This is an episode of Reality Asserts Itself, produced March 27, 2015. On Reality Asserts Itself, Craig and Cindy Corrie tell Paul Jay that in ruling against their claim, the Israeli Supreme Court essentially said that Israel is beyond international law.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to Reality Asserts Itself on The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. We’re continuing our interview with Cindy and Craig Corrie, who are the parents of Rachel Corrie, 23-year-old American peace activist who was crushed to death in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer on 16 March 2003. Thanks for joining us again. And I’m assuming everybody watched the other segments, but if you hadn’t, Rachel was out there protesting or trying to block the demolition of a house in Gaza that was about to be demolished as part of what most people consider a kind of collective punishment, or they just want to open up some more territory, as you were saying in the earlier segment. You sued, launched a civil case against the Israeli government and the Israeli Defense Forces. Why?
CINDY CORRIE, THE RACHEL CORRIE FOUNDATION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE: We learned very early in March 2003 that President Bush had talked directly with Prime Minister Sharon about what had happened to Rachel the day after she was killed and had been promised a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation into Rachel’s case. There was, in Rachel’s case, a military police investigation in Israel, which is very unusual. There’s a lot of criticism of investigations in Israel by human rights organizations, Israeli human rights organizations, and legal ones. And one of those criticisms is that there are so few actual investigations that proceed after Palestinians are harmed. But there wasn’t a military police investigation in Rachel’s case. But the army found that no fault had been committed, the army had behaved perfectly that day. They brought no charges, they closed the case, and they declined to release their report to the United States government. They did allow a couple of members of the American embassy to read the report. A couple of people in the State Department were able to read it later. And eventually some of our family members were able to read the report. We then turned to the U.S. government.
JAY: What was the gist of the report?
CINDY CORRIE: They went through some of what happened that day, had some testimony from different people. But basically it was that Rachel couldn’t be seen, it was an accident.
JAY: The guy driving the bulldozer didn’t see her,–
CINDY CORRIE: Right.
JAY: –and he goes over her because of that.
CINDY CORRIE: Right. And there were two people in the bulldozer. They also did have, like, some drawings of where people saw her body. An interesting thing about it is that with the two people in the bulldozer, the driver actually indicated that her body is where all the photos show her being and where the international activists said that she was. And the commander, who was the second person and was to be the set of eyes, an extra set of eyes, and to direct where the bulldozer went, he had her body behind a huge mound of earth. And others that testified initially in that also said that that’s where her body was. And they were trying to say that she couldn’t be seen. The driver had her right where she was, after she was run over by the bulldozer, between the bulldozer and between some dirt that had been pushed. But she was in the middle of that. So there was already in the military police report evidence that hadn’t been reconciled, testimonies that weren’t reconciled between these differences. And that became even more obvious in the court testimony. One thing that they said that later we found not to be true–I mean, there were falsehoods, complete falsehoods in the military police report. One was that there had been a representative of the American embassy present when autopsy was performed on Rachel. Our family didn’t find out until we actually read FOIA documents where we saw an American embassy official, high official, saying, we didn’t have anybody at that autopsy, did we? And then later we were able to confirm that there had been no one, nobody there at all. So it was a pretty standard kind of report where they take some evidence and they arrive at a conclusion, and their conclusion was that it was an unfortunate accident.
JAY: But your lawsuit was more than whether the guy in the bulldozer can see are not see. Your basic case, if I understand it correctly, was that the whole policy had to lead to something like that. The policy itself was unjust.
CRAIG CORRIE, THE RACHEL CORRIE FOUNDATION FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE: Well, I’m not sure it went that far, but we did sue the Israeli government and the military of Israel. So we weren’t looking at the bulldozer driver himself. It was the whole situation. Yes. And so we were looking for information, because it was–as we said, that report came out, but was actually Colin Powell’s chief of staff, when Colin Powell was in the State Department, that said that’s not–.
JAY: Larry Wilkerson.
CRAIG CORRIE: Larry Wilkerson said that’s not a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation. And so we were trying to get some information and, of course, accountability, and that would go to the military, as you say. So–.
JAY: Just back up one sec, because we’ve done several segments. In the first segment we kind of painted a picture of that day. Just quickly paint it again for people that may not have seen the earlier segment.
CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah. So Rachel was standing on the border between Gaza Strip and Egypt, where Israel was bulldozing, wholesale, houses down, and they were trying to prevent that. And she was standing in front of the home of the Nasrallah family that was owned by two brothers. They each had a wife, and there were a total of five children that were all home in the wall behind which she stood. Bulldozers would come up to the activists that day, but they would stop right as they got to their feet. And so that had been going on most of the day. About 5 o’clock, the bulldozers actually retreated for a little while.
JAY: How many activists were there?
CRAIG CORRIE: There were seven altogether, I believe.
CINDY CORRIE: Eight, with Rachel.
JAY: With the International Solidarity Movement.
