Cindy Corrie, President of the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace & Justice, discusses her appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court for the wrongful death of her daughter Rachel, a human rights activist who was killed in 2003 by an IDF bulldozer in Gaza.
Hi y’all welcome to the show, The Scott Horton Show, I’m Scott Horton. Our first guest today is Cindy Corrie, she’s on the phone right now from Israel where she and her husband Craig are appealing to the Israeli Supreme Court over liability from the Israeli army for the death of their daughter Rachel in the Gaza strip in 2003.
SH: Welcome back to the show Cindy, how are you?
CC: I’m doing just fine thanks, thank you for having me.
SH: Great, great it’s great to talk to you again. I really appreciate you making time for us and I know especially it’s late there in Israel now. Can you please, well I guess first of all tell us about your daughter, and then tell us about what happened and then we can get into the court case and all this, if that’s okay?
CC: Sure, Rachel was our third child, she had a brother Chris and a sister Sarah. You know Rachel was like all of our kids, she was magical, very unique, and very creative. She loved art, she loved writing, she considered herself a poet at a very young age. I think people are fairly aware that we feel really blessed that because she was a writer we have a lot of her thoughts that we can turn to in that writing, and that’s been so helpful over the course of the last eleven years. I think it is part of the reason that her story has resonated with a lot of people because they have been able to turn to her directly, not just hear about her from us but to be able to hear what she was thinking and how she’d gone about things.
She was very, she had a great sense of humor, I always felt like you knew when Rachel came through the door, you know, after she wasn’t living at home – was in college and so forth, I always felt when she came through the door you knew things were going to be interesting after that. She had a great deal of empathy for everybody in our family as well as for other folks, we were a pretty y’know, we talked a lot in our family and sometimes we disagreed a lot about different things and I remember one of the things, and I’m going to end with this, but she was a, if she felt like others were kind of ganging up on me, her brother, her sister and or Craig, I would just find her sitting next to me and her arm would slip around me, as kind of just a little gesture of y’know, ‘I’m quietly with you mom’, kind of thing. But she could do that for any one of us. Her spirit is very much with us and guides a lot of what we do. We’ve all continued to learn from her. We miss her a lot.
SH: How did she end up in the Gaza Strip in the spring of 2003?
CC: Rachel, after 9/11 really started looking for explanations for why that happened and that led her to Israel- Palestine as one of the causes of, at least one wound that was impacting how people in the region and in the world felt about the US and how they felt about Israel. She was in college at the time. She was in a class at the Evergreen State College where they do integrated kind of classes where they have two, sometimes three professors teaching a course around a theme but bringing different academic areas to that theme for discussion. The class that she was in at the time was called ‘Local Knowledge’, and he professors talked about – this was the first time that class had been taught – and the goal was to look beneath the surface in our own region, in our own area to see what hidden histories were there.
Her Evergreen State faculty talk about how Rachel took that to a different place because of 9/11, because of the peace movement evolving more strongly out of that in our community, and just trying to dig very deeply into what was happening in the larger world and in the middle-east at the time.
She had friends who in 2002 traveled to Israel in Palestine in response to a call from the newly formed International Solidarity Movement to have internationals come to be in solidarity with Palestinians who wanted to non-violently resist the very, always painful occupation but at that time particularly I think, painful occupation and how it was impacting people. It was a very difficult, harsh, violent time here for everyone. Certainly people in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank were suffering, many people were being killed. In Gaza the huge home demolitions were happening. So ISM was formed.
Some of Rachel’s friends went. She followed them, followed what they were doing very closely and what they had to say about it. Then she made the decision that she would like to go herself. One of her friends told her that the Gaza Strip was where the need was greatest, that’s where people were most isolated and really hurting from what was going on there. She studied Arabic, she was taking Arabic, and she was very good at it. Her professor later said, ‘She was my best student’, and he had hoped that she would stay home for a while and really work harder on that Arabic because he said ‘If you just go a little bit longer you will become fluent and get there because you have got such an ear for it’, but she was determined to go at the time the Iraq war was starting.
