Justice, Israeli style
By Sherine Tadros in Middle East
October 21st, 2010
"Does anyone know the Hebrew word for 'occupation'?" A question from the state assigned Hebrew translator to the packed out courtroom.
And that kicked off the trial into the killing of US activist Rachel Corrie, which took her family seven years to secure.
Today, several months later, we were back at Haifa District Court to hear from the Israeli soldier who was driving the bulldozer that killed Rachel whilst she was peacefully protesting against Palestinian home demolitions in Gaza in 2003.
And hear is all we could do - thanks to an unusual request filed by the state, and accepted by the judge, the driver and other soldiers testifying in this case have done so behind a dark screen to protect their identity (for "security" reasons).
I can't tell you the driver's name (there is a gag order) but I can say that he is a Russian immigrant to Israel that, ironically, shares the same birthday as Rachel.
It was a long and painful testimony, the driver answering the questions with variations of the phrase: "I don't remember."
He couldn't even recall the time of day Rachel was killed and claimed he did not realize when he knocked Rachel down and drove over her with his four-tonne Caterpillar bulldozer.
Presumably, he also didn't realize when he then backed up over her a second time crushing her body with his blade.
For Cindy Corrie, a retired music teacher from Olympia, Washington, that was the hardest part of the day: "Hearing the man who killed my daughter, without a shred of remorse in his voice, say he couldn't remember when it happened."
As Cindy says, even if he did it by mistake, how could he not recall the time of day he killed a 23-year-old girl?
Apart from the fact that it took five years from the time the Corries filed the lawsuit to the trial date – the court procedures and last minute changes by the Israeli state attorneys are simply embarrassing for a country that claims to be a democracy and practice the rule of law.
Sub par translators, erratic trial dates and a judge that stops proceedings because he has made other appointments (as happened today cutting the session short by two hours) have delayed the trial and frustrated everyone.
The Corries, journalists and rights groups were told they could enter the courtroom at 9am this morning.
At 8.15am the state filled the room with its "observers", which meant apart from the family and their lawyers, only three or four journalists were allowed (in rotation) into the trial room to listen and report on what was happening.
I was inside for barely half an hour - just enough time to hear the driver make the point that he was simply following orders.
His superiors, he says, gave him instructions to continue with the demolitions despite the civilians protesting by the houses.
And therein lies the reason why this trial is so important.
It is not looking to blame or hold to account the soldier that dealt the final blow to Rachel.
The Corries are suing the state of Israel, for a nominal one dollar, for allowing, and at some points encouraging, its soldiers to act with impunity.
Whether they are preventing an aid ship from getting to Gaza, or in Rachel's case stopping an activist defending a Palestinian accountant's home, Israeli soldiers too often act with force, which shows they believe they are above the law.
And, as will be shown if the Corries lose this case, it's because Israeli law will always protect them.
Driver testifies in Corrie case
21 Oct 2010
A bulldozer driver who crushed a US activist in Gaza in 2003 tells Haifa court he can not recall much about day she died
The first day of a civil lawsuit brought by the parents of a US peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in March 2003 has ended in the Israeli city of Haifa.
The army driver of the bulldozer that crushed 23-year-old Rachel Corrie to death testified in court on Thursday, but her parents were denied a chance to confront him face-to-face.
The unidentified former soldier was shielded behind a wood-and-plastic partition, and his testimony about the events leading up to Corrie's death were relayed into the courtroom over a microphone.
"I wish I could see the whole human being," Cindy Corrie said before the testimony began, her voice shaking.
She and her husband, Craig, travelled from their home in Olympia, Washington, to hear his testimony.
Three witnesses were to testify on Thursday, but Al Jazeera's Sherine Tadros, reporting from Haifa, said that only one gave testimony as "at the last moment the judge said he didn't have time for three witnesses".
The military commander in charge of the unit that included the bulldozer on the day Corrie was killed will give evidence at a future date.
Corrie's family filed the private lawsuit against the state of Israel five years ago after an Israeli military investigation into the incident concluded that the soldier operating the bulldozers could not see Corrie and closed the case.
Both the bulldozer driver and the commander claimed that they were not aware of Corrie's presence, and that civilians aren't acknowledged in a war zone.
Reporting from outside Haifa district court, Tadros said that the driver who testified on Thursday "kept reiterating two main points. Firstly, that he was working within a command structure, that he had his orders from above, and secondly, that he really couldn't remember even the most basic of details to do with that incident".
She also said that the driver "couldn't even remember the time of day that Rachel was killed," which was very difficult for Corrie's parents to hear.
"I haven't heard one moment of remorse, and to me, that's one of the saddest things," said Cindy Corrie during a break in the proceedings.
She later told Al Jazeera that she was troubled by the "disregard" and "lack of reliability" of the driver's memory of the details of the day.
"If you've killed someone, you'd think you might remember if it was in the early afternoon or late in the day," said Cindy Corrie.
The Corries are suing the government for the symbolic amount of $1, saying that Corrie's "unlawful killing" denied her her "basic human rights".
They have also accused the government of "gross negligence".
Corrie was protesting against Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes in the town of Rafah, close to the border with Egypt, when she was killed.
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