U.S. Activist's Bulldoze Death a 'Regrettable Accident,' Israeli Court Rules

JERUSALEM - A court in northern Israel today ruled that Israel and its military were not negligent in the 2003 death of a U.S. activist who was crushed by an army bulldozer.

The judge called the death a "regrettable accident," and said Rachel Corrie "did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done."

"She consciously put herself in harm's way," Judge Oded Gershon said, adding that the driver of the bulldozer could not have seen Corrie, 23.

She was wearing a bright-orange jacket and standing between the armored vehicle and a Palestinian home to prevent its being torn down in the Palestinian Gaza Strip. Fellow activists who were with Corrie have no doubt that the bulldozer driver saw her and went so far as to roll over her twice.

"I believe that this was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, for the rule of law and also for the country of Israel," the pro-Palestinian activist's mother, Cindy Corrie of Olympia, Wash., said.

There exists "a well-heeled system to protect the Israeli military, the soldiers who conduct actions in that military to provide them with impunity, at the cost of all the civilians who are impacted by what they do," she added.

The State Prosecutor's office called Corrie's death, which happened at the height of the second intifada, a "tragic accident" but defended the verdict of the Haifa District Court. In a statement, it repeated the argument that the driver could not see Corrie, adding that it was "a military action in the course of war."

"The security forces at the Philadelphi Corridor during 2003 were compelled to carry out 'leveling' work against explosive devices that posed a tangible danger to life and limb and were not in any form posing a threat to Palestinian homes," the statement read. "The work was done while exercising maximum caution and prudence and without the ability to foresee harming anyone."

A military investigation after Corrie's death found no wrongdoing, so the Corries filed a civil suit in 2005 for the symbolic amount of $1 for the intentional and unlawful killing of Rachel. The United States has criticized Israel for failing to carry out a thorough, credible and transparent investigation, a criticism again leveled last week by the ambassador to Tel Aviv, Dan Shapiro

Fellow activist Tom Dale wrote after the incident, "The bulldozer drove toward Rachel slowly, gathering earth in its scoop as it went. She knelt there, she did not move. The bulldozer reached her and she began to stand up, climbing onto the mound of earth.

"All the activists were screaming at the bulldozer to stop and gesturing to the crew about Rachel's presence. We were in clear view as Rachel had been, they continued. They pushed Rachel, first beneath the scoop, then beneath the blade, then continued till her body was beneath the cockpit. They waited over her for a few seconds, before reversing. They reversed with the blade pressed down, so it scraped over her body a second time."

The family lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, is urging the family to take the case to Israel's Supreme Court.

"This verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness," he wrote in a statement. "In denying justice in Rachel Corrie's killing, this verdict speaks to the systemic failure to hold the Israeli military accountable for continuing violations of basic human rights."