CRAIG CORRIE: Exactly. And they were from the United States, of course, but mostly Great Britain.
JAY: And the basic idea here is the Israeli government, in theory, at least, is not going to want to run over a young American where they might a young Palestinian.
CRAIG CORRIE: A Palestinian walking in that area would probably be shot. In fact, we learned through the lawsuit that there–entered into the log after Rachel was killed was that the standing order is anybody in this area is to be shot to kill, any adult in this area. That’s blatantly illegal.
JAY: In fact, many kids were killed in the area, too.
CRAIG CORRIE: Yeah, a couple of years later, I think it was, little [Iman Darweesh Al Hams] was shot. A captain in the Israeli military went out and emptied his gun into this girl, saying that he was confirming the kill of a 13-year-old child. And that was–the only reason we know about that is because that it was captured in radio communications and somebody let that out to the world.
JAY: So the Israeli Supreme Court recently–this was just February 2015–.
CINDY CORRIE: February 12 of this year.
CINDY CORRIE: Yeah.
JAY: Ruled that your case was turned down by the Supreme Court. It did not overturn a divisional court or District Court.
CINDY CORRIE: District court
JAY: District court’s decision that essentially this was war and these things happen in war and you can’t hold the Israeli government or military liable. But what was the argument of your case?
CRAIG CORRIE: I guess we were arguing two things. We were saying that she was either intentionally killed or it was negligence. And what was finally determined by the courts is that they didn’t really have to think about that, because they said that under Israeli law you cannot sue the government for what goes on in a war zone. But, of course, under international law, in the first place, the Gaza Strip is occupied territory, so they have an active duty to protect civilians there. And under international law, you would look to see whether the soldiers were acting legally. And so this flies right in the face of international law, and it’s upheld by their high courts. So their high court is saying, as I explain it, they’re outside the law. They’re proud of being outlaws. And I think the world has to admit that. We have to deal with that. From my perspective, in the United States, we give over $3 billion of funding to Israel every year. Why are we doing that to somebody who says they will not abide by international law? And when you see they don’t, then they say they don’t have to.
JAY: And the violation of international law is knocking down all these people’s houses.
CINDY CORRIE: Well, that is true, although just completely ignoring civilians being in your area, not taking every possible process or procedure to try to prevent harm to civilians, is really what we’re talking about in Rachel’s case. We were–actually, we found it very hard in the lawsuit to try to provide any context about these home demolitions. The judge basically didn’t want to let any of that information into the court, why Rachel was there. Human Rights Watch has come out with a statement about how damaging this Supreme Court verdict is, not only to Palestinians, but also to Israeli soldiers, because it basically gives them license to do anything again and not have any consequence, except we know that the greatest loss of death in the Israeli military is suicide. So people do live with these things or don’t live with these things that they’ve done. Human Rights Watch, in their decision, though, did point to the fact that they had documented all of this massive home demolition that had occurred there. And it was their belief that there was a very likely possibility that everything that the Israeli military was engaged in at that time was illegal under international law. I’d just like to say, too, that thinking about the children there, we, because it was a civil case, were able to hear from very high level officials in the military under oath. And one of them was a colonel, /ˈpɪnə ˈswoʊrets/, who was in charge of that whole area of Southern Gaza, and he took over about six months before Rachel was killed in that part of Gaza. And I checked B’tselem, Israeli human rights organizations, records of all of the fatalities during that period, and from the time he took over until Rachel was killed, during that six months there were over 100 people in the southern part of Gaza that were not engaging in hostilities in any way. So they weren’t engaged in any resistance. But over 100 people under his command were killed. These were civilians. And over 40 of those–I can’t remember the exact number now, but I remember over 40 were children. And Rachel wrote about seeing the posters on the wall of Ali, a young boy who had been killed right before she got there. So the amount of death and injury and destruction is pretty unfathomable for people here. And yes, I definitely feel like most of the activity that was occurring there was probably counter to international law.
JAY: And you were promised by a president, President Bush, that you’d get something open and transparent and thoroughgoing. What was the actual words of the promise?
CRAIG CORRIE: Thorough, credible, and transparent investigation. And that was made by Prime Minister Sharon to President Bush. But, of course, that’s from one head of state to another. And then the family has to try and force that. We can’t enforce that. We need our government as an institution–. We’ve had a lot of help from caring individuals in our government, in institutions that have done almost nothing. We need our institutions to work. We need our State Department go to bat for us.
JAY: And has there been any response to the Supreme Court decision? ‘Cause this ends it as far as the Israeli process is concerned.
