Twenty-three-year-old Rachel Corrie traveled to Gaza at the height of the second intifada intending to initiate a sister city project between Olympia, Washington, her home town, and Rafah as part of her senior-year project at Evergreen College. After a two-day seminar in the offices of the International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank, she continued on to Rafah to join ISM members, who were demonstrating against the Israeli military’s massive demolitions of houses on the Egyptian border. Less than two months after her arrival, on March 16, 2003, Corrie was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9R Israeli military bulldozer.
Following the tragic event, Corrie’s family filed two lawsuits. The first was against Caterpillar Inc. The Corries claimed that the corporation was liable for Rachel’s death because it sold Israel bulldozers knowing that they would be deployed in violation of international law. The case was dismissed by a federal district judge in November 2005 for lack of jurisdiction. That same year, the family filed a civil suit in Israel against the State of Israel and the Defense Ministry. The objective of this suit was to illustrate, in Rachel’s mother’s words, “the need for accountability for thousands of lives lost, or indelibly injured, by [Israel’s] occupation…. We hope the trial will bring attention to the assault on nonviolent human rights activists (Palestinian, Israeli and international) and we hope it will underscore the fact that so many Palestinian families, harmed as deeply as ours or more, cannot access Israeli courts.”
The suit’s first testimony was heard in the Haifa district court in March 2010—the seventh anniversary of Rachel’s death—and after fifteen sessions and twenty-three witnesses, the closing remarks were heard on July 10, 2011. While the plaintiff and the defense team did not see eye to eye on the vast majority of the issues pertaining to the suit, they did agree on the basic facts: Rachel Corrie had been crushed to death by a Caterpillar military bulldozer while nonviolently protesting with fellow ISM members.
Given these indisputable facts, the central question the court then had to adjudicate was whether or not the state was responsible for Rachel’s death.
In the days leading up to the ruling, I wondered how the state was going to make the case that Corrie was to blame for her own death; I therefore read the 145-page summation submitted by the defense. The document appeared convincing at first. Indeed, if read on its own—ignoring the political context and the plaintiff’s summations and response—one might easily be persuaded that Corrie was a reckless human being who was fully responsible for her own demise.
The defense team introduced a series of arguments to persuade the court, two of which were pivotal for their case.
The first had to do with who Rachel Corrie really was. Underlying the state’s reasoning is an Aristotelian syllogism, bolstered by photographs, graphic figures and authoritative references. The claim is straightforward:
1) the ISM is an anti-Israeli organization that supports violence and terrorism
2) Rachel Corrie was an ISM member, therefore:
3) Rachel Corrie supported violence and terrorism
The second argument was similar:
1) during the period in question, Rafah was a war zone and a closed military area
2) Rachel Corrie chose to be an activist in Rafah, therefore:
3) Rachel Corrie willfully (and illegally) subjected herself to the rules of engagement that apply in a war zone