If you remember we started bombing Iraq a couple of days after Rachel was killed and there was a feeling that the situation in Israel and Palestine would worsen if the world was focused as we were focused on Iraq and I think it happened differently than what maybe people anticipated.
So, she made that decision. She planned carefully. Our family was not connected to this region at all and part of what she did in preparation was try to educate us, to try to bring our understanding to a better level before she actually went there. She gave me a book, mothers and daughters, I can’t remember the title but it’s about Palestinian mothers in the West Bank and daughters, their relationship in the West Bank and inside Israel. She checked out films, I wasn’t living in Olympia at the time but when I would come home she would check out films from the Evergreen State College library that we would watch together. Certainly before she left she connected me to different websites where she thought I could get helpful information. So she was really preparing us, I think she really did not want us to be worried, too worried about her.
This was something really important for her to do on a personal level. So it was January of 2003 that she flew to Ben Gurion airport. She quickly made her way to Beit Sahour in the West Bank for training with the ISM and then went pretty much directly after that to Gaza.
SH: And then, I guess, first of all for people who aren’t familiar, she was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer that was bulldozing a house. And this is something, and I admit, I’m not the most familiar with this story out of everybody, but I never heard this anywhere except from you guys, Cindy and your husband Craig, that she was protecting a house full of children at the time she was killed. I remember it was spun at the time like, y’know, she wanted to be martyr so bad she went and got herself killed by this bulldozer or something, but in fact what she was doing was flinging herself basically between a bulldozer and a house full of young children, is that right?
CC: It’s interesting that you say this, because I did an interview just a day or so ago with a radio station here in Israel and they had someone from the NGO monitor on at the same time, and he was talking about all that ISM was about was protecting terrorists. So I told the story about the family in the house, because, yes Rachel, the house that she stood in front of that day was one where she had stayed with the family, she had slept on the floor with the children because the house was in the border area, near the Egyptian border, but very much back from it, but between Gaza and Egypt.
I think people have to remember this was not between Gaza and Israel, this was between Gaza and Egypt and the Israeli military had control of a very corridor called theÂ Philadelphia Corridor (also known asÂ Philadelphi Route),that theyÂ _had by treaty, but they were expanding itÂ _taking control of a larger area for various reasons….
SH: Oh, I’m sorry but we have to take this break so, just for clarity real quick, there were children in the house? We’ll pick this up on the other side of the break.
CC: There were, yes that is very correct.(There were children in the house)
SH: Okay, thank you. It’s Cindy Corrie, mother of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by the IDF back in 2003 and they’re appealing back in the Israeli Supreme court and we will be right back after this …
SH: Alright you guys, welcome back to the show, I’m Scott Horton this is my show The Scott Horton Show, and I’m on the phone with Cindy Corrie, mother of Rachel Corrie who was killed by the IDF in the Gaza strip back in 2003, as Cindy mentioned, just two days before the war. I’ll go ahead and I’m sorry we had to stop for the break there, I’ll let you go ahead and talk more about that day, whatever you want to say about it.
But I’ll go ahead and add my question too, which is, whether you think, well for example, the two day difference between the start of the Iraq war and her killing that you mention there, whether that to you that indicates that perhaps this was premeditated – that they took advantages of the fact that everyone in America was completely distracted with the impending invasion of Iraq, in order to do it which, I believe I’ve heard Ray McGovern imply that he believes that, not necessarily that he was claiming to know that, but that that is how it seemed, as though it may have been a premeditated act.
Secondarily to that, if not, perhaps do you think it was a deliberate act, or is it possible that it really was just a mistake by an armored bulldozer driver who just didn’t see your daughter, you know, deliberate is still a different than premeditation, so now I’ll turn the floor back over to you ….thank you.
