Friday, August 31, 2012

Rachel and the Miners

Photo: Carlos Latuff sums up the verdict in the Rachel Corrie case.

"Only thing missing is Cat(erpillar) logo on the dozer". Otherwise, Carlos Latuff's cartoon sums up how judgment is widely seen.

ISRAEL and South Africa are supposed to be opponents.
Leaders who claim credit for triumphing over Apartheid have rightly taken stands against what some - including some Israelis -dub "Apartheid Israel". But this week, for all their differences, South Africa and Israel appeared less like principled opponents, more like competitors in injustice.

Nine years after the death of American human rights activist Rachel Corrie, who stood in the path of an Israeli bulldozer in the southern Gaza Strip, an Israeli judge has delivered his considered verdict that the young American was responsible for her own death.

In South Africa, even before an inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma had met to commence its work, the 270 miners arrested during the strike at the Marikana platinum mine have been charged with the murder of 34 colleagues who were shot dead by police.

The murder charge – and associated charges for the attempted murder of 78 miners injured at the Marikana mine near Johannesburg – was brought by the national prosecuting authority under an obscure Roman-Dutch common law previously used by the Apartheid regimr. .

The move came as the men appeared in court charged with public violence over the clashes at the Lonmin platinum mine on 16 August.

According to a police spokesperson the officers who opened fire were defending themselves after coming under fire themselves from a charging mob, who were armed and had already killed two officers and some strikebreakers earlier that week. But on TV we clearly saw police standing and firing automatic weapons, not attempting to take cover, while the crowd supposely advancing on them could not be seen.

In fact, post-mortem examinations revealed that most of the 34 victims of the police action on August 16 were shot in the back while a smaller number were shot while facing forward, Johannesburg's Star newspaper reported citing sources close to the investigation.

Over 150 complaints have been filed with the Independent Police Investigative Directorate over the alleged torture and assault in police custody of miners who were arrested following the violence.

Rachel Corrie was killed on March 16, 2003, in an area where Israeli forces were clearing a widening corridor between Palestinian homes and the Egyptian border, so their patrols could operate without interference. Earlier in the week she and other ISM volunteers had tried to shield Palestinian workers who were trying to repair a well. On the day she was killed the Israeli bulldozers were advancing on homes and vegetable gardens, destroying glasshouses.

The Israeki military said the bulldozer which killed Rachel Corrie was only clearing "vegetation and rubble", and that the driver, with limited visibility through a narrow armoured window could not see her over the pile of earth in front of his blade.

Eye-witness Joe Carr, another of the volunteers, described it differently:
"Still wearing her fluorescent jacket, she knelt down at least 15 meters in front of the bulldozer, and began waving her arms and shouting, just as activists had successfully done dozens of times that day.... When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer.... Her head and upper torso were above the bulldozer's blade, and the bulldozer operator and co-operator could clearly see her. Despite this, the operator continued forward, which caused her to fall back, out of view of the driver. [sic] He continued forward, and she tried to scoot back, but was quickly pulled underneath the bulldozer. We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted; one activist with the megaphone. But the bulldozer operator continued forward, until Rachel was all the way underneath the central section of the bulldozer".

The driver said that if he had to do it again he would.

Nine Palestinians were killed that week. Because Rachel was an American, US officials said there should be a full inquiry, and Rachel's parents sought legal action.

Nine years later, Judge Oded Gershon of the Haifa District Court has produced a 162 page report from which my friend and fellow-blogger Adam Keller quotes a sample:

"The Philadelphi Route was the arena of constant war, of ongoing sniper fire, rocket fire and explosive charges. None other than combat soldiers ventured there... The bulldozer crew was conducting a clearing operation under fire. The late Rachel Corrie chose to take a risk, which ultimately led to her death... The deceased had gotten herself into a dangerous situation... She did not stay away, as any sensible person would have done. The deceased's death was caused by an accident which the deceased brought on herself, despite the attempts of the IDF troops to remove her and her friends from there... Under the circumstances, the IDF unit's conduct was impeccable."

Adam himself served in the IDF (and spent some time in the stockade after tanks he was guarding were mysteriously daubed overnight with the words "Down With the Occupation!"). He acknowledges that the corridor where Rachel Corrie was killed was indeed a battle zone, where Palestinians had vented their rage at Israeli forces maintaining the siege of Gaza, and men were killed on both sides.

'Still, Judge Gershon was certainly not accurate when he wrote that combat soldiers were the only people there, in the hell of the battlefield called The Philadelphi Route. Very many, civilians were there, too - men and women, elderly and children – in their thousands and tens of thousands. The civilians were there because it was their home, the only home they had - even if it was quite miserable. They had lived there before it became the scene of battle and before it came to be called Philadelphi. Many of them had come to live there because their original homes had become a battle zone in a previous war, the one which convulsed this country in 1948. And they stayed there, even when it had become the Philadelphi battle zone and the Philadelphi corridor became an arena of battle, even when some them got killed by the bullets of snipers and the explosion of explosive devices, because they literally had nowhere else to go.

