Justice

09.07.12

The Unsurprising Rachel Corrie Verdict

The biggest problem with writing about contemporary Israel/Palestine is the never-ending flood of information that deserves serious attention. Case in point: the Rachel Corrie verdict—or rather, the context and implications of the verdict—which came down over a week ago.

Corrie was mortally wounded in 2003 while protesting with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) against the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza; the case her family brought in Israel’s courts essentially hinged on whether the bulldozer driver involved in the demolition could see Corrie as he drove directly at her and was, thus, liable for the death. On August 28, an Israeli court ruled that neither the driver nor the state are responsible for what happened, and Corrie’s death was a "regrettable accident."

There’s much that is disturbing about this verdict: the fact that Corrie was wearing a bright orange jacket when she was hit (click the link to see how bright) and eyewitnesses report that she was clearly visible, atop a mound of earth; the fact that the official autopsy wasn’t published and the Gazan doctor who initially examined Corrie wasn’t allowed into Israel to testify; the fact that not even the U.S. State Department found Israel’s military investigation “credible.”

But by far the most disturbing thing, to me at least, is how utterly unsurprising the verdict was—followed closely by how few people are discussing why Rachel Corrie was in Gaza in the first place.

Israel maintains two justice systems: One is civil, reserved for Israeli citizens no matter where they live, and the other is military, for Palestinians (and foreign nationals who support Palestinian activism) in the occupied territories. When Israelis perpetrate violence against Palestinians (or foreign nationals), they do so safe in the knowledge that they will almost certainly not have to pay for their actions: Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din has found that 84% of investigations into “ideological crimes” (such as the growing number of “Price Tag” attacks) are simply abandoned, and only 9% of cases result in indictments—a record that even the head of the settlers’ regional council has called “a complete failure.”

On the other hand, Palestinians arrested on suspicion of anti-Israeli violence—down to and including elementary school-aged children dragged out of bed and accused of throwing stones—face a nearly universal conviction rate in military court.

This is all the direct result of what Guardian correspondent Chris McGreal has described as Israel’s “military mindset,” one that “sees only enemies.”

The [Corrie] 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.

And ultimately, this is why Corrie was where she was: Because Israel has treated the Gaza Strip as a war zone since 1967. In the same week that a slender American college student was killed on a pile of dirt, Israeli forces killed 14 Gazans, of whom ten weren’t involved in combat, one of whom was going to the aid of an injured party, and one of whom was a 4 year old girl.

The houses that ISM activists were trying to protect were in a buffer zone Israel was carving out at the time (via home demolition) between the Rafah refugee camp and Gaza’s border with Egypt, in response to smuggling activities. Is it possible that some of the Palestinians living in those houses were involved with arms smuggling? Yes. Does Israel often face violence out of Gaza? Yes.

And yet here we are again, facing the ugly truth: A war is a war. When at war, people tend to arm themselves and behave violently.

When Gazans look over the towering fences that surround their densely populated and tightly controlled strip of land, they see a country full of people who all serve in the military, whose taxes pay for the bombing runs over their homes, and whose security forces have killed more than 1,300 Palestinian children in the last 12 years alone. They don’t see high-tech miracles, they don’t see the wonder of Jewish revival, and they almost never see anyone who cares for their fate. Rachel Corrie did.

I suppose it’s possible that the driver of that bulldozer didn’t see Rachel Corrie in her neon-colored jacket. All kinds of things are possible.

But I would be much more inclined to believe it if Israel’s entire governmental, military, and justice systems didn’t appear deeply invested in not seeing the humanity of any of the humans they don’t like.