"Rachel Corrie died trying to protect her friends"

Tom Dale, who witnessed Corrie's death, reacts to the verdict clearing Israel of blame.

In 2003, pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of houses in Rafah.

Today, an Israeli court found:

There had been no fault in the internal Israeli military investigation clearing the driver of the bulldozer that crushed Corrie to death in March 2003 of any blame. The judge said the driver had not seen the young American activist. Corrie could have saved herself by moving out of the zone of danger as any reasonable person would have done, said Judge Oded Gershon. He ruled that no compensation would be paid and the family would not have to pay costs of the case.

(via The Guardian)

We asked Tom Dale, news editor at the Egypt Independent - who was protesting alongside Corrie that day - for his reaction to the verdict.

He told us:

The verdict in Rachel's case is saddening for for all those who knew Rachel, and for all who believe in what she stood for.  It should be disappointing for all those who want to see justice done in Israel and Palestine.

On 16 March 2003, Rachel could not have been more visible: standing, on a clear day, in the open ground, wearing a high visibility vest.  On that day, she had been in the presence of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozers used by the Israeli army for some hours.

She was standing in front of the home of a young family which was under threat of demolition by a bulldozer.  Many homes were demolished in such a way at that time, and Rachel was seeking to protect her friends, with whom she had lived.

Even going by the visibility charts provided by the Israeli state during the case, in my judgement the bulldozer driver must at some point have been able to see Rachel, during the period in which his vehicle approached her.  As I told the court, just before she was crushed, Rachel briefly stood on top of the rolling mound of earth which had gathered in front of the bulldozer: her head was above the level of the blade, and just a few metres from the driver. I do not find it plausible that he did not see her.

Those of us who are familiar with events under occupation in Palestine are may not be surprised by this verdict, which reflects a long-standing culture of impunity for the military, but we should be outraged.

I didn't have a chance to get to know Rachel as well as I would have liked, since we spent just a few weeks together, but she is a tremendous loss to us all. 

Rachel Corrie. Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty
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How the Conservatives lost the argument over austerity

After repeatedly missing their deficit targets, the Tories can no longer present spending cuts as essential.

“The age of irresponsibility is giving way to the age of austerity,” declared David Cameron at the Conservatives' 2009 spring conference. Fear of spending cuts helped deny his party a majority a year later, but by 2015 the Tories claimed vindication. By framing austerity as unavoidable, they had trapped Labour in a political no man's land. Though voters did not relish cuts, polling consistently showed that they regarded them as necessary.

But only two years later, it is the Conservatives who appear trapped. An austerity-weary electorate has deprived them of their majority and the argument for fiscal restraint is growing weaker by the day. If cuts are the supposed rule, then the £1bn gifted to the Democratic Unionist Party is the most glaring exception. Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, sought to justify this largesse as "investment" into "the infrastructure of Northern Ireland" from "which everybody will benefit" – a classic Keynesian argument. But this did not, he hastened to add, mean the end of austerity: "Austerity is never over until we clear the deficit."

Britain's deficit (which peaked at £153bn in 2009-10) was the original and pre-eminent justification for cuts. Unless borrowing was largely eliminated by 2015, George Osborne warned, Britain's public finances would become unsustainable. But as time has passed, this argument has become progressively weaker. The UK has cumulatively borrowed £200bn more than promised by Osborne, yet apocalypse has been averted. With its low borrowing costs, an independent currency and a lender of last resort (the Bank of England), the UK is able to tolerate consistent deficits (borrowing stood at £46.6bn in 2016-17).

In defiance of all this, Osborne vowed to achieve a budget surplus by 2019-20 (a goal achieved by the UK in just 12 years since 1948). The Tories made the target in the knowledge that promised tax cuts and spending increases would make it almost impossible to attain – but it was a political weapon with which to wound Labour.

Brexit, however, forced the Conservatives to disarm. Mindful of the economic instability to come, Philip Hammond postponed the surplus target to 2025 (15 years after Osborne's original goal). Britain's past and future borrowing levels mean the deficit has lost its political potency.

In these circumstances, it is unsurprising that voters are increasingly inclined to look for full-scale alternatives. Labour has remade itself as an unambiguously anti-austerity party and Britain's public realm is frayed from seven years of cuts: overburdened schools and hospitals, dilapidated infrastructure, potholed roads, uncollected bins.

Through a shift in rhetoric, Theresa May acknowledged voters' weariness with austerity but her policies did not match. Though the pace of cuts was slowed, signature measures such as the public sector pay cap and the freeze in working-age benefits endured. May's cold insistence to an underpaid nurse that there was no "magic money tree" exemplified the Tories' predicament.

In his recent Mansion House speech, Philip Hammond conceded that voters were impatient "after seven years of hard slog” but vowed to "make anew the case" for austerity. But other Tories believe they need to stop fighting a losing battle. The Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. If the Tories are to retain power, yet another metamorphosis may be needed: from austerity to stimulus.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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