In 2003, in the middle of a war involving Palestinian mass suicide attacks and Israeli military responses, a radical organisation calling itself the International Solidarity Movement recruited and dispatched a number of ‘human shields’ to help the Palestinian cause. Rachel Corrie, a student from the United States, was among them, and while interfering with an anti-terror operation along the Israeli border with Gaza – the site of intense conflict – she was tragically killed.
Since then, the details of her death and the question of responsibility have been argued and adjudicated in many forums. The Israeli military held three separate investigations, and Corrie’s parents initiated a civil legal suit against Israel in US courts, which was rejected for lack of jurisdiction. They turned to the Israeli courts, and on August 28, after a lengthy trial involving a long list of witnesses and legal arguments, the judge issued a very detailed 62-page decision.
On the basis of all the evidence available, he ruled that the state and the Israel Defence Forces were not culpable in Corrie’s death, which, he found, could have been avoided had she not been recklessly taking risks in a warzone. The IDF was operating in the area in order to save the lives of Israeli civilians. In his ruling, the judge stated: “She did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done … she consciously put herself in danger.”
If Israel is not responsible for her death, who is? The International Solidarity Movement clearly has a great deal of responsibility for putting young students like Corrie into very dangerous situations. The ISM describes itself as “a Palestinian-led movement committed to resisting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land using nonviolent, direct-action methods and principles”. Joshua Hammer, a journalist who examined the issues in great detail, described the ISM as “embracing Palestinian militants, even suicide bombers, as freedom fighters” and “entering military zones to interfere with the operations of Israeli soldiers”.
The trial record provides a great deal of unambiguous evidence, and the verdict clearly states that “the actions taken by the members of the organisation, in practice, do not match its statements. In fact, the [ISM] exploits the dialogue regarding human rights and morality to blur the severity of its actions, which are, in fact, expressed through violence.” The judge added that the ISM’s “activists specialised in sabotaging the IDF’s operational actions. ISM activities included … stationing activists to serve as human shields for terrorists wanted by Israeli security forces” and “financial, logistical and moral assistance to Palestinians, including terrorists and their families”.
Indeed, ISM co-founder George Rishmawi has publically stated that the ISM’s main purpose is to help the Palestinian cause through involvement of foreign activists: “If some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.” Another ISM co-founder, Thomas Saffold, told the Washington Post: “But we’re like a peace army. Generals send young men and women off to operations, and some die.”
Did Corrie understand that she was being sent to fight in a dangerous war for the ‘Palestinian cause’, which has taken thousands of innocent lives over many decades? Did she realise that the ISM deliberately uses martyrs so that the “international media will sit up and take notice”. These activists are expendable pawns for the ISM’s grand strategy of attacking Israel’s legitimacy in world public opinion.
Concrete examples of this include the ISM’s affiliation with organisations that seek Israel’s destruction. In 2002, ISM activists stood between terrorists occupying Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the IDF. In 2003, ISM activist Susan Barclay acknowledged that she worked with representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. In 2008, ISM activist Richard David Hupper was convicted by a US federal court for materially aiding Hamas by “giving about $20,000 to Hamas while working in Israel with the International Solidarity Movement”.
It is understandable that Corrie’s bereaved parents are looking for someone to blame for the fact that their daughter illegally entered a closed military zone and placed herself in the path of a 53 ton bulldozer. But the evidence clearly shows that the ISM is culpable for causing her wrongful death – and by lending their names to the immoral campaigns to demonise Israel, Rachel Corrie’s parents are compounding the tragedy.
Gerald M Steinberg is professor of political science at Bar Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research institution.