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Estate of the Late Rachel Corrie et al. v. The State of Israel - Ministry of Defense

This case summary is being revised and will be updated soon

Court District Court of Haifa, Israel
Case number 371/05
Decision title Judgment
Decision date 28 August 2012
  • Cynthia Corrie
  • Craig Corrie
  • The State of Israel
  • Israel Defense Force (IDF)
Categories Human rights violations
Keywords Israel / Palestinian Territories, Israel Defense Forces (IDF), wrongful death
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On 16 March 2003 American Rachel Corrie, together with other International Solidarity Movement members, protested in the "Philadelphi Corridor" in the Rafiah area of the Gaza Strip against the demolition of Palestinian houses in the area. Two bulldozers and an Israel Defense Force (IDF) tank were present. When one of the bulldozers was driving towards a house in order to demolish it, Rachel stood in front of it to protect it and the inhabitants, meanwhile climbing the growing pile of dirt that was formed in front of the bulldozer. At a certain moment she slipped, fell and got stuck under the dirt and the bulldozer. After her fellow protesters made the bulldozer's operator aware of the situation, she was removed from underneath and taken to the hospital, where she died. 

Rachel's parents filed a lawsuit against Israel and the IDF for killing or negligently causing the death of their daughter. 

The Haifa District Court dismissed their claims, stating that the bulldozer's operator had never intended to kill Rachel and had also not been able to see her due to the "blind spot" in front of the bulldozer blade. Furthermore, it found, Rachel had taken the risk of entering the closed-off area and chose to climb the pile of dirt, thus putting herself in the dangerous situation. The Court concluded that she "was accidentally killed in the framework of a "war-related activity""; therefore, "the State bears no responsibility for the damages inflicted on the plaintiffs resulting from a war-related action".

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Procedural history

Initially, Rachel's parents filed a lawsuit in the US against the manufacturer of the bulldozers, Caterpillar, on 2 May 2005. The suit charges Caterpillar with aiding and abetting war crimes and serious human rights violations. The argument was made that Caterpillar provided the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with bulldozers, knowing they would be used to demolish homes and endanger civilians in the Palestinian Territories. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that plaintiffs  had failed to state a claim and that the claim was barred by the ‘political question’ and ‘act of state’ doctrine.

The District Court granted the motion to dismiss. In appeal, this decision was upheld in 2007 as falling beyond the reach of the Court under the political question doctrine.

Afterwards, Corrie's parents decided to file a suit abroad against Israel and the IDF.

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Legally relevant facts

On 16 March 2003, 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie attempted to protect a house from being demolished. She and several Palestinians were run over and killed by a bulldozer, used by the IDF to demolish buildings in Palestinian territory.

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Core legal questions

  • Can the IDF - or in general: the State of Israel - be held responsible for the wrongful death of Rachel Corrie?

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Court's holding and analysis

The Court first established that the concerning area, the "Philadelphi Corridor", was at the time declared a "closed military area" by a military directive, prohibiting civilians to enter the area. It furthrmore determined that, on the day of the incident, "two bulldozers and the armored personnel carrier were occupied with the clear military operational task of clearing the land in a dangerous area which posed a significant risk. The force's action was designed to prevent acts of terror and hostility, i.e. to eliminate the danger of terrorists hiding between the creases of land and in the brush, and to expose explosive devices hidden therein, both of which were intended to kill IDF soldiers" (para. 5(e)). On these grounds, the Court found that the IDF's act of clearing the land was "a war-related action" as defined in The Civil Wrongs Ordinance.

As such, the Court found that the acts of Rachel Corrie and the other protestors were illegal. It commenced with assessing the facts and statements made before it, concluding that Rachel Corrie had slipped when she tried to climb the dirt pile being pushed by the bulldozer; and because she fell behind this dirt and behind the bulldozer's blade (the "blind spot"), the bulldozer's operator had not been able to see her. This, combined with the low speed of the bulldozer, made it clear that the operator had not struck Rachel intentionally. Negligence on the side of the IDF was also ruled out: the Court found that Rachel "could have distanced herself from any danger without any difficulty" but instead "chose to take the risk described above, and that eventually led to her death" (para. 5(i)).

Because the Court found that Rachel "was accidentally killed in the framework of a "war-related activity" as defined in The Civil Wrongs Ordinance"; therefore, and in light of the instructions laid out in Article 5 of this Ordinance, "the State bears no responsibility for the damages inflicted on the plaintiffs resulting from a war-related action" (para. 5(h)).

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Further analysis

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Instruments cited

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Additional materials