Harvard Square Observer: Rachel Corrie in London

Ernest Cassara

We attended the play based on Rachel Corrie's writings at the Playhouse Theatre in London.  Megan Dodds, who plays Rachel, is superb.  A monologue of an hour-and-a-half, without a hitch. 

She entered a stage, half of which was her bedroom, with cot, in back of which is a bulletin board with clippings and photos of her mother and father and others.  As the monologue continued, she began to pack, having decided to travel to Palestine, taking photos of her parents and others from the board, various items of clothing, etc., and tossing them into a duffle bag. 

The monologue consists of Rachel's developing consciousness of the injustices in society, and, then, specifically, committed against the Palestinians and her decision to travel there.  Dodds then pushes the cot and bulletin board off stage, revealing the rest of a bullet-scarred Palestinian neighborhood.  The drama ends with her crushing by the Israeli army bulldozer — especially built by the Caterpillar company to destroy homes - reported on a screen as a news bulletin. The drama ends with a family-made tape projected on the screen of 10-year-old Rachel, already speaking of the injustices suffered by victims in society.

The play was crafted by Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner from Rachel's diary, letters, e-mails, etc.  The playbill includes Viner's discussion of Rachel and the process of creating the play. Here is an excerpt:

"When Rachel arrived in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, as Rickman says, "the rhythm of the writing changes dramatically. She has less time to consider but you can feel the growing fear.' The Gaza dispatches are hard-hitting and intense, representing a profound experience. On arrival in Jerusalem she was shocked to see the Star of David spray-painted on to doors in the Arab section of the old city: "I have never seen the symbol used in quite that way... I am used to seeing the cross used in a colonialist way.' In Gaza, she carried the body of a dead man on a stretcher while the Israeli army shot in front of her, but mostly her activism involved protection: staying overnight in the homes of families on the front line to stop their demolition; standing in front of water workers at a well in Rafah as they came under fire; "close enough to spray debris in their faces.' (Before her death, Rachel believed, as did many activists, that her "international white person privilege' would keep her relatively safe.)  Witnessing the occupation in action inspired in Rachel her strongest writing; in her last days her rage and bafflement at what she saw led to work of astonishing and cumulative power.

"But the quantity of the material left us with a series of questions. How much of Rachel's life before she went to Gaza should we include? And should we quote other people? The trend in political theatre, from David Hare's The Permanent Way to Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo's Guantanamo, is journalistic: the use of testimony, of interviews and on-the-record material rather than invention. But for us there could be no re-interviewing to fill in the gaps. We had a finite amount of words to work with, as Rachel was dead. I was very keen to use some of the emails that Rachel's parents, Cindy and Craig, sent to their daughter while she was in Gaza. They are full of the kind of worries any parent might have if their child was in a dangerous situation, but because Rachel never came home, they have a devastating poignancy. Two weeks before her daughter's death, Cindy emailed Rachel: "There is a lot in my heart but I am having trouble with the words. Be safe, be well. Do you think about coming home? Because of the war and all? I know probably not, but I hope you feel it would be OK if you did.'

"And what about the voices of Rachel's friends? I interviewed many fellow ISM activists, most of whom have been deported from Israel since her death. We watched tapes of two of the moving memorial services: one in Gaza, which was shot at by the Israeli army, another in Olympia. We viewed documentaries on the subject, most notably Sandra Jordan's powerful The Killing Zone, and considered using video grabs. But in the end the power of Rachel's writing meant that, apart from a few short passages quoting her parents and an eye witness report of her death, her words were strong enough to stand alone."

Because Ye Olde Editor visited Gaza on a trip to Israel/Palestine a few years back, I find these words of Rachel, on her arrival in Gaza particularly poignant:

"Nothing could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can't imagine it unless you see it — and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. I am allowed to see the ocean. If I feel outrage at entering briefly into the world in which these children exist, I wonder how it would be for them to arrive in my world. Once you have seen the ocean and lived in a silent place where water is taken for granted and not stolen in the night by bulldozers, spent an evening when you didn't wonder if the walls of your home might suddenly fall inward, aren't surrounded by towers, tanks, and now a giant metal wall, I wonder if you can forgive the world for all the years spent existing — just existing — in resistance to the constant attempt to erase you from your home. That is something I wonder about these children. I wonder what would happen if they really knew."

Rachel certainly would not have been surprised at the actions of the Israelis, after her murder.  But, allow me to quote the story, as reported by The Guardian:

Activist's memorial service disrupted

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Wednesday March 19, 2003

Israeli forces fired teargas and stun grenades yesterday in an attempt to break up a memorial service for Rachel Corrie, the American peace activist killed by an army bulldozer in Gaza on Sunday. Witnesses including several dozen foreigners and Palestinian supporters say Israeli armoured vehicles tried to disperse the gathering at the spot in Rafah refugee camp where Ms Corrie was crushed to death.

The 23 year-old activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) was trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israelis when she was hit by the bulldozer.

Joe Smith, a young activist from Kansas City, said about 100 people were gathered to lay carnations and erect a small memorial when the first armoured personnel carrier appeared.

"They started firing teargas and blowing smoke, then they fired sound grenades. After a while it got hectic so we sat down. Then the tank came over and shot in the air," he said. "It scared a lot of Palestinians, especially the shooting made a lot of them run and the teargas freaked people out. But most of us stayed."

Another witness said the army failed to break up the service.

"People were laying carnations at the spot where Rachel was killed when a tank came and fired teargas right on them. Then a core group of the peace activists took an ISM cloth banner to the fence and pinned it up.

"The tank chased after them trying to stop them with teargas but the wind was against the army," she said.

Tensions rose further when a convoy of vehicles, including the bulldozer that killed Ms Corrie, passed the area.

"I don't think it was deliberate but it was pretty insensitive," said Mr Smith.

"I think they had been destroying some buildings elsewhere and had to pass by to get back to their base."

The army said it was investigating the incident.

The Guardian Story: http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,4628059-103681,00.html

Allow me to conclude with the disgraceful cancellation of the plans to perform My Name is Rachel Corrie in New York: http://rwor.org/a/040/battle-over-rachel-corrie.htm

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