HAIFA, Israel – An Israeli court Tuesday cleared the military of wrongdoing in the death of a young American activist who was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer during a protest in the Gaza Strip nearly a decade ago, rejecting accusations by her parents that the driver acted recklessly.
The verdict came after a seven-year legal battle waged by the family of Rachel A. Corrie, of Olympia, Wash., whose death remains a powerful symbol on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
For pro-Palestinian activists, Corrie has become a rallying cry and vivid image of what they say is Israel’s harsh repression of the Palestinians. In Israel, she is viewed as a tragic, manipulated figure who naively put herself into harm’s way in a fit of idealism.
The family said that it was considering an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court but wanted to examine the full verdict before deciding.
Corrie, who was 23, was killed in March 2003 as she tried to block an Israeli military bulldozer in the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The incident occurred at the height of a Palestinian uprising, a time of heavy fighting between the military and Palestinians.
The woman’s parents filed their lawsuit two years later after an internal army investigation ruled the death an accident and said the bulldozer driver and other military personnel in the area acted properly. Corrie’s supporters have said the investigation was poorly handled and the driver acted recklessly, perhaps even intentionally running her over.
In Tuesday’s verdict, Judge Oded Gershon backed the military’s version of events. Corrie “put herself in a dangerous situation,” said the judge, who called her death “the result of an accident she brought upon herself.” He also said the military investigation was handled properly.
In Washington, the State Department called Corrie’s death “tragic.”
“We understand the family’s disappointment with the outcome of the trial,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. She declined to say whether the United States shared that feeling.
Corrie’s family appeared devastated by the verdict. “We are, of course, deeply saddened and deeply troubled by what we heard today,” said her mother, Cindy, 64, a homemaker and musician. “The state has worked extremely hard to make sure the full truth about my daughter is not exposed, and those responsible for killing her are not accountable.”
Her husband, Craig, 65, held the microphone for his wife, whose voice wavered as she read a letter written by her daughter to a Palestinian friend before her death.
“Life is very difficult. Human beings can be kind, brave and strong, even in the most difficult of circumstances,” the letter said. “Thank you for existing, for showing how good people can be, despite great hardship.”
The family sought a symbolic $1 judgment, in addition to the $200,000 they say they have spent on legal expenses.
Rachel Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement, whose activists enter conflict zones and try to interfere with activities of Israel’s military in the West Bank and Gaza, territories the Palestinians claim for their state.