HAIFA, Israel - The parents of an American protester crushed to death by an Israeli military bulldozer in the Gaza Strip got their first chance Thursday to hear from the man who drove the vehicle that killed her.
But they were denied a chance to confront him face-to-face in an Israeli courtroom, dashing a central goal of their civil lawsuit against Israel's Defense Ministry. The unidentified former soldier was shielded behind a wood-and-plastic partition, and his testimony about the events leading up to 23-year-old Rachel Corrie's death floated into the hall over a microphone.
"I wish I could see the whole human being," Cindy Corrie said before the testimony began, her voice shaking. She and her husband, Craig, traveled from their home in Olympia, Washington, to hear his testimony.
Their daughter was killed in 2003 while trying to block the bulldozer from demolishing a Palestinian home in Gaza.
An army investigation concluded she was partially hidden behind a dirt mound and ruled her death an accident. The driver and his commander were not charged or tried and no one was punished.
The activist's parents filed their civil suit in 2005, and petitioned Israeli courts for a chance to look the bulldozer driver in the eye. That request was rejected.
"The Israeli government and the Israeli military are hiding behind the screens," Cindy Corrie said after Thursday's testimony got under way.
The state's lawyer, Irit Kalman, said the driver was behind a screen because "we want soldiers to feel free to give a real testimony. We could have asked for a closed-door trial, but we wanted them (the family) to hear everything going on in this trial," she said.
The Corries' lawyer, Hussein Abu Hussein, spent hours trying to poke holes in past testimony the driver gave to the military inquiry that cleared him. At one point, he pulled out a toy bulldozer, a green ball meant to represent the mound of dirt and a toy fish to represent the young American woman.
The driver was questioned for more than four hours, often saying he did not remember what happened.
Asked about the deadly incident, the driver said, "I started pushing with the bulldozer and I felt a heavier than usual load so I started reversing." He said he had no recollection of Corrie because there were many people at the site.
The Corries were seated between translators about 15 feet (5 meters) from the driver.
"I haven't heard one moment of remorse, and to me, that's one of the saddest things," Cindy Corrie said during a break in the proceedings.
The family has criticized the Israeli military investigation and lobbied U.S. officials to pressure Israel to reopen it.
They have also tried unsuccessfully to sue Caterpillar Inc., the U.S. company that manufactured the bulldozer. They claimed the company was liable for aiding and abetting human rights violations.
Rachel, the youngest of the couple's three children, took a break from college at age 23 to pursue student activism overseas as a member of the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group whose activists often position themselves in hotspots between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.
Her fellow activists claim she was killed deliberately and see her as a symbol of what they consider to be Israeli brutality.
Some supporters of Israel argue that thousands of foreign activists like Corrie recklessly choose to risk their lives in a conflict zone where they could be harmed by soldiers who themselves often feel under assault.
The Corries, unwittingly drawn into Mideast affairs by their daughter's death, are seeking a symbolic $1 in damages plus trial costs and travel expenses for themselves and witnesses, which they have estimated at $100,000.
Hearings in the case began earlier this year. The trial is to resume Nov. 4.