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Israeli court says Rachel Corrie was not unlawfully killed

Aug. 28, 2012 9:38 A.M. (Updated: Aug. 29, 2012 1:13 P.M.)
HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) -- An Israeli court rejected on Tuesday accusations of negligence over the 2003 killing of American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in the Gaza Strip.

Corrie's family filed the lawsuit in the northern Israeli city of Haifa in 2005, accusing Israel of intentionally and unlawfully killing their 23-year-old daughter and failing to conduct a full and credible investigation.

In a lengthy ruling read out to the court, the judge said the state was not responsible for any "damages caused" as they had occurred during what he termed war-time actions. He called Corrie's death a "regrettable accident".

"I reject the suit," the judge said. "There is no justification to demand the state pay any damages."

He added that the soldiers had done their utmost to keep people away from the site. "She (Corrie) did not distance herself from the area, as any thinking person would have done."

Corrie, from Olympia, Washington, had joined a small group of international activists trying to stop the Israeli army from demolishing houses in the southern Gaza town of Rafah during the height of a Palestinian uprising.

Her friends said she was wearing a bright orange vest at the time of the incident and was standing on a mound of earth, but had lost her footing as the bulldozer advanced. The driver said he had not seen her and did not hear the cries to stop.

Corrie's mother, Cindy, denounced the verdict and accused the court of looking to shield the military from justice.

"I believe that this was a bad day not only for our family but a bad day for human rights, for humanity, the rule of law and also for the country of Israel," she told reporters.

The family said it would appeal the ruling.

Corrie's death made her a symbol of the uprising, and while her family battled through the courts to establish who was responsible for her killing, her story was dramatized on stage in a dozen countries and told in the book "Let Me Stand Alone."

"I am hurt," Corrie's mother, Cindy, told reporters after the verdict was read.

Cindy, who struggled to hold back her tears, said she felt let down not just by the Israeli legal system but also by US diplomacy.

"Rachel was a human being and we as her family deserved accountability," Cindy Corrie said. "The (Israeli) state has worked extremely hard so that the truth behind what happened to my daughter is not exposed."

Few Israelis showed much sympathy for Corrie's death, which took place at the height of the uprising in which thousands of Palestinians were killed and hundreds of Israelis died.

Senior US officials criticized the original military investigation into the case, saying it had been neither thorough nor credible. But the judge said the inquiry had been appropriate and pinned no blame on the army.

Israel's far-right Yisrael Beitenu party, a member of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition, heralded the verdict, calling it "vindication after vilification".

A spokeswoman for the Corrie family told Ma'an in May that the investigation by Israeli military police into Rachel's death had been "careless and shoddy," as well as emotionally taxing for the family.

Israeli soldiers had signed testimonies about the events and then couldn't remember them in court, Stacy Sullivan told Ma'an, adding that the driver of the bulldozer that killed Rachel did not remember her name in court, or the date of the incident.

Four eyewitnesses from the International Solidarity Movement testified that Rachel was visible to soldiers in the bulldozer as it approached.

Ma'an staff in Bethlehem contributed to this report
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