Behold, Rachel, Behold

The message from the Rachel Corrie verdict is clear: Israel doesn't want people of conscience at a time when it is doing mischief. They are risking their lives.

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

The spring of 2003 was an atrocious spring. An intifada was raging in the streets of Israel; explosives were going off next to the Gaza-Egyptian border, along the Philadelphi Route, and in Rafah, bulldozers mowed down hundreds of Palestinian homes, many of them belonging to innocent people. A few months earlier, a young American woman had arrived in Rafah from Olympia, Washington.

Rachel Corrie had met a youth of Palestinian origin at her school and through him was exposed to the suffering of his people. At the age of 23, she decided to take some action. She joined the International Solidarity Movement and left for Gaza. During her first few weeks she witnessed the acts of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza, reported them to her family and friends, and decided to act as a human shield.

At that same time, two British citizens also arrived in Gaza - Tom Hurndall, another peace activist, and James Miller, an award-winning documentary filmmaker who came to make a film about what was happening in Gaza. He called it "Death in Gaza." Within a number of weeks, all three of them had been killed by the IDF.

Corrie was run over trying to save a house, with her own body, while a bulldozer tried to "expose" it. Miller was killed by a sniper when he came out of a house holding a white flag. After the first shot hit him, he still managed to shout out to the soldiers, "We are British journalists" - as can clearly be heard in the video filmed there in the dark; and then, in response, a second sniper shot was fired and killed him. Hurndall was killed while trying to serve as a human shield for a group of children that had entered an area where there was shoting. A British jury established that Miller had been murdered intentionally, but only the soldier who killed Hurndall was tried and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment, then released after six years. No one was tried for the killings of Corrie and Miller.

These three international activists were courageous people of conscience which any moral society would be proud of - shining examples of young people who are involved and care. While their friends spent their time at parties and doing nothing especially important, they came to the site of a humanitarian disaster. They did not endanger the soldiers of the IDF in any way but the army didn't want them there. They got in the way of the army, in their attempt to prevent war crimes with their own bodies and to document them with their cameras. For those very same reasons that the IDF did not want them there, they had to be there.

Two days ago, a Haifa court ruled that Corrie was responsible for her own death. That was a sad day for justice and for international law, and as her parents said; it should also be a sad day for Israel. It is the IDF's duty, we must recall, among other things, to defend civilians in an occupied area. Even if the driver of the bulldozer and the soldier sitting next to him did not see Corrie, and did not deliberately run over her, as the court found, the IDF did not do enough to prevent her being killed.

The spirit of the commander that could be sensed then (and now ) indicated that those volunteers must be chased away from the area. This ill wind also blew this week during the court ruling; its chill made its way to the solidarity movement and in this way indirectly sanctioned the killings.

Corrie has become an international icon. It's a shame there aren't more Israeli youngsters like her. Her organization is not pro-Israel - far from that - its members are often dogmatic but that is their prerogative. The least that can be expected from Israel after she was killed, intentionally or by accident, was to bring those involved to trial, at least for negligence, to apologize and to pay compensation. In the case of Miller, perhaps the most obvious case of intentional killing, Israel paid a huge sum in compensation but, as was said, no one was brought to trial.

This week, the judge in Haifa added his verdict to a long and embarrassing list of court rulings aimed at sanctioning almost every kind of improper act committed by the IDF. The message is clear: Israel doesn't want people of conscience at a time when it is doing mischief. They are risking their lives.

And the message to the soldiers is: It is permitted to kill them; nothing bad will happen to you. When the IDF acts in this way, it is perhaps possible to understand it, but when the judicial system sanctions this, it is depravity. Behold, Rachel, behold - your death was not in vain. It at least revealed , once again, that the Israeli judicial system is a partner to the foul deeds.



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