The Corrie Case Clears the Israeli State of All Responsibility

Haifa/Brussels, August 28, 2012 Avocats Sans Frontières (ASF) regrets that the State of Israel’s responsibility has been cleared by the District Court of Haifa in the “Rachel Corrie” case. In his verdict pronounced today on the circumstances surrounding the American activist’s death, the judge deemed that the internal investigation of the responsibility of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had been appropriately carried out.  However, for ASF, who has been observing the trial since 2010, the inquiry was not conducted in a complete, credible or transparent manner. The decision raises questions about the State of Israel’s obligation to insure the physical protection of civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

A volunteer with the NGO International Solidarity Movement, Rachel Corrie was killed in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003, crushed by an Israeli Army bulldozer. Alongside other volunteers, Corrie protested against the planned demolition of Palestinian houses in the zone of Rafah.

Rachel Corrie protests Israeli policy of home demolitions several hours prior to her killing-Rafah, Gaza, March 16, 2003 © Sara Simpson

Following the internal investigation led by the Israeli military police, the case had been closed: the driver of the bulldozer had neither seen Rachel nor could have seen her. This  formally contradicts Rachel’s colleagues who were at the scene. The Israeli government never released the investigation’s report, despite repeated demands by the victim’s family. Seeking justice and the truth, the family ultimately decided to file a civil liability action against the State of Israel.

“To declare that the internal investigation was conducted properly discredits the court’s decision. It appears from several elements of the file, including the testimony from members of the army at the hearing, that there were serious flaws in the investigation which found no responsibility with the army,” says Lara Deramaix, ASF Coordinator in charge of Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

At the request of the Corrie family, ASF has been ensuring a completely independent observation of this trial since 2010. Commissioned by ASF, Israeli lawyer Smadar Ben Natan attended today’s ruling: “The Court has adopted the State arguments one by one. As a result, today’s decision does not answer the acute problem of the action (death due to the bulldozer) and the military, and thus State responsibility for it, nor the problems raised by the incomplete military investigation.”

In his verdict, the judge in Haifa considered the American activist to have put herself in a dangerous situation despite the fact that she was wearing a fluorescent jacket and carrying a megaphone with which she addressed the soldiers for several hours before she was killed.

“To consider that Rachel Corrie acted at her own risk by interfering in an ongoing military operation serves to clear the State of Israel of all liability and to dismiss the question of whether the army took all the necessary precautions to avoid this tragedy,” concludes Deramaix.

Link: The Rachel Corrie Foundation

Front picture: Activists aid Rachel Corrie moments after runover by Israeli military bulldozer – Rafah, Gaza March 16, 2003 © Sara Simpson

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ASF Housing Rights Report (May 2011)

Housing rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem are not being respected

Brussels, 7 June 2011 – The violation of housing rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities affects directly the lives of Palestinian families and is a breach of international law, concludes a report commissioned by ASF. The report presented on 31 May 2011 in Brussels is the result of a fact-finding mission done by a delegation of English lawyers in Sheikh Jarrah, an area located in East Jerusalem.

Since the start of the Israeli occupation and annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967 until today, the Palestinian refugee families in Sheikh Jarrah have been the target of eviction proceedings. Some 60 people have been recently evicted from their home; 500 others are at risk of eviction and forced displacement. This is against the Fourth Geneva Convention which prohibits any measure by the occupying powers to either deport people or transfer parts of its own population into the territory it occupies. “With regard to East Jerusalem, such measures have been taken by the Israeli government”, states the report presented during a seminar organised by ASF.  The situation in Sheikh Jarrah illustrates the fact that Israel is not complying with its obligations under international law and is “an integral part of Israel’s illegal settlement policy in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)”.

