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The Corrie Trial in Israel: Seeking Answers And Accountability SpecialReport

By Katherine Gallagher ransparent. Credible. Thorough. These

Minister Ariel Sharon in 2003 when setting forth the terms under which the investigation into the killing of Rachel Corrie would be conducted to George W. Bush, one day after Rachel was crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer. Both the scene at the courtroom in Haifa, where the Corrie family’s civil case is proceeding against the state of Israel, and the testimony of the bulldozer driver who killed Rachel, expose the hollowness of those words. Transparent? First, the scene at the courthouse. I arrived early with the Corrie family and their legal team. When we got to the courtroom, there was already a crowd gathered outside. Entering the courtroom, I was struck first by the small size of the room assigned to a case that has received significant international attention: there were only two rows that could each comfortably fit about 14 people. Nearly half the seats were already taken by young members of the Israeli military, in uniform, and people we heard were from the Israeli Ministry of Defense. We quickly secured seats for the family and their translators, a team made up largely of dedicated volunteers as the proceedings are conducted in Hebrew and no translation is provided by the court. I was lucky to be in the courtroom, squeezed in between a journalist and shared translator. Many of the journalists, human rights observers and members of the public who had come to attend the proceedings were denied entry into the courtroom. The one break in the four-and-a-half hour testimony of the bulldozer driver led to a chaotic scene with people trying to get into the courtroom and Israeli security officers pushing the lines of people back, as Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), was in Haifa to observe proceedings in the civil case filed by the family of Rachel Corrie against the State of Israel. She also was part of the legal team in Corrie v. Caterpillar, in which CCR represented Corrie’s parents and Palestinian families. For more information on the on-going trial in Israel, visit <http://rachelcorriefoundation.org/trial>. DECEMBER 2010

AFP PHOTO ABBAS MOMANI

Twere the words used by Israeli Prime

Palestinians gather for the Oct. 23, 2010 opening in the West Bank city of Ramallah of “Rachel Restaurant,” named in honor of the U.S. peace activist who was crushed to death on March 16, 2003 while trying to save a home in Rafah, Gaza, from demolition by an IDFdriven Caterpillar bulldozer. they decided who could come into the courtroom and who would be left in the hall. Sarah Corrie Simpson, Rachel’s sister, had to intervene to secure entry for the family’s translators. Everyone asked the same question: why hasn’t a bigger courtroom been provided for this case—or at least for the testimony that the court knew many people would come to hear? When members of the press, human rights observers and the general public cannot watch the proceedings, it is hard to describe the process as transparent. Next, the makeshift screen. Two mismatched screens that looked like they had been borrowed from the dressing room of a clothes store and a hospital room were secured together on the right side of the courtroom. Following a court order granting the request of the State of Israel for protective measures, the bulldozer driver would testify from behind to hide his identity from the court’s visitors—including the Corrie family. An Israeli journalist who regularly covers court proceedings involving the military remarked that she had never seen anyone testify under such measures. Because of the screen, the lawyers’ and the judge’s gaze and attention was focused on a part of the courtroom that only they THE WASHINGTON REPORT ON MIDDLE EAST AFFAIRS

could see. We, in the audience, felt very much “outside” of the proceedings, privy to only half of the story. These extraordinary protective measures granted to the witness known only as “Y.F.” denied the public the opportunity to assess the credibility of the witness as he testified to what happened on March 16, 2003, the day Rachel was killed. It also denied the Corrie family the opportunity to see the bulldozer driver’s facial expressions and body language as he testified, allowing them only to hear a muffled voice speaking words that they heard through a translator. Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, said that one of the saddest aspects of the day was the words that she heard expressed no sign of remorse. Credible? Y.F.’s testimony was often confused and at points lacked credibility. A 38year-old who immigrated to Israel from Russia in 1995 and said he learned Hebrew on his own after he arrived, Y.F. appeared to have difficulty with Hebrew and struggled to read the affidavit he signed less than six months ago. He also said he could not remember basic facts, such as the date of Rachel’s killing or time of day it happened. At times during the lengthy cross-examination by the Corries’ lawyer, Hussein 11

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs  

Published to help provide the American public with balanced and accurate information concerning U.S. relations with Middle Eastern states.