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During War There Are No Civilians

Sitting in on the Rachel Corrie trial alarmingly reveals an open Israeli policy of indiscrimination towards civilians.

Nora Barrows-Friedman

The Corries' lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that violate both Israeli and international laws. (Photograph: Denny Sternstein/AP)

"During War there are no civilians," that's what "Yossi," an Israeli
military (IDF) training unit leader simply stated during a round of
questioning on day two of the Rachel Corrie trials, held in Haifa's
District Court earlier this week. "When you write a [protocol] manual,
that manual is for war," he added.

For the human rights activists and friends and family of Rachel
Corrie sitting in the courtroom, this open admission of an Israeli
policy of indiscrimination towards civilians -- Palestinian or foreign
-- created an audible gasp.

Yet, put into context, this policy comes as no surprise. The Israeli
military's track record of insouciance towards the killings of
Palestinians, from the 1948 massacre of Deir Yassin in Jerusalem to the
2008-2009 attacks on Gaza that killed upwards of 1400 men, women and
children, has illustrated that not only is this an entrenched
operational framework but rarely has it been challenged until recently.

Rachel Corrie, the young American peace activist from Olympia,
Washington, was crushed to death by a Caterpillar D9-R bulldozer, as she
and other members of the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement
attempted to protect a Palestinian home from imminent demolition on
March 16, 2003 in Rafah, Gaza Strip. Corrie has since become a symbol of
Palestinian solidarity as her family continues to fight for justice in
her name.

Her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, filed a civil lawsuit against
the State of Israel for Rachel's unlawful killing -- what they allege
was an intentional act -- and this round of testimonies called by the
State's defense team follows the Corries' witness testimonies last
March. The Corries' lawsuit charges the State with recklessness and a
failure to take appropriate measures to protect human life, actions that
violate both Israeli and international laws.

Witnesses insisted that the bulldozer driver couldn't see Rachel
Corrie from his perch. The State attorneys called three witnesses to the
stand on Sunday and Monday to prove that the killing was unintentional
and took place in an area designated as a "closed military zone." 
Falling under the definition of an Act of War, their argument sought to
absolve the soldiers of liability under Israeli law.   The Rachel
Corrie trials focus on one incident, one moment, one death, one family's
grief. However it's important to include the context within which the
Israeli military operated on that day in March of 2003 in order to
properly understand the gravity of the trial and the reverberations
seven and a half years later.

Yossi, the military training leader, described the area where Corrie
was killed as an "active war zone." The State's defense argues the same.
Yet what was happening in Rafah that was so important to Corrie that
she confronted a 4-meter high armored bulldozer in the first place?

According to statistics from Human Rights Watch,
Israel had been expanding its so-called "buffer zone" at the southern
Gaza border after the breakout of the second Palestinian intifada in
late 2000. "By late 2002," reports HRW, "after the destruction of
several hundred houses in Rafah, the IDF began building an eight meter
high metal wall along the border."

The area that Israel designates as its buffer zone has since enveloped nearly 35% of agricultural land, according to an August 2010 report
published by the United Nation's Office of the Coordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA says that this policy has affected
113,000 Palestinians inside the Gaza strip over the last ten years as
their farms, homes, and villages were intentionally erased from the map.

Rachel Corrie's nonviolent action -- standing in front of the
bulldozer in direct confrontation to this project -- cost her her life.

The home Rachel Corrie died trying to protect was razed, along with
hundreds of others. The Gaza Strip remains a sealed ghetto. And
countless Palestinian families have not seen justice waged in their
favor after the deaths of their loved ones.

In 2005, an arrest warrant was issued against Major General Doron
Almog -- a senior soldier in charge of Israel's Southern Command -- by a
British court related to the destruction of 59 homes in Rafah in 2002
under his authority. He was warned before boarding a flight to the UK
that he could be arrested upon arrival, and canceled his trip.

Related to the Rachel Corrie case, Maj. Almog gave a direct order to
the team of internal investigators to cut the investigations short,
according to Israeli army documents obtained by Israeli daily Haaretz.

This indicates that the impunity of Israeli soldiers and
policy-makers can -- and will -- be challenged in a court of law. And
when the trials continue next month, the Corries will be back in the
courtroom in anticipation of a long-sought justice for their daughter.

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