NGO Statements on the Rachel Corrie Verdict
On Thursday August 28, 2012, the District Court in Haifa found that the State of Israel was not at fault in the tragic death of Rachel Corrie. In 2003, Corrie, an American activist in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was killed in a combat zone in Gaza, as a result of an accident involving an IDF bulldozer. The court determined that the driver could not see Corrie and that “she did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done… she consciously put herself in danger.”
Immediately following the verdict, the Corrie family’s attorney published a press release stating, “While not surprising, this verdict is yet another example of where impunity has prevailed over accountability and fairness” (emphasis added). The unsubstantiated claims of “impunity” and lack of accountability were echoed repeatedly by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International, and the EU- and European-government funded NGOs Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), and Al Haq. This is another example of the ongoing NGO campaign to malign the Israeli justice system.
Other common threads in the NGO statements include the rejection, without any basis, of the court’s verdict and findings; the presumption of Israeli guilt; distortions of international law; and the misstatement of the facts of the incident. As with the Second Lebanon War (2006) and the Gaza War, NGOs were quick to attack Israel, without offering any comprehensive evidence to their claims; many of these NGO statements were issued immediately after the announcement of the verdict and before any of these organizations could have had time to read the 62-page Hebrew legal document (to the extent that these NGOs even have such a capability). Moreover, like Corrie’s parents, none of the NGOs criticized ISM for its clear culpability.
In addition, several of the NGOs issuing statements failed to disclose clear conflicts of interest regarding relationships between some of their employees, the Corrie family, and the ISM. The similarity of the NGO claims, the timing of the statements, and the personal connections are suggestive of a well-coordinated PR campaign devised prior to the verdict, rather than objective and credible human rights reporting.
Claim: HRW: “The idea that there can be no fault for killing civilians in a combat operation flatly contradicts Israel’s international legal obligations to spare civilians from harm during armed conflict and to credibly investigate and punish violations by its forces.”
Al- Haq: “Israel has claimed that it is not responsible for the death of a civilian in armed conflict. However, this flatly ignores international law, which stipulates that Israel is under an obligation to take all measures to ensure that no civilians will be harmed during hostilities, and must at all times distinguish between military targets and civilians.”
Fact: The position that civilian deaths during war automatically reflect criminal behavior is a fundamental misstatement of international law. International humanitarian law (known also as the Laws of Armed Conflict) recognizes that civilian deaths are a regrettable and inevitable part of the lawful conduct of warfare. Civilian deaths are considered illegal when civilians are deliberately targeted or when civilians are killed from a military action that is considered excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage.1 Neither HRW nor Al Haq has provided any evidence showing that Israel violated either of these principles. Moreover, HRW falsely implies that Israel does not investigate or punish wrong-doing in combat when such wrong-doing occurs; Israel routinely investigates such allegations and metes out punishment when warranted. The IDF conducted at least three investigations regarding the Corrie incident, and the facts were further examined in a lengthy, fully transparent judicial process.
Claim: The Carter Center: “In this case, the district court judge ruled that the drivers of the bulldozer could not see her, despite eyewitness testimony to the contrary.”
Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR): “While she was protesting, a bulldozer deliberately drove over Rachel, a statement supported by numerous eyewitnesses.”
Fact: The Carter Center, PCHR, and other NGOs repeated the Corrie family’s claims without any independent research into the incident. In this case, there was a consensus amongst military experts – including those representing the Corrie family – that the driver of the bulldozer could not have seen Rachel before she was run over. For example, the court quotes the expert opinion submitted on behalf of the Corrie Family by Mr. Osben that “It is doubtful that the operator of the vehicle and his commander saw the deceased at the time she was behind or near the pile they were pushing using the bulldozer” (Verdict, pg. 36, August 28, 2012, translation by NGO Monitor). In addition, as reported in The New York Times, Mother Jones, and elsewhere, eyewitnesses on the scene clearly stated that Corrie kneeled in front of the bulldozer, making it impossible for the driver to see her.
“Defending a Palestinian home”
Claim: Amnesty International: “Rachel Corrie was a peaceful American protester who was killed while attempting to protect a Palestinian home from the crushing force of an Israeli military bulldozer.”
