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Rachel Corrie verdict highlights pattern of impunity for Israeli military

Amnesty International has condemned an Israeli court’s verdict that the government of Israel bears no responsibility in the death of Rachel Corrie, saying the verdict continues a pattern of impunity for Israeli military violations against civilians and human rights defenders in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

Amnesty says the verdict shields Israeli military personnel from accountability and ignores deep flaws in the Israeli military’s internal investigation of Corrie’s death.

The verdict, issued by Judge Oded Gershon in the Haifa District Court yesterday, maintained that the Israeli military is not responsible for “damages caused” because the D9 Caterpillar bulldozer which killed Corrie was engaged in a combat operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on 16 March, 2003.

International humanitarian law prohibits the destruction of property unless required by imperative military necessity, and requires that in any military operation constant care is taken to protect civilians.
By upholding the original flawed Israeli military investigation, completed within one month of Rachel Corrie’s death in 2003, yesterday’s verdict seems to have ignored substantial evidence presented to the court, including by eyewitnesses. The full military investigation has never been made public.

Amnesty International USA Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Director Sanjeev Bery said:

“Rachel Corrie was a peaceful American protester who was killed while attempting to protect a Palestinian home from the crushing force of an Israeli military bulldozer.

“More than nine years after Corrie’s death, the Israeli authorities still have not delivered on promises to conduct a ‘thorough, credible and transparent’ investigation. Instead, an Israeli court has upheld the flawed military investigation and issued a verdict that once again shields the Israeli military from any accountability.

“Rachel Corrie was clearly identifiable as a civilian, as she was wearing a fluorescent orange vest when she was killed.
“She and other non-violent activists had been peacefully demonstrating against the demolitions for hours when the Israeli military bulldozer ran over her.”

Amnesty has made similar criticisms of Israel’s system of military investigations for many years. For example, the organisation has monitored the investigations carried out by IDF commanders and the Israeli military police into violations during 2008-9’s Operation “Cast Lead” in which hundreds of unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip were killed.

Israel’s military investigations have lacked independence, impartiality, transparency, appropriate expertise and sufficient investigatory powers. The failure of both Israel and the Hamas de facto administration to conduct credible investigations into violations committed during the Gaza conflict led Amnesty to call for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Palestinian civilians from the OPT are frequently killed or injured by the Israeli military but they or their relatives face significant barriers in accessing Israeli civil courts, which means that Israeli civil courts rarely examine the killings of civilians in the OPT, particularly those in Gaza. Steep court fees required of claimants before the case can begin are beyond the means of most Palestinians. As part of Israel’s continuing closure of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli authorities deny Palestinian victims or witnesses from Gaza permission to enter Israel to testify in court, lawyers from Gaza cannot represent clients before Israeli courts, and Israeli lawyers cannot enter Gaza to meet clients.

Amnesty has repeatedly condemned Israel’s policy of demolishing homes and other structures in the OPT, but demolitions are still routine in the occupied West Bank. More than 600 structures were demolished in 2011, resulting in the forcible eviction of almost 1,100 people. In the first seven months of 2012, the Israeli military demolished 327 structures in the West Bank, displacing 575 people, according to the UN Office for the Coordination Affairs.

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