CC: That is a lot to talk about and I just want to say that there were massive home demolitions happening on that border. Sometimes you’ll read that the Israeli’s were taking down an isolated house here and there but there was literally blocks of houses to widen the Philadelphia Corridor, so Rachel was staying in the homes of houses that had suddenly found themselves at the edge of this because the ones in front of them had been demolished.
I have not seen, I mean, I am not somebody who kind of goes to the theorizing about you know some sort, or some intention to this around the Iraq war, I haven’t seen evidence of that. I do know, because the deputy battalion commander who testified in court wrote, dictated, into the operations log after Rachel was killed, that he knew that this was going to be bad in the media, but that they could not set a precedent, y’know stopping their work, for their foreigners, so there was an intention I think to figure out what to do about the internationals that had come there to non-violently resist these massive home demolitions, which under international law are illegal – according to the fourth Geneva Convention, unless there is absolute military necessity and organizations like Human Rights Watch, they had a report in 2004 called Raising Rafah.Â Rafah was the community where Rachel was in Gaza and they said that for the most part, all the demolitions that they investigated, it seemed like this whole process was happening without military necessity. You know, certainly it was condemned, eventually it stopped in that part of Gaza. Of course the Gaza disengagement happened.
At that point there were 8000 settlers, in 2005 about 8000 settlers with 2500 Israeli soldiers needed to keep them there, taking up to, I’ve seen figures of up to 40% of the land of Gaza which was Palestinian land. So you know it was just an untenable really unforgivable situation all the way around. I think in terms of what happened to Rachel that day, she was killed at the end of the day, around 5 o’clock, the bulldozers had gone back to the border area, the activists thought that they had prevented a demolition that afternoon, they were very close to Dr Samir’s house and then one of the bulldozers came forward again and Rachel took a stand.
She mouthed; her arms were in the air to show that she wasn’t going to move. As the bulldozer kept coming forward she climbed up on to the pile of earth that it was pushing ahead of it. Her friends, seven international eye witnesses who were from the UK and the US, stated that they believed that she was visible – that when she started climbing up that her head got to the point where she could look into the cab – the bulldozer kept coming forward and she stumbled backwards, she fell backwards, the bulldozer continued over her.
They were screaming, hollering for it to stop, it stopped for a moment, then it backed over her again and she, her friends ran to her, many people have seen the photos that they took at that time. They stayed with her, told her that loved her, and she said, “I think my back is broken”, and those were her final words.
There were two people in the bulldozer, a driver and a commander. The commander was placed there to be a second set of eyes. There is a manual that was actually because of an action by the Israeli Supreme Court, parts of it were released and we were able to see that this manual was written at the beginning of the second Intifada to try to advise or to state what the rules were for operating heavy machinery in the middle-east conflict. The manual states that there should be no people, no movement, if there are people within five meters on the sides of the bulldozer, or within twenty meters in front of it, and all that afternoon those bulldozers were coming up much closer to the activists than those limits. In court the Israeli’s say that that manual was only meant for training purposes, it wasn’t meant for actual times when they were out in the field working, which y’know just seems not very reasonable from our point of view, but that is what the state was arguing.
After listening to testimony as well as those soldiers, there were two in the bulldozer, I wasn’t able to see them, none of our family and none of the people in the courtroom except our attorney’s and the judge were able to see those soldiers because there was a security certificate signed to protect their identifies, even though our attorney’s tried to get the states attorney’s to agree to let us be able to observe, just the three of our family members, the state’s attorney’s refused to allow that so we did not see them testify, but we heard them. They spoke in Hebrew of course, and it was translated for us by very helpful Israeli’s who made sure that we understood what was going on.
