Seven years after the American activist Rachel
Corrie was killed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, evidence has
emerged which appears to implicate Israel's Gaza commander at the time,
in an attempt to obstruct the official investigation into her death.
The alleged intervention of Major-General Doron
Almog, then head of Israel's southern command, is documented in
testimony taken by Israeli military police a day after Ms Corrie was
killed on March 16, 2003. The hand written affidavit, seen by The
Independent, was submitted as evidence during a civil law suit being
pursued by the Corrie family against the state of Israel.
Ms Corrie, who was 23 when she died, was critically
wounded when a bulldozer buried her with sandy soil near the border
between Gaza and Egypt. The American, wearing a fluorescent orange
jacket and carrying a megaphone, was among a group of volunteers from
the anti-occupation International Solidarity Movement who over a period
of three hours on that day had sought to block the demolition by Israel
of Palestinian homes.
The Israeli military has maintained that its troops
were not to blame for the killing of Ms Corrie and that the driver of
the bulldozer had not seen her. It accused Ms Corrie and the ISM of
behaviour that was "illegal, irresponsible and dangerous". Three days
after Ms Corrie's death, the US state department announced that the
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had promised the US President George
Bush that the Israeli government would undertake a "thorough, credible
and transparent investigation".
But according to
a military police investigator's report which has now emerged, the
"commander" of the D-9 bulldozer was giving testimony when an army
colonel dispatched by Major-General Almog interrupted proceedings and
cut short his evidence. The military police investigator wrote: "At
18:12 reserve Colonel Baruch Kirhatu entered the room and informed the
witness that he should not convey anything and should not write anything
and this at the order of the general of southern command."
The commander was a reservist named Edward Valermov.
He was in the bulldozer with its driver. In his testimony before he was
ordered to stop, he told military police investigators that he had not
seen Ms Corrie before she was wounded. Alice Coy, a former ISM volunteer
activist who was near Ms Corrie during the incident said in an
affidavit to the court that "to the best of my knowledge the bulldozer
driver could see Rachel while pushing earth over her body."
Hussein Abu Hussein, a lawyer for the Corrie family,
said Major-General Almog's alleged intervention blocked the possible
emergence of evidence that could have determined whether Mr Valermov's
assertion that he did not see Ms Corrie was reasonable. "Do I believe
him? Of course not. There is no doubt this was manslaughter," Mr Abu
Hussein said. "First of all we claim the state is responsible for the
death of Rachel. And secondly we claim that the investigation was not
"When you, the state of Israel,
fail as an authority to perform your function of having a credible
investigation, when your standard falls from reasonable, objective
standards than you have caused evidentiary damage," Mr Abu Hussein said.
Contacted by The Independent, Major-General
Almog, a hero in Israel for his role in the 1976 raid to rescue hostages
in Entebbe, Uganda, denied ordering the bulldozer commander to desist
from testifying. In 2005, the General narrowly escaped arrest in Britain
on a war crimes charge for allegedly ordering the destruction in 2002
of 50 civilian homes in Rafah, where Ms Corrie was later killed.
Major-General Almog was tipped off about the warrant and did not
disembark at Heathrow, returning instead to Israel on the El Al flight.
Mr Valermov said in his testimony that the
bulldozers, manned by two people, were ordered to continue their work
despite the presence of the ISM protesters. He said that troops in an
armoured personnel carrier threw stun grenades, used tear gas and fired
shots towards the ground to scare the protesters away. "It didn't help
and therefore we decided to continue the work with all possible
delicateness on the orders of the company commander" he said.
The testimony was interrupted after Mr Valermov said
the driver of the bulldozer, named only as Yevgeny, said he did not know
if Ms Corrie had been harmed by the shovel of the D-9. "It was only
when we moved the D-9 backwards that I saw her. The woman was lying in a
place where the instrument had not reached. As soon as we saw the
harmed woman we returned to the central corridor, stood and waited for
orders." The soldier's last statement before the order to stop speaking
was: "My job was to guide. The driver cannot guide himself because his
field of vision is not large."
document strongly suggests that Major-General Almog opposed the military
police investigation. Dated 18 March 2003, a military police
investigator petitioning a judge for permission to conduct an autopsy on
Ms Corrie's body said that "we arrived only today because there was an
argument between the general of southern command and the military
advocate general about whether to open an investigation and under what
circumstances." The judge granted the request provided the autopsy would
be done in the presence of a US diplomat as the Corrie family
requested. But the inquest was carried out by Israel's chief pathologist
without any US official being there, in apparent violation of the
Major-General Almog denied
halting Mr Valermov's testimony. "I never gave such an order, I don't
know such a document. I conducted my own investigation, I don't remember
what I found. There were 12,000 terrorist incidents when I was general
in charge of southern command. I finished seven years ago, if they want
to invite me [to testify] they know the address. I certainly didn't
disrupt an investigation, this is nonsense. In all of my service I never
told anyone not to testify."
Asked if he gave
an order to harm foreign activists interfering with the army's work,
Major-General Almog responded: "What are you talking about? You don't
know what a general in charge of command is. The general in charge of
command has 100,000 soldiers. What are you talking about?''
Moshe Negbi, legal commentator for the state-run Voice
of Israel radio, said of Major-General Almog's interdiction: "If a
commander prevents a witness from testifying then it is disruption of an
investigation, a criminal offence whose penalty is three years
Craig Corrie, Rachel Corrie's
father, said the alleged intervention in Valermov's testimony was
"When you see someone in that
position taking those steps you not only have to be outraged, you have
to ask why is he covering up, what has he done that he needs to take
these steps to cover it up?"
An Israel Defense
Forces spokesman said: "Any military police investigations are
completely independent and cannot be influenced by outside sources." The
Israeli state attorneys handling the case declined to be interviewed.
The trial is due to resume in September.
Before she became a
political symbol, Rachel Corrie was an American student on a
study-abroad programme. A member of a middle-class family from Olympia,
Washington, she was attending college locally when she travelled to Gaza
with the intention of initiating a twin-city project between Olympia
Arriving in Gaza in January 2003,
she linked up with the International Solidarity Movement, and spent the
next two months as an activist. In the weeks before her death she wrote a
series of emails home to her friends and family that detailed her
impressions of life in Gaza. "I have bad nightmares about tanks and
bulldozers," she told her mother. "I'm witnessing this chronic,
insidious genocide and I'm really scared... This has to stop. I think it
is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to
making this stop."
The emails, which later
inspired a play that appeared in London but was cancelled in New York
and Toronto, end with an exchange with her father. "I am afraid for you,
and I think I have reason to be," he wrote. "But I'm also proud of you -
very proud... But I'd just as soon be proud of somebody else's
Corrie died on 16 March 2003. Like
the death of the British activist Tom Hurndall in similar circumstances a
year later, it prompted an international outcry about Israel's deeds in
the Palestinian territories.