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Rachel Corrie & The Art of Palestinian Propaganda

March 28, 2008
by Aaron Goldstein

Last fall, when the first Boston Palestine Film Festival convened, I wrote the one thing that Palestinians knew was propaganda and how to disseminate it. The same can be said for their non-Palestinian sympathizers in the West. In 2005, Guardian columnist Katherine Viner and actor Alan Rickman co-wrote a play called My Name is Rachel Corrie, which was based on her diaries and emails.

Yes, the same Alan Rickman who played Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films as well as the Sheriff of Nottingham opposite Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. In addition to co-editing Corrie’s words, Rickman also directed the play when it debuted at London’s prestigious Royal Court Theatre. My Name is Rachel Corrie would win the Theatre Goers’ Choice Award for Best New Play and Rickman would earn the Theatre Goers’ Choice Award for Best Director.

For those unfamiliar with Corrie, she was an American university student who became involved with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) and traveled with them to Rafah in the Gaza Strip in January 2003. It was there she became a human shield to blockade the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) from defending Israel against Palestinian terrorists. On March 16, 2003, Corrie was killed when she was run over by an IDF bulldozer. She was 23 years old. The ISM insists the IDF deliberately killed Corrie while Israel maintains that her death was an accident. Whatever the truth of her demise, Corrie effectively became an American martyr for the Palestinian cause.

Given the Palestinian tendency and that of their apologists to stretch the truth beyond elasticity there was a sufficient uproar in 2006 by the Jewish communities of New York, Toronto and Miami which resulted in the cancellation of the play. However, My Name is Rachel Corrie would eventually be staged in New York. It has been staged in other North American cities and throughout Europe. Earlier this month, the play made its Israeli debut in the city of Haifa.

From where I sit, I like to judge these things for myself even though I know full well I am not going to like a great deal of what I see and hear. As far as I am concerned, so long as theater companies are prepared to mount this play they too must be prepared not to like what they see and hear from certain segments of the public. It was in this spirit that I attended a showing of My Name is Rachel Corrie at the New Repertory Theater at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts – just west of the People’s Republic of Cambridge.

I should note here that My Name is Rachel Corrie is being shown in repertory rotation through April 5th with an Israeli play called Pieces written by and starring Zohar Tirosh. It is Tirosh’s account of her two years of mandatory service in the IDF. No doubt the New Repertory Theatre did this to neutralize any potential criticism for mounting My Name is Rachel Corrie. Their decision has been largely effective.

Originally, My Name is Rachel Corrie was originally supposed to be paired with To Pay The Price, a play based on the writings of Yonatan Netanyahu, the older brother of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Yoni” Netanyahu was killed during Operation Entebbe on July 4, 1976. The Netanyahu family understandably did not want their fallen brother associated with Rachel Corrie, who was essentially an apologist for Palestinian terrorism.

My Name is Rachel Corrie is a one-woman, one-act play with Stacy Fischer playing the title role in the New Repertory production. The play is set first in Corrie’s hometown of Olympia, Washington and then Rafah in the Gaza Strip. I will say Fischer did a good job in capturing the essence of Rachel Corrie. Fischer’s movements, whether dancing to Pat Benatar’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot or denouncing the IDF, certainly had the energy and exuberance of a young woman in a hurry, even if she did not know where she was headed. Fischer’s performance was delivered as if she was on her stage at a poetry slam. Only her poem lasted 105 minutes as opposed to five.

When listening to Corrie’s words, one gets the sense she was a typical left-wing college student awash with white liberal guilt. At the same time, one also gets the sense Corrie wanted to expunge her white liberal guilt as fast as she could. She laments not having lived amongst the horrors of Bosnia and Rwanda. The obvious question here is why did Corrie choose the Palestinians and make her way to Rafah? Corrie’s animus towards Israel seems not so much to do with the fact it is a Jewish state but because of its close relationship with the United States. Indeed, she goes to some pains to deny anti-Semitism as a motivation. On several occasions in the play, American military aid to Israel emerges as her greatest grievance.

But it seems that while even in Rafah, Corrie’s white liberal guilt isn’t entirely excised. She feels sheltered and detached from what is going on around her emphasizing that unlike those living under curfew in Gaza that she can leave anytime she wants. Corrie had a habit of making lists and many of those lists involved plans outlining her immediate future. In one diary entry, she debates whether to return to Olympia, stay in Rafah, travel to Egypt or Dubai to learn Arabic or go somewhere else altogether be it Sweden or South America. Of course, Corrie never got out of Rafah alive. Yes, her death was tragic. But clearly, Viner and Rickman are attempting to liken Corrie as an Anne Frank for the 21st Century. Indeed, the ISM came right out and said, “Rachel Corrie is the new Anne Frank.”

