Trial for Rachel Corrie continues with contradictory Israeli military testimonies 7Apr11 April 8, 2011

The Alternative Information Centre -  7 April 2011

The trial for Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Mission (ISM) activist killed in Gaza by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003, continued in the Israeli city of Haifa this week. Israeli military commanders provided contradictory testimonies and strong evidence of Israeli military negligence in protecting Rachel’s life.

Members of the Israeli military who held command positions on the ground when Rachel was killed testified on 3 and 6 April. Similar to previous court hearings in October 2010, the officers were allowed to conceal their identities and testify behind a screen.

The commander of the unit that killed Rachel Corrie told a Haifa court on Sunday that he was ordered to continue bulldozer work even though it presented danger to civilians, including foreign activists, who were present in the area and could not be dispersed, reported the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

Known to the court as Captain S.R., the Bedouin officer said that he actually requested to halt bulldozer operations on the day Rachel was killed, because he thought civilians might be hurt, but was ordered to continue.

“Today’s testimonies provide further strong evidence regarding the Israeli military failure to take necessary and reasonable measures to protect Rachel’s life and prevent her avoidable tragic death. They also underscore the systemic inadequacy of the military investigation system which in this case, was nothing but a whitewash,” said Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, who represents the Corrie family.

“More than eight years after Rachel’s death, we are uncovering new pieces of the truth despite a wall of secrecy and lack of transparency,” Abu Hussein said.

Rachel, an American student activist and human rights defender, was crushed to death by an Israeli military Caterpillar D9R bulldozer on March 16, 2003 while nonviolently protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah, Gaza.

The trial began on March 10, 2010, over a year ago, and has met with a number of delays.

On the day she was killed, Captain S.R. radioed to Israeli army command and said that something from the bulldozer fell on Rachel. However, in court, he admitted he did not see the exact moment of the incident and that this was only a fleeting hypothesis.

He said he reached Rachel’s body less than one minute after the incident and it was immediately clear by marks in the ground that Rachel had been hit by the bulldozer, reported the Rachel Corrie Foundation.

S.R. also testified that it was the unit’s standard practice to stop if someone was within five meters of the bulldozer. International eyewitnesses previously testified that Rachel was well within this distance when the bulldozer began its approach.

The first army witness on Wednesday, 6 April, was Commander S.H.R.

In trying to explain why the military had been bulldozing the Gaza area in the first place, he testified said that terrorists were using the area, and that houses in the area were being used by terrorists for arms smuggling.

S.H.R. said he had heard that there were civilians in the area and that they had tried to do everything to make sure that they didn’t get hurt, but these people, meaning the foreign activists, had been there for the last 3 months and were “constantly disturbing us.”

“Our presumption was the civilians were being used in order for us to leave our vehicles. And then they will hit us,” S.H.R. said, meaning the “terrorists” would attack them.

“Anyone you perceive to be a terrorist you shoot to kill,” he added.

He said he had wanted to stop foreigners from going into Gaza altogether. “I wanted to keep them safe and save their lives.”

Later on he said, “We work under the assumption that terrorists are using them as human shields.”

Testifying about the general attitude towards civilians and foreigners in the area being flattened, S.H.R. said: “The instruction was not to hurt them but to complete the work. A mission needs to be completed until the end.”

“We’re not allowed as the army to allow the activities of these foreigners to disturb our operation.”

The hearings were full of contradictions, as witness said one thing and later something entirely different, with the excuse that they couldn’t remember the details of the day.

The next hearing has been scheduled for 22 May, at 9am at the Haifa District Court. The Corrie family requests observers attend upcoming hearings in suit against Israel.

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