PCHR: “On 16 March 2003, Rachel Corrie, along with several other foreign activists from the International Solidarity Movement, was trying to prevent home demolitions in the al-Salam neighborhood of Rafah, southern Gaza Strip.”
Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD): “American college student and ISM activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 as she was defending a Palestinian home about to be demolished.”
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP): “At the time of her death, Corrie was attempting to defend a civilian home in Rafah, Gaza from demolition.”
Fact: The court categorically found that “the mission of the IDF force on the day of the incident” – in response to thousands of incidents of gunfire and grenade and mortar attacks in the area – “was solely to clear the ground. This clearing and leveling included leveling the ground and clearing it of brush in order to expose hiding places used by terrorists, who would sneak out from these areas and place explosive devices with the intent of harming IDF soldiers.” The necessity of the action was highlighted by the fact that “less than one hour before the incident that is the focus of this lawsuit, a live hand-grenade was thrown at the IDF forces.”
The myth that Rachel Corrie was attempting to prevent the demolition of a house was further propagated by the use of a photograph that appears to show her blocking a bulldozer in front of a Palestinian home.
This image was featured prominently by Amnesty International in its press release, as well as by various media outlets. However, it is clear from photos taken immediately after the accident that this image does not depict the same location or time of day.2 Amnesty’s use of this disputed image, then, is at the very least, highly misleading.
Claim: HRW: “Military investigators repeatedly failed to take statements from witnesses, to follow up with the witness’s lawyer, and to re-interview witnesses to clarify discrepancies.”
Fact: The court flatly rejected claims that the IDF and military police had failed to properly investigate the incident. In fact, as highlighted in the verdict, during the court proceedings, the Corrie family tried to block the State from submitting the full file of the investigations to the judge. In his decision, Judge Oded Gershon notes:
“It could be expected that, in light of the claim made above, the plaintiffs’ representative would submit to the court the file of the investigation conducted by the CID so that I could form my own opinion regarding the investigatory actions carried out and the manner in which the investigation was carried out, and to learn if the actions taken by the CID were sufficient or not. However, it was the plaintiffs that objected to submitting the full file of the investigation as evidence, even though the defendant agreed to do so. Thus did the plaintiffs, by their own actions, introduce circumstances in which an extremely important tool to examine their claims was denied to the court.”
The verdict also dismissed various accusations by the Corrie family that Israel’s investigation was not thorough. One illustrative example – the Corries claimed that Israel should not have moved the bulldozers after the accident until a thorough investigation was performed. The court rejected this notion, saying that the family “are treating the area of the incident as if the scene was a main road in the middle of a city in Israel” (Verdict, pg. 42). As the verdict noted, in the area where the incident occurred “[f]rom September 2000 to the date of the incident that is the focus of this lawsuit (March 16, 2003), nearly 6,000 grenades had been thrown at IDF forces in the Corridor; there had been approximately 1,400 incidents of gunfire; and there were more than 40 occurrences of mortar fire. These aforementioned events led to the injury and death of many Israelis.”
NGO Conflicts of Interest
The NGOs failed to disclose several conflicts of interest that call into question their ability to issue credible statements regarding this incident.
For example, HRW commented on the case without revealing that the Corrie family’s media contact during the trial, Stacy Sullivan, previously worked for HRW, a clear conflict of interest.
Amnesty International’s reporting is similarly marred. Both Amnesty International’s and Amnesty USA’s Israel researchers, Deborah Hyams and Edith Garwood, respectively, were activists in ISM around the time of the Corrie incident.
These failures constitute violations of good governance, transparency, and ethical principles such as those specified in the International NGO Accountability Charter 3 and the Lund-London Guidelines for NGO fact-finding.
- For more on this rule, see Response of the ICC Prosecutor on the Situation in Iraq (2006).
- On the day of Corrie’s death, ISM released photographs and claimed they were taken just before the incident. Those pictures were shown to have been taken hours earlier in the day, leading The New York Times to publish a correction.
- Amnesty is a founder and signatory to the INGO Accountability Charter, so it is particularly disturbing to see the principles violated by the organization.