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. Of course Israel can do no wrong. The entire US administration and its grovelling leaders should promptly dispatch an official delegation to beg forgiveness for the damage Rachel Corrie must have caused to the bulldozer she came under. Go ahead, suckers, cough up a few billion tax-payer’s money in compensation, too. May Rachel Corrie rest in peace and may the apartheid regime in occupied Palestine be redeemed in full measure. Thank you, Mitchell, for this thoughful article.

  2. Let’s face some facts. The United States of America has given carte blanche to Israel to kill American citizens. This is evident from USS Liberty killings and the subsequent cover-up. America has also given Israel the green light for industrial theft and sabotage. America is run by Israel, and the average Joe seems to think it is how it should be. This is the real tragedy of America, all the Rachel Corries and the sad fate of this country.

  3. and…

    the 2 hr assault on the uss liberty was a mistake.

    pollard’s thieving was a mistake.

  4. Just as Pat Tillman’s 2004 friendly-fire death was covered up by the Army (and those responsible whitewashed by both the Bush and Obama administrations), the nature of Yoni Netanyahu’s 1976 death at Entebbe was covered up by the IDF. Yoni and Pat Tillman were eerily similar characters, both driven by a sense of integrity, honesty and conviction. As was Rachel Corrie, who was Pat Tillman’s hero.

    In her book, “Boots on the Ground by Dusk,” Mary Tillman (Pat’s mother) wrote: “Everywhere I look in this house, I’m staggered by memories. … I stay in the house to look at Pat’s books on the shelves and appreciate his special keepsakes displayed in the dining room hutch. As I’m looking at the mementos, I find a small newspaper clipping I’ve seen before. The article is about Rachel Corrie … I remember picking up the article from the same spot more than a year ago [2003] and asking Pat, ‘Who’s this?’ ‘That’s my hero,’ Pat said. ‘She was a stud; she had a lot of guts.’ I read the article with tears in my eyes then; now, I quietly cry.”

    It’s ironic that while Rachel was a hero to Pat Tillman, she is viewed with contempt by Yoni’s family. Iddo Netanyahu said that he feels “that there is an inherent incompatibility in the joining together, in one evening, of a play based on my brother Yoni’s letters [“To Pay the Price”] with the play ‘My Name Is Rachel Corrie.”

    [For more, see the June 2010 post, “That’s My Hero”: Pat Tillman, Rachel Corrie, and Yoni Netanyahu, at the feralfirefighter blog]

  5. Israel can’t do anything wrong in the eyes of the American controlled media.
    Can we imagine what the press will say if Rachel were murdered by Iran instead of Israel?
    Rest in peace Rachel, the same people who killed her were allowed to judge themselves….of course the verdict was favorable to the killers.
    In the meantime our Congress didn’t say a word…what a shame!

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