Another dimension highlighted by the report is the way in which the evictions are taking place. In particular, the Israeli police have attended evictions and demolitions of houses owned by Palestinians in disproportionate numbers, closing off roads, and removing affected families with unnecessary force. “When they [Israeli Defense Forces] came to evict us, it looked like a war zone”, told a Palestinian woman to the delegation. “It was four o’clock in the morning. Within the hour, the settlers were occupying our house and using our belongings”, she said. As a result, people become homeless and no assistance is being provided by the Israeli occupying authorities to the affected families.

In Sheikh Jarrah, “there is a persistent violation of the rights to peoples’ determination which is the cornerstone of international law”, says a practicing lawyer at the European Court of Human Rights and member of the delegation.  The report concludes that underlying the Israeli processes of zoning and planning control in East Jerusalem are political motivations to engineer the demographic balance between Jewish and Palestinian occupants; this is resulting in a housing crisis for the latter.

Today, some 190,000 Israeli settlers live in settlements inside East Jerusalem.

The ASF program in Israel and the OPT is aimed at promoting respect for and enforcement of international law through thestrengthening of the capacities of human rights lawyers and civil society organisations. The report follows a request from local lawyers and NGOs received ASF and includes the conclusions of a fact-finding mission done in December 2010. To access the report and its recommendations: Enforcing housing rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah (pdf).

See also related story: ”East Jerusalem is not downtown Tel-Aviv”

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« East Jerusalem is not Downtown Tel-Aviv »

Brussels, 6 June 2011 – Sami Erschied is Palestinian and Daniel Seidemann Israeli. Both are lawyers defending the rights of Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah – an area in East Jerusalem – and forcibly evicted from their homes by the Israeli authorities. Present at the seminar organised by ASF in Brussels for the launch of a Report on housing rights: the case of Sheikh Jarrah (pdf), Erschied and Seidemann are calling upon the European Union and the international community to intensify their pressure to end these illegal evictions and restore the respect of international law over East Jerusalem.

For the last three years, more than 60 Palestinians have been forcibly evicted in Sheikh Jarrah and, according to the United Nations, at least another 500 are at risk of dispossession and displacement. “These families are so-called city refugees. They were already expelled from their homes in 1948 from areas that are now in Israel and were resettled by the United Nations with the help of the Jordanian Government in Sheikh Jarrah in 1956”, explains Sami Erschied who has a law firm in Jerusalem and is representing the families before the Israeli courts. “However, legal title to these homes was never formally transferred to the families. And now, Committees of Jewish settlers are claiming ownership pre-dating 1948”.

The evictions generally occur without reasonable notice, very quickly – often within minutes -, and in presence of Israeli police forces in massive numbers to avoid any resistance from the people being evicted. As a result, Palestinian families are left homeless and without assistance from the authorities.

“Technically, we can bring the cases of these evicted families in front of the Israeli Courts but in fact, the core legal principles are being denied to my clients”, says Erschied (picture left). Daniel Seidemann (picture right), human rights lawyer and founder of an Israeli non-governmental organization promoting an Israeli-Palestinian permanent status Peace agreement, agrees: “In this situation, the Israeli legal system is dysfunctional. Since 1967, East Jerusalem is territory occupied by Israel. This means that referring to the Israeli rule there is based on a fiction: from a legal point of view, East Jerusalem can simply not be considered as another part of Israel. It is not downtown Tel-Aviv”.

The fact that East Jerusalem is occupied territory also implies that, according to international law, Israel can neither deport nor transfer parts of population from/to East Jerusalem. “The ongoing evictions are thus violating international humanitarian law”, insists Erschied. “If the European Union could put pressure on Israel to respect its international legal obligations in East Jerusalem, this would greatly contribute to the improvement of the situation there”. “The ASF report is like a warning signal to the international community. It shows that the status quo over East Jerusalem is neither equitable nor sustainable”, considers Daniel Seidemann. While the ASF report brings a legal perspective, ultimately, “stopping the demolition of Palestinian houses and resolving the conflict is a political act”, he concludes.

See also other story Access to the ASF Report on housing rights Continue reading “« East Jerusalem is not Downtown Tel-Aviv »”