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Israel: Court Decision in the Matter of Rachel Corrie’s Death

(Sept. 19, 2012) On August 28, 2012, the Haifa District Court rejected a civil suit brought by the estate of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian International Solidarity Movement activist. Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, after being struck by a bulldozer while standing in its path during the Israel Defense Force’s (IDF) operation at the “Philadelphi Route” area near Raffah at the Gaza Strip, during the second Intifada (Palestinian uprising). (CA 371-05 Aliene Corrie v. State of Israel, the Ministry of Defense (Aug. 28, 2012) [in Hebrew], available at NEVO LEGAL DATABASE.)

The Court found that there was no basis for the claim that the bulldozer operator struck the deceased intentionally. Instead, the Court held, she was accidentally killed in the framework of a “war operation,” which exempts the State from liability for her death.(Id.)

The Court determined that the IDF activity during which the deceased died was a “war operation” within the meaning of the exemption from liability under the Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, 5752-1952, which provides that the State is exempt from liability for acts done “in the course of a war operation of the Defence Army of Israel.” (Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, 5752-1952 [in Hebrew], 6 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL 147 (5712-1951/52), as amended).) Accordingly, actions qualify as a “war operation” if they involve fighting and preventing “terror, hostile activities or uprising” and are conducted under circumstances involving a threat to life or limb.. (CA 371-05 Aliene Corrie v. State of Israel, the Ministry of Defense, supra.)

The Court held that Corrie died in an area where the IDF was performing a ground-clearing operation that was designed to prevent terrorists from hiding in the field and harming IDF forces. In performing their mission, the Court determined, IDF combatants faced threats to their lives from Palestinian sniper fire and missile attacks, as well as from detonation of explosives and the throwing of live hand grenades, one of which was in fact thrown at the force shortly before the incident took place. Additional indications of the warlike nature of the bulldozer operation included, according to the Court, the use of shielded weaponry, the fact that the force was made up of combatants, and the fact that the members of the force were completely prohibited from leaving their shielded vehicles. Therefore the operation was exempt from state liability. (Id.)

Although it rejected the suit based on this exemption, the Court addressed the claims made by the plaintiffs concerning state liability. In the end, it rejected all alleged grounds for State liability under civil, criminal, constitutional, and international law. (Id.; Civil Wrongs (Liability of the State) Law, supra.)