'And then somebody conceived a brilliant idea. The man's name was Yom Tov Samia, and he was an outstanding officer in the Israel Defense Forces who climbed fast through the ranks until he became Commanding General South. And General Samia had an idea how to win the lost war along the Route. To take up "clearing" - a word invented by the Israel Defense Forces, the kind of word which armies make up to hide horrors behind neutral words - on a truly grand scale. To create a "sterile" space, completely sterile and without life, a kilometer or two wide. A completely flattened area with no houses and no people and no animals and no plants, nothing but soldiers and weapons of war moving in safety, as they could notice from far any possible threat and take action to neutralize that threat. In purely military terms, it must be said, there was some logic to this idea. Only, it implied the destruction of thousands of houses in which tens of thousands of people lived, half or three quarters of a city called Rafah.

'Probably General Yom Tov Samia would have liked to do it all at once, in one blow, to erase "shave off" all these thousands of houses in a single day and by the next complete the sterilization of the area. But this might have caused a bit too much of an international stir, become an instant item of "Breaking News" on CNN and other networks, and the political echelon did not give its approval. So the Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers were set to working by the good old method of creating "facts on the ground" bit by bit, acre by acre. Each time they erased and "shaved off" another row of houses, sometimes twenty, sometimes thirty. Usually the residents of these houses managed to jump out and run at the last minute, but some were not quick enough and were buried under the ruins of what had been their homes. In the city of Rafah, photos of those victims were printed and pasted on the walls, but media outlets in the wider world were not really interested.

'That was the time when volunteers started arriving on the scene, the people of the International Solidarity Movement, ISM. Yes, that organization to which Judge Gershon paid much attention in his verdict, stating that it was "abusing the discourse of Human Rights and morality" and that its acts are "violent in essence". Activists from Europe and America and all over the world came to the Gaza Strip and asked where Palestinians were most suffering from the occupation's harshness and were in greatest need of assistance and international solidarity. And they were told that Rafah was such a place. And they came to Rafah and were hosted by families on the very front line, where their hosts already knew that they were next in line for the D-9's.

'And there were activists who after months in besieged Rafah went to rest and freshen up in their own quiet and safe homes at Copenhagen or Barcelona or Sydney - or Olympia in the State of Washington in the United States - and when they returned to Rafah they found that the house where they had stayed the last time no longer existed, not a trace of it left, and the plot on which it had stood had become part of the sterile space. Another house, which had been further back, was now the new front line.

And then they decided to do what a person who cares, who cares very very much, could to do in such a situation. To go unarmed into the battlefield and arena of war called the Philadelphi Route. To stand with empty hands against tanks and bulldozers, and to scream and cry out towards those who did not really want to hear. To face empty-handed and unarmed the might of the Israel Defense Forces. To interpose with their bodies and interfere with implementation of the brilliant strategic plan of General Yom Tov Samia.

Maybe there is something in what Judge Oded Gershon wrote. A sensible person – the kind of sensible person which Judge Gershon himself is, and his friends and acquaintances - would not have done it. Judge Oded Gershon would certainly not have seriously considered facing with his bare hands a giant bulldozer, nearly as big as a house. "The deceased had knowingly gotten herself into a dangerous situation." There is no doubt that she did. A very dangerous situation. Jewish and world history marks a young boy named David, who knowingly placed himself in a very dangerous situation, facing a fearsome giant called Goliath. It might be that he was not a very sensible person, either.

'"The bulldozer driver and his commander had a very limited field of view. They could not notice the deceased" wrote Judge Gershon. One might add that also the commander of the commander had a very limited field of view, and even the commander of the commander of the commander. A very limited field of view, in which only the immediate military considerations and objectives could be seen. A very limited field of view in which human beings could not be seen, a living city could not been as it was being destroyed and razed and erazed and made into a sterile zone. A very limited field of view where it was not possible to see a young woman who followed the dicates of her conscience and came all the way from the West Coast of the United States to Rafah in the Gaza Strip, to risk her life in a desperate act of protest.

'At the exit from the Haifa District Court, Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, spoke to the journalists. Hurt and shaken by the verdict she said "In that home which Rachel was trying to protect there were children. All of us should have been there, to stand with her."'

But from Rachel Corrie, apparently responsible for her own death because, being a member of the ISM, whose actions though unarmed were "violent in essence", she chose to place herself in the wromg place and in the path of a bulldozer, we now move on to the higher case; of the striking miners who were guilty of charging away from the police, and placing their backs in the path of gunfire.

"The law is an ass", said Mr.Bumble. But in some cases, of the two, the ass is a much more worthy beast.

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