CRAIG CORRIE: There’s not been a public response by our government to that. We have talked with high-level people in the State Department and asked them, said, it seems to us that you should be concerned about this. If you let that promise go unfulfilled and if you look at this court proceeding and make no statement about it, that’s okay? Another sort of outrageous thing is that the court said that Rachel would be responsible for her own death because the U.S. Embassy had issued a travel warning. Now, the travel warning wasn’t actually in evidence. They had come, the lawyers had come with a travel warning that was actually after Rachel was killed because she was killed by the Israelis. So it wasn’t in evidence. But the judge took it anyway, and it was referred to by the high court, so that somehow what our government does to try to protect traveling U.S. citizens becomes a license to kill by the Israeli government? And you’re not going to comment on that? Our government, we did have somebody from the embassy in every time we were in court. And so there was–and often it was the consul general. And so they have been able to see this as we have over those years. And from the original district court, there’s been several years for them to analyze what they saw and come out with, and it’s now been a month since the high court. So I do think that they can–they should be looking at this, should be analyzing it, and they should be coming back with something, just as a piece of diplomacy.
CINDY CORRIE: And our expectation is that they will do that. And we’ve asked for that. And so we’ll wait and see what happens.
JAY: My understanding is the Israeli Supreme Court decision, if I understand it correctly, is Israeli law trumps international law, and we’re at war, and bad things happen, too bad. And the American government, under American law, if I understand it correctly, at least–in practice it may be another story–at least does recognize some international law when it comes to war. So shouldn’t they be objecting to this?
CINDY CORRIE: We believe so. And as I said, we’re in the Washington area, we’ve been in Washington, D.C., this past week meeting with the State Department and with members of Congress.
JAY: The problem here, obviously, is the American army has committed so many similar atrocities in Iraq and so many other places around the world that if they take a stand on Israel’s culpability in such things, then people are going to say, well, the American government should be culpable too.
CRAIG CORRIE: We talk to people in Congress, lawyers in Congress, who say that they are. Now, I don’t follow it that much, but they say if it’s an illegal activity–now, you can divine that. And I understand. You know. But certainly when I was in Vietnam, you know, the oath, I was surprised. I thought, when I had to take the oath to get into the military, I’d probably just had my fingers crossed. But it was actually pretty reasonable. It was you were to obey all legal orders. And they were quite serious about that. I mean, I got training on how to identify what’s a legal order and what’s not, and you’d be held personally responsible if you carried out an illegal order. And that’s coming out of Nuremberg. We cannot allow ourselves to go back to the way the world was before World War II. I mean, it’s bad enough the way it is now. So we have to hold the line somewhere. And that’s not a very–. I mean, it’s a very important line, but it seems to me it’s a pretty low hurdle for everything we’ve learned since then during my lifetime.
JAY: For some of our younger viewers, Nuremberg, were the trials of Nazi officers and leaders after World War II, which found the line “I was only following orders” did not make you less culpable if you knew what you were doing was illegal and was a war crime. There seems to be a lot of interest in forgetting about Nuremberg these days. What’s next?
CINDY CORRIE: Well, this is one piece; the legal piece is one piece of what we do. So the situation, of course, in Gaza and in the Middle East continues to be really concerning, so there’s plenty of work for us to do. We have the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. We do a lot of education. We have connections with people in Gaza and try to provide some support there. We have scholarship programs that we’re involved with and so forth. So we’ll do all of that work. With the outcome of the Supreme Court case, I think we have a story to tell now about this. It’s really important to get the word out, and we thank you for letting us talk about it here. I think people need to understand how really damaging this verdict is and to challenge it in all the ways that we can. And I think here in the U.S. we have a lot of work to do with our Congress and so forth. We’re not sure about the next steps that we might take beyond this, because I think our paths are somewhat limited, where we could go. Some people have talked about the International Criminal Court, but we know that with the Palestinians joining, there’s a time limitation. I think they’ll only go back into 2014 to be able to look at what happened in Gaza. And there’s also a level. Obviously, Rachel’s one person, and what happened in Gaza is thousands of people. So there’s a different level there. So I’m not sure that they can look at it. But we’ll look at what our options are. We’re in communication with our attorneys, and we’ll continue to see what we can do.
JAY: One way or the other Rachel’s mission continues, will continue to be yours.
CRAIG CORRIE: Yes, I think so. And when Cindy was talking, I was thinking, well, you know, [incompr.] is we’re going to go to New York for Rachel’s birthday on April 10. And the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie is coming back to New York. So people along the East Coast can hop on the bus and go up there. And this is a play that’s actually written by Rachel. It’s considered to be edited by the British actor Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner from The Guardian. But it’s a young woman, a one-person play that’s bringing out all of her words. So if you want to know more about Rachel and get a feel for Rachel, come to the play, read her book. There are some other ways to get to know our daughter besides her poor parents trying to, yeah, talk for her.
JAY: Thanks very much.
CINDY CORRIE: Thank you.
CRAIG CORRIE: Thank you.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network and Reality Asserts Itself.
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“Cindy and Craig Corrie are founding board members of Rebuilding Alliance. They are the parents of Rachel Corrie, a young American peace activist who died on March 16, 2003.”