Judge Rules American's Death In Gaza An Accident

A judge in Israel has rejected a suit to re-open the case of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian, American activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer during a protest in the Gaza Strip almost a decade ago. Her parents, from Washington State, were devastated by the ruling.

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In the Israeli port of Haifa today, a judge ruled that the military was not responsible for the death of a young American activist. Back in 2003, Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer during a protest by pro-Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip. Today's ruling came in response to a civil suit filed by Corrie's parents who say they will appeal the decision.

Back in 2003, Rachel Corrie was crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer during a protest by pro-Palestinian activists in Gaza Strip. Today's ruling came in response to a civil suit filed by Corrie's parents, who say they will appeal the decision.

Sheera Frenkel reports from Haifa.

SHEERA FRENKEL, BYLINE: The judges ruling prompted angry whispers among Corrie supporters in the courtroom. Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother says she is saddened and disappointed by the ruling.

CINDY CORRIE: I think at this point it's clear that justice has not been done.

FRENKEL: The Corrie family traveled to Haifa from their home in Olympia, Washington to hear the ruling. Their civil lawsuit sought symbolic damages of $1 plus legal expenses. But more importantly, they say, it asked Israel to admit to gross negligence on the day their daughter was killed. But the judge exonerated the military of any blame or negligence, saying that the driver of the bulldozer had not seen Corrie, and that he was acting in a military action in the course of war.

The judge referred to an earlier report from a team of Israeli military investigators who said Corrie was to blame for her own death because she failed to heed repeated warnings to move out of the path of the bulldozer. Cindy Corrie says she is shocked that the judge would lay the blame entirely with her daughter.

CORRIE: It was stunning to be in that courtroom. It seemed to be a restatement of what the state had argued, 100 percent of it, without considering the evidence that had come before him about many aspects of the case.

FRENKEL: But Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Israeli government, welcomed the decision.

MARK REGEV: We see this as a vindication of the Israeli government and the Israeli military. All the evidence points to the fact that the Israeli government was not responsible for her tragic death, that her death was brought about by her own, to quote from the judge, "irresponsible behavior."

FRENKEL: Regev says that Israel's internal military investigation and the court in Haifa, both found fault in testimonies by pro Palestinian activists who were with Corrie when she died. Those witnesses asserted that Corrie, wearing a bright orange vest, was clearly visible to the driver of the bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home.

Corrie's family and their supporters claim that the Israeli judicial system ignored evidence that did not support the military's assessment. Last week, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told the Corrie family that Washington remained dissatisfied with the Israeli inquiry.

Bill Van Esweld is a researcher with Human Rights Watch who has closely followed the case.

BILL VAN ESWELD: Repeatedly, military investigators failed to call witnesses for interviews, to clarify contradictory statements by re-interviewing witnesses. They didn't follow op with the lawyers representing witnesses. It goes on and on. It's a very problematic finding by the court. And it's a missed opportunity to urge the Israeli military to improve its deeply flawed investigative system.

FRENKEL: Van Esweld points out that at least Rachel Corrie had her day in court. A law passed by Israel earlier this month states that only Israeli citizens or holders of foreign passports can bring a lawsuit against an Israeli institution. The law effectively bans Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza from suing Israel or its military.

For them, says Van Esweld, Israeli courts will be strictly off-limits.

For NPR News, I'm Sheera Frenkel in Haifa.

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