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March 20, 2003

A Tough Call

Consul general of Israel in San Francisco offers condolences to family of protester killed by bulldozer.

http://www.jewishjournal.com/community/article/a_tough_call_20030321

Yossi Amrani had a difficult phone call to make on Monday.

The consul general of Israel in San Francisco placed a call to Craig and Cynthia Corrie of Charlotte, N.C., to express his condolences over the death of their daughter.

Rachel Corrie, 23, a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., was run over and killed by an Israeli bulldozer on Sunday, as she was trying to prevent a Palestinian home from being demolished. At this time, it is unknown whether the driver of the bulldozer saw Corrie, who was wearing a fluorescent orange vest.

Corrie's aunt, who lives in Los Angeles, had called Consul General Yuval Rotem in Los Angeles to suggest that an Israeli representative call her family. Rotem contacted Amrani, whose Pacific Northwest region includes Washington state, where Corrie grew up and attended college. Amrani spoke with Corrie's father.

"It wasn't easy, not for me and it was even harder for him," Amrani said.

The two men had a short conversation, in which Amrani expressed his own condolences as well as those of the State of Israel, and offered his assistance.

"He responded politely that she was not anti-Israeli but supported peace for both peoples and an end to the conflict," said Amrani.

Actually, the Associated Press circulated a photo of Corrie burning an American flag in the midst of Palestinian children. But that made no difference to Amrani.

"Her convictions or her political affiliation or preference are not my responsibility and are not my issue," he said. "It's a tragedy for the family and a tragedy for us."

"There's a war that's going on [in the Middle East], and unfortunately Israelis, Palestinians and now Americans are paying with their lives," Amrani continued. "Her political beliefs are not, in any way, making it any easier for us in justifying or explaining what happened. It is a tragedy and will always be a tragedy."

Amrani described the conversation as "burdened" and said, "It was my responsibility to reach out to the family and offer our sympathy and help."

The Associated Press reported that Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat also called the Corrie family. Corrie was a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a Palestinian-led activist group that uses nonviolent civil disobedience to oppose Israeli policies in the territories. However, the movement's activities often put its members in harm's way.

In December 2001, 70 activists used their bodies as shields against Israel Defense Force (IDF) tanks, which were attacking Arafat's Ramallah headquarters. During last year's standoff at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, ISM members broke into the church to act as human shields for some 200 Palestinian terrorists hiding inside. Corrie was the first member of ISM to be killed in the conflict.

"Everyone involved in ISM is well aware of the risks," said Ghassan Andoni, 45, the group's Bethlehem co-founder. "People are asked to only join an action if they are comfortable with it."

The IDF spokesman expressed regret over Corrie's death and said that, at first review, it appears to have been accidental. The spokesman added that soldiers repeatedly warned demonstrators to keep at a safe distance and that the bulldozer "has small windows and a limited field of vision, and [the driver] didn't see the spot where the woman was standing."

Israeli officials have also said the house was targeted for demolition because Palestinians were using tunnels built beneath it to smuggle in weapons.

Vigils have taken place around the world since Corrie's death, including in Tel Aviv and San Francisco. About 100 people, among them Arabs and members of A Jewish Voice for Peace, gathered outside the Israeli Consulate General in San Francisco at 5 p.m. Monday to remember Corrie. Speakers included ISM members and friends of Corrie's.

In Tel Aviv, about 60 members of the peace group Gush Shalom demonstrated Sunday outside the Defense Ministry, calling the occupation "a murderous and runaway machine." And in Washington, D.C., a Jewish group joined several Arab groups in a vigil outside of the Israeli Embassy.

Amrani concluded by saying that "this is against our morality and against Israel's interest, and against who we are and people should not forget that."

The IDF has said an investigation into Corrie's death will be conducted.

"It's a tragedy and it will be fully investigated," Amrani said. "We will do our utmost that it will never happen again."

Erik Schechter of the Jerusalem Post Service contributed to this report. 

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