I did not, we did not hear remorse, I feel like we didn’t get a full picture because we weren’t able to see their faces or their body language as we heard this testimony. There was discrepancy though between the two people in the bulldozer – the driver and the commander. The driver said that Rachel’s body was, when he first saw it after she had been hit, was exactly where we see it in the pictures. The commander who was intended, was supposed to be the second set of eyes insisted in his testimony under oath that Rachel’s body was not between the bulldozer and the mound of earth that the bulldozer had been pushing, but was instead, he says, on the other side of the huge big mound of earth, so that he couldn’t see her. That is a significant discrepancy between the testimony of those two people who were sitting next to each other in this bulldozer and yet that was never utilized by the judge, by the states attorneys, or by the investigators. There wasn’t an effort that we could see to try to figure out to see , ‘why did you have one person in the bulldozer saying, testifying, so dramatically differently about what he saw’. I think it raises a lot of questions.
Our family from the very beginning has insisted on getting the truth and getting information and learning what happened. And we avoided using the word ‘murder’ always and I still don’t use it, but after listening to that testimony, the driver couldn’t even remember what time of day Rachel was killed. He didn’t know whether he drove the bulldozer over her at noon, or in the evening, and that was very stunning to me when I heard it.
Given all of that and given you know what her friends said I really believe that at least one person in that bulldozer knew that she was there.
SH: They’ve certainly been dishonest it sounds like about what happened, and now, and I’m sorry because we are already a little bit over time but, can you tell us very briefly about the basis for the appeal and I guess the supreme court has now heard the appeal and you’re waiting for them to rule, correct?
CC: That’s right. So the district court judge in August of 2012 filed completely in favor of the Israeli military in the state Of Israel, he said that the military preformed faultlessly, the only person that he found negligent of anything was Rachel, for being there.
To think something of this severity could happen and she would be the only person that had any responsibility is pretty stunning. He also thought that the investigation that took place was flawless, even though it’s not only our family, but the US Government has been on record stating that the report they saw of that investigation does not reflect a thorough, credible, transparent investigation. Such an investigation was promised to President Bush by Prime Minister Sharon the day after Rachel was killed.
We determined quite quickly, our attorney’s felt strongly that we needed to appeal the decision and we agreed. We feel like also, the judge said that Rachel was killed as an act of war and that the way he interpreted the law, Israel had no responsibility then for what happened and that flies in the face of international law?
SH: So that is the basis of the appeal? (and I’m sorry, we are way over time)
That the law was improperly applied to the case?
CC: It is, and the Supreme Court now has it. They have written statements from our attorney’s and The State’s attorneys and yesterday all our arguments. We don’t know when there will be a ruling, there is no deadline, it could be months, it could be longer, it could be years, but we look forward to a verdict.
There will be a three-panel group of judges who heard it, they asked important questions, probing questions, of both our attorney and The State’s attorney. I would say they were very balanced in that, and they asked the right questions that seemed to suggest that they do know what the issues are here an how important this law is and how it’s applied. I think, I hope that they can find ways to challenge what the district court did so that human rights observers, those in media – who work in media and all civilians will be safer.
I think ultimately that will be much better for the Israeli military as well
SH: Thank you so much for your time Cindy, it’s great to talk to you again.
CC: Thank you very much.
SH: And I’m sorry, one last question real quick, Rachel Corrie foundation, that’s the website you would have me tell the people to go to right?
to challenge what the district court did so that human rights observers, those in media – who work in media and all civilians will be safer.Â
I think ultimately that will be much better for the Israeli military as well
SH: Thank you so much for your time Cindy, it’s great to talk to you again.Â
CC: Thank you very much.
SH: And I’m sorry, one last question real quick, Rachel Corrie foundation, that’s the website you would have me tell the people to go to right?Â
CC: It is, it’sÂ www.rachelcorriefoundation.org, and we have lots of work that we do. We would love to have people take a look.
SH: Alright everybody, that is Cindy Corrie, Rachel Corrie’s mother, and they’re appealing in the Israeli supreme court.Â www.rachelcorriefoundation.org.Â