Slain U.S. Activist's Parents Seek Small Justice

Cindy, center, and Craig Corrie, right, the parents of Rachel Corrie, sit together with their daughter Sarah during an interview with the Associated Press in Jerusalem, Oct. 10, 2010. AP Photo

The parents of a young American activist crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer seven years ago as she tried to save a Palestinian home from demolition never saw the soldier who killed her or his commanders put on trial or punished.

Instead, they have spent years battling in Israeli courts for two modest goals they hope might give them some closure: an apology from the military and a chance to look their daughter's killer in the eye in court.

They suffered a setback in their quest last week when an Israeli judge declined one of their key requests. The driver and his commander are expected to testify in the family's civil trial against the Israeli government in the coming weeks and the judge ordered that they will be screened from view during testimony. Their identities have not been made public.

The family has petitioned the Supreme Court to overturn the decision - they say seeing the bulldozer driver and his commander face-to-face would help them feel more compassion.

"We are desperately trying to keep our minds open about this," said father Craig Corrie, 63.

Rachel Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, while standing in the way of a military bulldozer that sought to demolish a Palestinian home in Gaza. An army investigation concluded she was partially hidden behind a dirt mound and ruled her death an accident. The driver and his commander were not charged or tried and no one was punished for her death.

In 2005, the Corries filed a civil suit against the Israeli Defense Ministry. They are seeking a symbolic one dollar in damages plus trial costs and travel expenses for themselves and witnesses, which they say are close to $100,000. Hearings in the case began this year.

Rachel's mother Cindy Corrie told The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that their court battle seeks only a modicum of justice that they hope will bring them closure and perhaps the strength to forgive those involved.

"I want to understand these people. I want to understand how this could have happened," said Corrie, 62. "After seven-and-a-half years of trying to find accountability ... we've sort of worked toward this moment."

Rachel Corrie's parents - a musician and an insurance agent from Olympia, Washington - have become unlikely international advocates, drawn into world affairs by Rachel's death.

Cindy Corrie had never left the U.S. before her daughter was killed. Her husband, Craig, had only left once: to serve as a U.S. combat engineer during the Vietnam war, where he oversaw U.S. military bulldozers clearing jungle paths.

Neither knew anything about the Middle East. Now they speak about Palestinian suffering in lectures across the world and of their own heartbreaking experience. They have also repeatedly visited the Palestinian territories, including the spot where Rachel was killed.

Rachel, the youngest of their three children, took a break from college at age 23 to pursue student activism overseas as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group whose activists often position themselves between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

Her death has become a hot-button issue between Israel and the Palestinians and their international supporters - who adopted Corrie as a potent symbol of what they consider Israel's harsh repression of nonviolent protest to occupation.

Her fellow activists claim she was killed deliberately.

Supporters of Israel argue that Corrie, like thousands of other foreign activists, recklessly chose to risk her life in a conflict zone where she could be harmed by soldiers who themselves often feel under assault.

On Sunday, Israel's Defense Ministry said in a statement responding to AP questions that it regretted "the incident in which Rachel Corrie was mistakenly hurt."

The family argues that the military investigation into their daughter's death was done poorly. Translations of trial testimonies provided by the Corries suggest that a commander told the military investigator not to question bulldozer operators and that the driver didn't have clear instructions on dealing with civilians.

The Corries have lobbied U.S. officials to pressure Israel to reopen the investigation into Rachel's death. And if the Supreme Court doesn't rule in their favor, the Corries say the will resume lobbying U.S. officials.

They have also tried unsuccessfully to sue Caterpillar Inc., the U.S. company that manufactured the bulldozer. They claimed the company was liable for aiding and abetting human rights violations.
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