In 1990 and 1991, when I was attending Port Arthur Collegiate Institute in Thunder Bay, Ontario, our theater classes mounted two separate productions of The Diary of Anne Frank. In both productions I portrayed Albert Dussel, the dentist who was taken in by the Frank and van Daan families several months after they had already begun hiding. Dussel would share a room with Anne Frank. Having played that role so many years ago, I can state with absolute certainty and conviction that Anne Frank and Rachel Corrie have nothing in common.

By Corrie’s own admission she could have left anytime she chose by virtue of her white privilege. She could have flown back to Washington that March morning as easily as she could have stayed in Rafah. Anne Frank and the seven other people who shared those small rooms in an Amsterdam office building could not move an inch or make a sound during the daytime. They could not even use the toilet as it would cause water to run in the building and arouse suspicion.

One false move was a sure step towards being discovered and sent to the concentration camps to face certain death. This would ultimately be their fate. Only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived and would eventually discover her diaries. Unlike Rachel Corrie, Anne Frank could not have left that house if she so wanted.

Make no mistake. My Name is Rachel Corrie is nothing more than Palestinian propaganda dressed up as art.

If the words of Rachel Corrie are to be believed, the Palestinians “are a largely unarmed people against the fourth largest military in the world.” If Hamas and the al-Asqa Martyrs Brigades are unarmed then I’m Britney Spears. If the words of Rachel Corrie are to be believed, the IDF wantonly bulldozes greenhouses, dries up wells and shoots Palestinians for sheer pleasure. In the rose colored view of Corrie, the Palestinians are an agrarian collective practicing “Gandhian non-violent resistance.”

So tell me exactly what aspect of Gandhian non-violent resistance was being put into practice when Palestinians took to the streets to chant, “God is Great!!! Praise Allah for the death of the infidel Jews!!!” when eight Israeli students were gunned down by a Palestinian at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem three weeks ago? Is this part of the “legitimate armed struggle” Corrie defends when asked by her mother about Palestinian violence?

Any doubt that incitement is the sole act of this one act play was removed when Corrie leaves the stage for the final time. An audiotape of a fellow ISM member was played describing her death and asserting the IDF bulldozer driver deliberately killed Corrie. That was followed by a video of Corrie as a 10-year-old speaking with an eloquence beyond her years against world hunger.

After hearing the account of her death and seeing Corrie as a young girl, an audience cannot help but to say, “Oh God!!!” or “Those Bastards!!!” If that is the reaction Viner and Rickman were seeking from audiences when editing Corrie’s diaries and e-mails then they have largely succeeded.

One can take comfort in knowing that most people who see this play are already filled with hatred and contempt towards the United States and Israel. As such this play would have little appeal to the vast majority of Americans. Simply put, My Name is Rachel Corrie preaches to the converted. But in Europe and in Muslim countries this is not an encouraging thought. It would also not come as a great surprise if American schoolteachers and school administrators of a so-called progressive bent did not make a concerted effort to coordinate field trips to see this play. If not arranged in the proper context, these outings could be little more than an exercise in indoctrination. In which case, I can only hope that schoolchildren won’t listen to their teachers any more so than they did when I attended school in the not so distant past.

Nevertheless, Rachel Corrie’s death was a tragedy. She chose to be in Rafah and chose to be there on the wrong day and at the wrong time. Aside from that consideration, her death is tragic in that had Corrie lived she might not have retained such an idealistic, romantic view of the Palestinians. This is not to suggest she would have one day proclaimed herself a Zionist. Such conversions are the exception and not the rule. Had Corrie lived a full life, 99 chances out of 100 she would have remained committed to the Palestinians.

However, if Corrie had witnessed what Palestinian children were taught in their schools, in their mosques and in their media it is possible that over time she might have acquired a weary wariness that accompanies maturity. Corrie might have come to recognize a Palestinian anti-Semitism eager to celebrate the deaths of Jewish civilians including young women in their twenties with their whole lives ahead of them. Corrie might have witnessed the contempt Muslim men have for Western women not to mention Muslim women and of the horrors of honor killings.

At the very least, Corrie might have learned not accept Palestinian dogma at face value. There are two tragedies here. One is that Rachel Corrie did not live long enough to have an opportunity to learn those lessons. The other is that in death Rachel Corrie has been reduced to being a tool of Palestinian propaganda masquerading as a work of art.
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Aaron Goldstein is a contributing writer for Right Side News

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