by Cindy Corrie
“A lawsuit is not an event for the sprinter.” Mickey Rathbun
On July 10, my family returns to Haifa District Court for a closing session in the civil trial in my daughter Rachel’s case. Pinhas Zuaretz, Brigade Commander in charge of Southern Gaza in 2003, has now “committed” to attending. Zuaretz was expected at April and May sessions but failed to appear. Witnesses in an Israeli civil trial testify at the invitation of the court and are not subpoenaed. Due to trial delays, our family will make our fourth trial-related trip to Israel in sixteen months. As the judge points out, Israeli law makes no special provision for plaintiffs from outside the country. Our family has grown to appreciate the Arab concept of sumud – steadfastness.
What occurs in Israeli court bears little resemblance to proceedings of this kind in the US. Once underway, US trials tend to proceed steadily, and breaks for personal needs are routine. In Israel, the course of the trial and each session is determined largely by needs of the court. We have been reminded more than once that our judge has numerous cases to adjudicate and that many who await trial do so from prison. While repeated trips to Israel for sporadic court sessions are challenging, it seems reasonable that the incarcerated awaiting trial should have priority over us for court time. Israeli friends tell me that court backlogs are symptomatic of failing infrastructure because military spending is the priority.
Despite a prolonged trial, we believe a civil lawsuit with charges against the state and ministry of defense (rather than a single soldier) provides a significant opportunity to expose a system that permits and justifies the outrages that occur in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Our attorney points out that when there is no credible investigation of a matter, a civil lawsuit is the only legal process available to plaintiffs that they have some ability to push forward – a process that allows for those responsible to be questioned under oath.
In April and May, we heard testimony from five witnesses: the Company and Platoon Commanders on site when Rachel was killed, the Deputy Battalion Commander in charge that day, an officer responsible for heavy equipment training, and the military spokesperson in 2003. In total, there have been fourteen hearings, twenty-two testimonies, and over two thousand pages of recorded court transcripts. We will reflect on this material for a long while, but an overriding impression is the near paranoia reflected by the Israeli state and military with their oft repeated justifications for using excessive force against unarmed civilians. Witnesses frequently referred to Gazans as “terrorists,” seldom making any distinction between armed militants and civilian families, children, and peace activists. More than one witness stated or intimated that they were at war with all in Gaza.
If we were in a US court or on Perry Mason, attorneys for each side would make fiery closing statements to a jury that would deliberate and in a relatively short time return a verdict. In this case, when testimony is complete, our family will leave the court and finally pack our bags for home. Attorneys will depart, too, but their work will not end. In the summation phase of the trial, our attorney will write about law that applies to what has been learned about Rachel’s killing through sworn testimony, followed by the state’s written response. Judge Gershon will then review the complete record and issue his verdict. This will all take some months.
Writing of this process, I am reminded of a visit in May with a West Bank family in Area C who have been in court twenty years fighting to stay on their land and farm it. Justice in Israel does not come swiftly.
A legal proceeding such as this is by nature adversarial. As we conclude the direct confrontations that occur in the courtroom, I want to be sure we are not hardened by the experience but are, instead, freed by it. No matter the result, I will hold on to the example provided by our Palestinian friends of whom Rachel wrote in 2003,
“…I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity…I think the word is dignity.”
For further trial details and press releases visit www.rachelcorriefoundation.org/trial