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Americans Seeking Justice in Israel Need Not Apply, But Can We Have Our Spy Back, Please?

On August 28th , an Israeli civil court ruled that Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American who was killed in 2003 when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer while protesting the destruction of Palestinian homes in Gaza, was solely responsible for her own death. The Israeli court and Judge Oded Gershon determined that Ms. Corrie was culpable in her death because the driver of the bulldozer could not see her as he was demolishing Palestinian homes in Gaza. Israel initiated an internal investigation and after only one month officially concluded "As the verdict states -- the driver of the bulldozer and his commander had a very limited field of vision, such that they had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie and thus are exonerated of any blame for negligence." However, several bystander accounts tell a different story.

Eyewitness Richard Prussell stated "she must have been clearly visible to the operator, especially as she was still wearing the high visibility jacket". While another witness, under anonymity told the Israeli daily newspaper, Ha'aretz, "There's no way he [the bulldozer operator] didn't see her, since she was practically looking into the cabin... " Another witness, Joe Carr, stated in an affidavit to a human rights group:

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.... 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.... 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.

There were several other onlookers with the same or similar stories that concur with what these witnesses encountered. Nonetheless, Israel's military court concluded that the driver of the bulldozer was not responsible as his vision was impaired.

In May of 2011, the soon to be Ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

For seven years, we have pressed the government of Israel at the highest levels to conduct a thorough, transparent and credible investigation of the circumstances of her death. The government of Israel has responded that it considers this case closed and does not plan on reinvestigating the incident.

Ambassador Shapiro later told the Corrie family that the Israeli investigation was "not satisfactory, and wasn't as thorough, credible or transparent as it should have been." However the U.S. government seems to be content with the court's ruling.

Across the Mediterranean and Atlantic in the U.S., Israel has been seeking to correct a perceived injustice. Israel has consistently pressured the United States to release convicted spy Jonathan Pollard. Pollard, an Israeli and former American (Mr. Pollard relinquished his American citizenship in 1995 and is now solely Israeli) plead guilty to spying for Israel, also offered to sell his services to South Africa and Pakistan. Pollard received a life sentence in return for a guilty plea for his crimes, but several Israeli and Jewish groups have petitioned for his release. While Israel was beseeching for clemency for Pollard, they still refused to even admit Pollard was a spy until 1998, though never admitting to what extent. Advocates for Pollards release have suggested that his sentence was harsh, particularly since Israel is an ally, and fails to serve justice. Apparently being an ally of a country that you spy on is suppose to get you some sort of discounted jail sentence? Most of his supporters also disregard that Mr. Pollard received cash and gifts in exchange for giving top secret information to Israel, including $1,500 a month and a sapphire ring that he later used to propose to his first wife, as well as solicited his talents to other nations.

Several Israeli politicians have attempted to influence the U.S. into releasing Pollard. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attempted to use Pollard as a bargaining chip with the U.S. in Middle East peace talks. In 1998 Mr. Netanyahu told President Bill Clinton "if we signed an agreement with Arafat, I expected a pardon for Pollard," referring to the Wye River negotiations. President Clinton also wrote in his own memoirs "Netanyahu was threatening to scuttle the whole deal unless I released Pollard." In September 2010, the New York Times reported that Mr. Netanyahu suggested the release of Pollard in exchange for a 3 month hiatus on new settlements in the West Bank. Mr. Netanyahu has even gone as far as visiting Pollard in prison.

How can Israel, one of America's strongest allies, continue to stand in the way of transparency and justice for an innocent young American killed in their jurisdiction but request, nay demand, clemency for Jonathan Pollard -- who willingly admitted to his seditious crimes against his own country? How can Israel use the livelihood of Palestinians and their homes as a negotiation tool to free someone that likely would have put American lives at risk for monetary gain? How can Israel continue to call itself the only voice of justice and democracy in the Middle East if it refuses these rights to Americans, or anyone else, for that matter, who doesn't agree with its ideologies and practices?

In the greater scheme of U.S./Israeli relations, both of these cases, I'm sure, have little value, but it seems like the U.S. is getting less and less for its unwavering support for Israel. Even those who think that President Obama has abandoned Israel can't argue that nobody has Israel's back like the U.S. Perhaps it's time we as a nation reassessed the quid pro quo of this relationship to make sure the United States is attaining some reward for all our risk. Or at least that if our youths die in Israel that they will be given equal consideration, even if they don't agree with Israeli policy.

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