Ben Lynfield, The Scotsman
It was one of the more dramatic events in the second intifada uprising. And now it is coming back to haunt an Israeli general who believed he was above the law – or perhaps was the law.
American Rachel Corrie, 23, was fatally wounded when an Israeli D-9 military bulldozer buried her under sandy soil near the Gaza Strip’s border with Egypt, according to fellow volunteers with the pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement, who were with her. She died of her injuries after being evacuated by ambulance.
Ms Corrie, wearing a fluorescent orange jacket and carrying a megaphone, was among a group of ISM volunteers that over a period of three hours sought to block two army bulldozers from demolishing Palestinian homes.
In death, Ms Corrie, from Olympia, Washington, became a symbol of idealism and self-sacrifice to many and an embarrassment to Israel.
Her parents have left no stone unturned to unearth what really happened that day – 16 March, 2003 – and have launched a civil suit trying to pin responsibility on the state of Israel, which has thus far said her death was unintentional and even blamed the victim herself for behaving “illegally.”
But now evidence has emerged in the civil suit that Israel’s then Gaza commander obstructed the military police investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death.
The apparent intervention of Major-General Doron Almog, then head of Israel’s southern command, is documented in testimony taken by Israeli military police from the commander of the bulldozer a day after Ms Corrie was killed.
The handwritten affidavit effectively puts the entire state of Israel on trial. Is it willing to tolerate Maj-Gen Almog’s gross interference in the investigation or will it hold him to the three years’ imprisonment the law accords for such an offence?
In the affidavit, the commander of the D-9 tells military police investigators that he did not see Ms Corrie before she was wounded.
However, Alice Coy, now a nurse in Glasgow, and an ISM volunteer activist who was near Ms Corrie during the incident, said in an affidavit to the court that “to the best of my knowledge the bulldozer driver could see Rachel while pushing earth over her body”.
The D-9 commander, a reservist named Edward Valermov, was in the middle of his testimony when a colonel dispatched by Maj-Gen Almog entered the room and ordered him to stop speaking, according to the document.
The military police investigator wrote: “At 18:12 reserve Colonel Baruch Kirhatu entered the room and informed the witness that he should not convey anything and should not write anything and this at the order of the general of southern command.”
In his testimony before he was stopped, Mr Valermov said that the bulldozers, manned by two people, were ordered by their company commander to continue their work despite the presence of the ISM protesters.
He said that troops in an armoured personnel carrier threw stun grenades, used tear gas and fired shots toward the ground in order to scare the protesters away.
“It didn’t help and therefore we decided to continue the work with all possible delicateness on the orders of the company commander,” he added.
Mr Valermov testified that the protesters nearly touched the bulldozers, making it impossible to advance, but that after the company commander’s order “we started moving with the D-9, we continued laying bare the area from all of the things that were there.
“It was only when we moved the D-9 backwards that I saw her. The woman was lying in a place where the instrument had not reached. As soon as we saw the harmed woman we returned to the central corridor, stood and waited for orders.”
Mr Valermov’s last statement before Maj-Gen Almog’s interdiction was, “my job was to guide. The driver cannot guide himself because his field of vision is not large.”
In a phone interview from Olympia, Washington, Rachel’s father Craig Corrie termed Maj-Gen Almog’s intervention in Mr Valermov’s testimony “outrageous”.
Maj-Gen Almog has angrily denied halting Mr Valermov’s testimony.
Moshe Negbi, legal commentator for the state-run Voice of Israel radio, said of Maj-Gen Almog’s interdiction: “If a commander prevents a witness from testifying than it is disruption of an investigation, a criminal offence whose penalty is three years’ imprisonment.”
By deciding Maj-Gen Almog’s fate, Israel will be deciding if it is a state of law or a state of the generals – past and present.