HAIFA, 21 Oct (JMCC) - The Haifa courthouse was overwhelmed today for the resumption of the civil lawsuit against the state of Israel
by the family of slain human rights activist Rachel Corrie. Half of the crowd was barred from entering the courtroom, and representatives from Avocats Sans Frontiers and the Arab Center for Human Rights waited with journalists from Al Jazeera, Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth for seats inside.
“The Israeli Prime Minister promised the US president a transparent, credible and thorough investigation, and we’ve seen from today’s testimony it is far from satisfied,” said Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney for the Center for Constitutional Justice in New York, referring to Ariel Sharon
’s 2003 pledge to George W. Bush.
“Journalists, human rights representatives and the general public were not even allowed in the courtroom,” said Gallagher, who represented the Corrie family in their failed suit against the bulldozer manufacturer Caterpillar. “It sends a strong message that transparency is not a priority.”
The court was flush with supporters and military and police officers from the Israeli defense team, which effectively limited coverage of the day’s focus: the testimony of the bulldozer driver who crushed Rachel on March 16, 2003. He testified behind a security fence - an ad hoc courtroom addition allowed by Judge Oded Gershon citing a 2008 ruling by defense minister Ehud Barak
The Corrie family took the barrier as a “personal insult,” and their special request to see him alone was denied. Only the judge and the lawyers saw the driver.
“I have a right to see him,” Craig Corrie said, who along with his wife Cindy and daughter Sarah, is suing Israel for a symbolic single dollar. “He doesn’t need to hide behind a wall, a makeshift curtain.”
The Israeli attorneys argue the original, military police investigation was an adequate examination of Rachel’s death in a dangerous war zone. The three-man team absolved the Israeli engineering crops TZMAT from guilt and blamed Rachel herself for dying under the massive blades of the militarized D9R bulldozer.
However, Cindy said “the Israeli government has, since the beginning, hid information and they continue to hide witnesses.”
Bulldozer commander A.V. (use of real names were banned by a judge's order) was scheduled to testify in court today, but the Corrie family was informed late last night he would be absent. His first testimony during the military police investigation was cut short under orders from Major General Doron Almon, the southern regional commander in charge of Gaza during 2003 (Almon is famous for “evacuating” thousands of Jews from Entebbe, Ethiopia and infamous for dodging British arrest in 2005 for “war crimes” connected to his army service).
One of the three military investigators testified last month that such intervention was common, and that military intelligence had held security tapes - possibly to alter them - for a week before returning the video evidence.
“Immediately the [military investigation’s] intent was to find evidence to prove Rachel wasn’t killed by the bulldozer,” Cindy said, a fact now acknowledged worldwide. “I am disturbed. [Today’s testimony] confirms what we’ve seen for seven years.”
“[The bulldozer driver] didn’t remember what time of day it was - if I killed someone I would surely know when it happened,” Cindy said. She questioned the honesty of the bulldozer drive, his time spent inside Israeli government offices prior to his testimony, incomplete memory, and lack of remorse.
“No one trained me, but that day I was instructed not to hurt them,” said the driver, his Russian-accented Hebrew floating disembodied from behind the separation barrier. “Be careful, change direction, but keep working.”
The witness has zero credibility, said the Corrie family’s lawyer Hussein Abu Hussein.
“In this testimony he contradicted most of his testimony from the past,” Abu Hussein said. “It is not consistent then, and now he gave several versions. You can’t rely on any of them.”
For example, the driver asserted he couldn’t see Rachel because a two-meter high pile of dirt blocked his view.
“I didn’t see her coming, she was not in my field of vision,” he said. “If I had seen her I would’ve stopped.”
But Abu Hussein quickly disproved this, waving a photograph taken immediately after Rachel was raked by the blade. In it, flat ground stretches to the horizon blocked only by the armored bulldozer looming over International Solidarity Movement activists holding Rachel’s broken body.
“He was lying,” Abu Hussein said. “The more we hear their witnesses the more we are getting that someone is trying to white wash what happened.”