Bank.
British inquests returned verdicts of unlawful killings in all three deaths, but Israel rejected calls for the soldiers who killed Miller and Hook to be held to account. The Israeli military initially whitewashed Hurndall’s killing but after an outcry led by his parents, and British government pressure, the sniper who shot him was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.
That sentence apparently did nothing to erode a military mindset that sees only enemies.

Three years after Corrie’s death, an Israeli army officer who emptied the magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was cleared by a military court.
Iman was shot and wounded after crossing the invisible red line around an Israeli military base in Rafah, but she was never any closer than 100 yards. The officer then left the base in order to “confirm the kill” by pumping the wounded girl full of bullets. An Israeli military investigation concluded he had acted properly.
Tuesday’s court verdict in Haifa will have done nothing to end that climate of impunity. Nor anything that would have us believe that Israel’s repeated proclamation that it has the “most moral army in the world” is any more true than its explanation of so many Palestinian deaths

‘No justice in Corrie verdict’
A UN official Thursday condemned an Israeli court finding that cleared the army of any blame for the death of US peace activist Rachel Corrie as “a defeat for justice and accountability.” Richard Falk, United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, also called Tuesday’s decision in a civil case brought by Corrie’s family “a victory for impunity for the Israeli military.”

Corrie, 23, was killed by an army bulldozer in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, in March 2003 as she and other activists were trying to prevent troops demolishing a house. Judge Oded Gershon at the District Court in the northern Israeli city of Haifa said her death was the result of “an accident she brought upon herself”, and there was no negligence on the part of the bulldozer driver.

“The deceased put herself into a dangerous situation, she stood in front of a giant bulldozer in a place where the operator could not see her. She did not distance herself as a reasonable person would have done,” he said. The verdict echoed the findings of an internal investigation by the Israeli military in 2003 which was concluded just four weeks after her death and cleared troops of any responsibility, saying the bulldozer crew did not see Corrie.

Falk, a bete noire for Israeli authorities, said, “The court ignored the testimony of several eyewitnesses that, while non-violently protesting the demolition, Corrie was in the direct line of vision of the bulldozer driver and was wearing a bright florescent orange vest that made her clearly visible at the time of her gruesome death.”

“The judge ruled that there were no grounds for imposing any penalty on Israel, exonerating both military and political officials, from those on the ground in Gaza driving the bulldozers and commanding the troops, to the highest levels of decision-making. In so doing, Judge Gershon seemed to endorse the view of a reportedly high-ranking officer who told the court that there are ‘no civilians in war.’

“Such a shocking rationale flies directly in the face of the Geneva Conventions, which impose on an occupying power an unconditional obligation to protect the civilian population. Additionally …. a humanitarian aid worker such as Rachel Corrie is specifically entitled to protection by occupying forces, and the house demolition itself seemed an unlawful encroachment on Article 147, which prohibits targeting civilian property, in this case a home belonging to a civilian pharmacist, his wife and children.”

It was “a sad outcome” both for the Corrie family and “for the rule of law and the hope that an Israeli court would place limits on the violence of the state, particularly in relation to innocent and unarmed civilians in an occupied territory.” Falk charged that Israeli governmental institutions had “consistently embraced impunity and non-accountability in responding to well-documented violations of international humanitarian law and in many cases Israel’s own criminal law.”

He cited as previous instances Israel’s investigations of the killing of Palestinian civilians during the assault on Gaza in 2009 and the deadly boarding of a Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza by Israeli commandos in 2010. “The Corrie family has announced their intention to appeal this verdict to the Israel Supreme Court. But it becomes a mockery of justice to leave their application to the partisan mercies of the Israeli judicial system,” Falk said. AFP

IDF confiscates water containers from Palestinians and Bedouins in Jordan Valley. Desert Peace

OPINION By Gideon Levy – Avi is an inspection coordinator for the “Civil Administration” – the occupation regime, to speak without euphemisms. Presumably Avi likes his job. Maybe he’s even proud of it. He doesn’t bother mentioning his last name in the forms he signs. Why should he? His ornate “Avi” signature is sufficient to carry out his diktats. And Avi’s are among the most brutal and inhumane diktats ever to be imposed in these parts.

Avi confiscates water containers that serve hundreds of Palestinian and Bedouin families living in the Jordan Valley. The containers are these people’s only water source. In recent weeks, Avi has confiscated about a dozen containers, leaving dozens of families with children in the horrific Jordan Valley heat, to go thirsty. The forms he takes pains to complete, in spiffy style, say: “There is reason to suspect they used the above merchandise for carrying out an offense.”

Avi’s bosses claim the “offense” is stealing water from a pipe. This is why the containers are seized – with no inquiry, no trial. Welcome to the land of lawlessness and evil. Welcome to the land of apartheid. Israel does not permit thousands of these wretched people to hook up to the water pipes. This water is for Jews only. Even the greatest Israeli propagandists could not deny the nationalist, diabolical separation taking place here. The axis of evil is located about an hour’s drive from your home. But emotionally distant and far from the heart, it inspires no “social protest.”

And on the scale of Israeli evil, it is one of the worst. Backed with forms and bureaucracy, applied by ostensibly nonviolent inspectors, it involves not a drop of blood, yet leaves no drop of water either. The Civil Administration is supposed to take care of the people’s needs. But it does not stop at the most despicable measure – depriving people and livestock of water in the scathing summer heat – to implement Israel’s strategic goal: to drive them from their lands and purge the valley of its non-Jewish residents.

The stealing of water, whether it did or didn’t take place, is of course only the excuse. Even if there was such a thing – what choice do these people have? The authorities won’t allow them to connect to the water pipe running through their fields; pipes whose water is flowing to saturate the settlers’ green vineyards and fields.
In Israel, not South Africa

Last week I saw the people whose water container Avi had confiscated, leaving them thirsty. Newborn babies, a handicapped little girl, a small boy post-surgery, women and old folks, and, of course, the sheep – the only source of income here. Denizens with no water – in Israel, not in Africa. Water for one nation only – in Israel, not in South Africa.

But this is not the only watershed. A few days ago, the Israel Defense Forces decided to hold training exercises in the area. What did it do? Evicted the residents from their homes for 24 hours. Not all of them – only the Palestinians and Bedouin. It occurred to nobody to evict the residents of Maskiot, Beka’ot or Ro’i. The authorities don’t call that apartheid, either.

Where did the IDF evict them to? Wherever the wind carries them. Thus some 400 people were forced to leave their huts and tents and spend a day and a night on the arid soil by the roadside, exposed to the elements. Amjad Zahawa, a 2-day-old infant, passed his third day under the hot sun, with no shelter over his head. Greetings, Amjad; welcome to the reality of your life.

Avi, as we have already mentioned, loves his work and is proud of it. Dozens of others like him are also doing this contemptible work. But they are not the only ones at fault. Behind them stand millions of Israelis who are entirely untouched by all this. They blithely drive through the valley roads, paying no heed to the endless embankment alongside the road, imprisoning the residents and blocking their access to the road.

There is an iron gate every now and then. The soldiers, representatives of the merciful occupier, show up every few days to open the gate for a moment. Sometimes they forget, sometimes they are late. Sometimes they lose the key, but what does it matter? The occupation is enlightened, Israel is right, the IDF is the most moral army, and apartheid is merely an invention of Israel’s haters. Go to the Jordan Valley and see for yourselves. HAARETZ

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