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Rachel Corrie case stirs fresh pain and hope

As family of activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer sues in an Israeli court, memories resurface.

HAIFA, Israel — Shortly before Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, she said in a video interview that she marveled at Palestinians’ ability to “hold onto their humanity as much as they have.”

Seven years later, Corrie’s friends in the Gaza Strip are planning a remembrance ceremony in her honor. They are also following news of the civil court trial under way in Israel; they hope the Israeli military is found liable for Rachel’s death and that the case challenges what they consider to be a policy of impunity toward Israeli soldiers.

Corrie was 23 when she arrived in the Gaza Strip in 2003 as part of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), which places foreign volunteers in high-conflict zones to monitor human rights abuses and which uses non-violent methods to resist Israeli military actions, such as attempting to interrupt the construction of the West Bank barrier and blocking army vehicles. 

Although events surrounding Corrie's death are still disputed, she was killed by a bulldozer operated by the Israel Defense Forces while seeking to defend a Palestinian home from demolition. The house was located in an area near the Egyptian border that sometimes hosted entrances to tunnels used to smuggle weapons, including supplies for unguided rockets launched into civilian areas of southern Israel. 

Five years ago, the Corrie family initiated legal proceedings in an effort to hold the Israeli military liable for Rachel’s death. The family is seeking at least $300,000 in damages.

Israel's State Prosecutor's Office has appealed to the Haifa District Court to dismiss outright the civil suit on the basis that the bulldozer driver said he did not see her, and the Israel Defense Forces had ruled her death an accident.

Khaled Nasrallah, 40, lived in the home that Rachel died defending.

“Rachel really changed our fundamental ideas,” Nasrallah said. “Sometimes we believed that Western people were fully supporting the Israeli side and did not have feelings for us ... . [My family] didn’t do anything against any party, but the Israeli Defense Forces gave the innocent and the guilty the same treatment. I hope the trial will give hope to the next generation.”

Palestinian Anees Mansour, 28, joined the work of Corrie and her fellow activists because he felt "they were doing something good — they were fighting the occupation by peaceful ways." He held back tears as he recalls running to the hospital and viewing Rachel’s body in disbelief. “This is the life here," he whispered. "She is still in our hearts. I call the day she was killed the black day."

A month after Corrie's death, Mansour was just three feet away when a British member of ISM, Tom Hurndall, was killed by an Israeli Defense Forces sniper while trying to rescue children caught in gunfire. The soldier was convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice and sentenced to eight years in prison, which he is currently serving. The soldier told the military tribunal that the Israeli army "fires freely in Rafah."