Israeli Impunity, US Indulgence, and Rachel Corrie

The expected verdict in the death of Rachel Corrie, killed under the wheels of an Israeli-modified Caterpillar bulldozer in 2003, came down yesterday and the court found no fault with the Israel Defense Forces. That was no surprise. But the deafening silence about it in Washington is nonetheless reprehensible.

I’ve met Cindy and Craig Corrie, Rachel’s parents, on several occasions. I cannot imagine the lives they lead. I cannot imagine the death of my child, much less the death of a child at the hands of a supposed ally of my country with no accountability. I can’t imagine my child being killed by that ally and then seeing my child being blamed for the incident. Yet the Corries have lived through all this, and somehow, while their frustration has grown, it has never morphed into hate. Somehow they always cling to the hope that Israel, an ostensible ally and fellow democracy, will at some point do the right thing.

I’m sure, though I haven’t spoken with them in years, that the Corries held out little hope that this verdict would be that point. But what is perhaps most stunning is that there is no clamor in the United States, aside from those whose sympathies would be with Rachel’s cause in trying to protect Palestinians from the ravages of occupation, for some kind of action on behalf of a US citizen who lost her life on foreign soil under, to be kind, questionable circumstances.

Take Cindy Corrie’s words today: “This was a bad day, not only for us, but for human rights, humanity, the rule of law, and the country of Israel.” Someone was missing on that list, but Cindy got to them in another comment: “The diplomatic process between the United States and Israel failed us.”

I admire Cindy Corrie’s restraint. But the US failure here is much broader than what she is saying. And it’s a long term one.

On March 25, 2003, Congressman Brian Baird (D-WA) introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling on the US government to “undertake a full, fair, and expeditious investigation” into Corrie’s death. The bill gathered 77 co-sponsors, which is not a large number, though a larger one than is typical for a bill critical of Israel. But none had the political muscle to counter defenders of Israel in the House, so the bill died in the Committee on International Relations. Its death, like its existence, generated little attention.

President Bush got a promise from Ariel Sharon, Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, that Israel would conduct a “thorough, credible, and transparent investigation.” An investigation concluded that Rachel’s death was an accident, and that it was, in essence, her own fault for being there in the first place. In a detailed analysis of not only Israel’s several layers of investigation, but also of their own investigation, “Human Rights Watch’s own research indicates that the impartiality and professionalism of the Israeli investigation into Corrie’s death are highly questionable.”

The State Department said at the time that “We do not consider this matter closed with the reception of the internal IDF report. We are going to press for a full and transparent investigation.” But none was forthcoming. And what is the US view today? Well, the US Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro told the Corries last week that Israel’s investigation into Rachel’s death “…was not satisfactory, and wasn’t as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been.”

Indeed, the US’ official position is to press Israel for such a thorough and credible investigation. But nine years later, the Corries were reduced to trying to file a civil suit because there was simply nothing else happening. So much for US pressure.

Let’s be clear about this: we have a US citizen who met her death on foreign soil. The State Department and both the Bush and Obama Administrations believed that the investigation into her death was unsatisfactory. George W. Bush, surely not a president anyone would cast as less than enthusiastic in his support of Israel, personally requested a deeper investigation from the Israeli Prime Minister. And nearly a decade later, all our ambassador to Israel is doing is reaffirming that Israel hasn’t done enough.

Is there a better example of the absurdity of the US’ relationship to Israel than the case of Rachel Corrie? It doesn’t matter if one believes that she had no business going to Gaza in the first place. The fact is that Israel has not explained her death to the satisfaction of its closest ally and patron. If this was any other country — including Great Britain, or Canada — there would be a massive outcry and the US wouldn’t rest until the questions were answered and some kind of accounting was seen.

But not with Israel. The relationship is not special, nor is it because it is “cherished,” in the ridiculous words of Mitt Romney. This is the relationship of an over-indulgent parent further spoiling an already selfish and harmful child. As we watch an Israeli Prime Minister brazenly interfere with a US presidential race, and try to manipulate the US into a war that is against our (and Israel’s) interests, we might also notice that our government is not fulfilling its most fundamental obligation: protecting its citizens overseas.

If Israel wants to make the case that Rachel Corrie’s death was an accident or was merited by her actions, then a transparent investigation that meets basic standards of credibility is the way to do that. That Israel refuses to do that would seem to indicate that they do not believe that the outcome of that investigation would be to their liking. Surely it cannot be about secrecy for security’s sake; Israel is no longer present on the ground in Gaza and the tactics, equipment and systems are a decade old.

Nothing can erase the tragedy of Rachel Corrie’s death. But her death offers an opportunity for the US to finally start to try to curb Israeli impunity. Palestinians are injured and killed regularly, and cases are often closed without resolution or even due investigation, as one can easily see by looking at the site of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. And other foreign activists have also been killed by Israeli forces over the years.

But the US continues to be inert on the matter. One can only hope the Corries find some solace and peace elsewhere. Israel, at least, has good reason to want to bury the truth behind Rachel Corrie’s death. The United States has only its own cowardice as an excuse.

Mitchell Plitnick

Mitchell Plitnick is a political analyst and writer. His previous positions include vice president at the Foundation for Middle East Peace, director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and co-director of Jewish Voice for Peace. His writing has appeared in Ha’aretz, the New Republic, the Jordan Times, Middle East Report, the San Francisco Chronicle, +972 Magazine, Outlook, and other outlets. He was a columnist for Tikkun Magazine, Zeek Magazine and Souciant. He has spoken all over the country on Middle East politics, and has regularly offered commentary in a wide range of radio and television outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor, i24 (Israel), Pacifica Radio, CNBC Asia and many other outlets, as well as at his own blog, Rethinking Foreign Policy, at You can find him on Twitter @MJPlitnick.



  1. Terrific essay. Here we have yet another Israeli “mistake” like, say, the “mistake” of killing Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old US citizen of Turkish descent,aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010.

    Tel Aviv’s subterfuge and Washington’s non-response are also akin to Israel killing 34 Americans on the USS Liberty in 1967. That slaughter occured over a five-hour span, while the ship appropriately flew a five-by-eight-foot Stars and Stripes in the midday sun, in international waters…..

  2. I can assure you if Israel shot down a US airliner all they would have to do is say it was a mistake or completely deny they were involved and the entire congress and our neocon controlled media would throw the dead US citizens under the bus and come to Israel’s defense.

  3. What a charade…if anybody commits crime, let him lead investigation. Let us see how long this model of “israeli justice” will work aroud the globe… Rachel Corrie, rest in peace, World will never forgot Your stand against “Greatest Evil of our days”… peter czech

  4. What is not mentioned is that Rachel Corrie was captured burning an American flag. She was also a member of the International Solidarity Movement which is Marxist and pro-terrorist. It seems that Mr. Plitnick cannot come to terms that it is possible that the Israeli investigation and conclusions were correct.

  5. Sam,

    Last I checked, burning an American flag wasn’t a capital crime anywhere on earth.

    And your claims about the ISM are highly debatable, and irrelevant when it comes to Rachel Corrie’s death.

    Are you saying her membership of an organization you dislike means she deserved to be murdered by the Israeli government?

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