One week after nine Turkish activists died in an Israeli flotilla raid aboard the Mavi Marmara flagship, a much smaller Gaza-bound vessel named after deceased American activist Rachel Corrie was intercepted without casualities.
As the "MV Rachel Corrie" sought to break through the Israeli naval blockade, Corrie’s parents sent an e-mail to supporters asking for help in ensuring the ship’s safe passage. The e-mail also expressed grave concerns over who would lead the investigation of the Mavi Marmara tragedy. "Our family’s own experience has made it all too painfully clear that the Israeli military is unable or unwilling to adequately investigate itself," it said.
Rachel Corrie came to Gaza with the International Solidarity Movement, one of the organizations that helped to organize the flotilla. In March of 2003, the 23-year-old was crushed by a sixty-four-ton Israeli bulldozer while seeking to defend a Palestinian home from demolition.
Like the flotilla tragedy, Corrie’s death was the subject of international media scrutiny and high-level diplomatic attention. Yet, apparently unfazed by this pressure, the Israeli military led an investigation that was widely rebuked by American government officials.
At the time Corrie lived in Rafah, Gaza, entire neighborhoods in this refugee camp along the Egyptian border were being razed by the Israeli army. A 2004 Human Rights Watch report found that more than 16,000 people—more than 10 percent of Rafah’s population—lost their houses over a four-year period.
The Israeli military argued that some of the houses protected entrances to smuggling tunnels that brought weapons used against Israelis. In the year Corrie was killed, at least twenty-five Palestinian suicide bombers, most of whom came from the West Bank, murdered Israeli civilians. Additionally, more than 1,000 crude, unguided rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Then and now, Israeli strikes typically kill far more civilians than militants, and Palestinian casualties vastly outnumber Israeli casualties.
From the beginning, US officials had viewed Corrie’s death with concern. The day after she was killed, the head of the Israeli military investigative team received a note from the Israeli government about this "very sensitive" matter. The note referenced a conversation between President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who promised a "thorough, credible and transparent" investigation. A year later, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, wrote a letter to the Corrie family stating "without equivocation" that the military probe did not meet these standards. He advised the family to use the Israeli court system.
After many years of Israeli government foot-dragging, the Corrie family is getting a hearing in an Israeli civil court, where they are seeking at least $300,000 in damages. The Israeli government alleges that the bulldozer operators could not see Corrie, who acted in "reckless disregard" for her own life by interfering in a war zone. The Corrie family alleges that the operators either killed Rachel intentionally or displayed "gross negligence" in failing to protect civilians.