In February of 2003, inspired by their daughter Rachel's activism, Olympia, Washington's Cindy and Craig Corrie began to demonstrate publicly against the imminent U.S. war on Iraq. It was a war their daughter was also demonstrating against, though Rachel was doing so in Gaza, in the occupied Palestinian territories, where she was a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, seeking to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah by the Israeli Defense Forces.
"I went to a rally in Khan Younis a few days ago," Rachel wrote in one of the dozens of e-mails she sent to her parents from Gaza. "Many analogies were made about the continuing suffering of the Palestinian people and the upcoming occupation of Iraq by the United States. Not the war itself," Rachel wrote, "But the certain aftermath of the war."
A week later Rachel Corrie was killed, crushed to death by an IDF bulldozer*, wearing a bright orange jacket, attempting to protect a Palestinian pharmacist's home. With the Corries' permission, ISM distributed the e-mails Rachel had written home during her seven weeks in Gaza. Several days later, the Guardian Newspaper in London asked to publish those e-mails. Soon after, actor Alan Rickman and the Royal Court Theatre in London sought the Corrie's permission to edit those e-mails and Rachel's other writing into a one-person play.
The play premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in the spring of 2005. A subsequent off-Broadway production at New York Theatre Workshop was cancelled because of pressure from that theatre's board members who felt that the Rachel's criticisms of Israeli government actions in Palestine were "one-sided" or "anti-Semitic." An announced production at the Canadian Stage Company in Toronto was withdrawn for the similar reasons.
Our company, neworld theatre, co-produced My Name is Rachel Corrie at the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival here in Vancouver in January/February, following a month-long run at Teesri Duniya Theatre in Montreal. I spoke with Cindy and Craig Corrie when they were in Vancouver in early February. They saw the show and then joined myself and the actor who plays Rachel in our production, Adrienne Wong, for a public conversation about Rachel and the play, about the relationship between life and art, and about the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice, which Cindy and Craig established shortly after Rachel's death.
What follows are excerpts from that conversation, which took place on Superbowl Sunday, at just about kickoff time, in front of 70 people at SFU's Harbour Centre in downtown Vancouver.
On what it's like to revisit Rachel's words as they watch the play performed publicly over and over again:
CINDY: The fact that people continue to want to hear her words and to be moved and think about what she had to say to me is a very gratifying reinforcement of what I felt about her all her life. It is also a reinforcement of what I also felt at the time that she had died -- that those words were important. I never get tired of hearing them. I imagine that I never will. I also draw a lot of my own energy from them.
On the impact of Rachel's e-mails on their family as they received them, before Rachel was killed:
CINDY: Our allegiance as a family, like the United States' allegiance as a country, had been to the Israeli side of the conflict. When my kids were little, I read them stories about the holocaust. Anne Frank, and other books, as well.
So when Rachel's e-mails started to come from Gaza, they had an enormous impact. I remember asking my son Chris, who works in Washington, DC, "What do you think about what Rachel's writing?" He said, "It's not a perspective I've ever seen before." Our whole family was saying the same thing.
And now when I think about the issue, sometimes it helps me to remember how fearful I was, five years ago, of taking a step towards the Palestinian narrative. I think for a lot of people there still is that kind of fear.
On characterizations of the play as 'anti-Semitic':
CRAIG: There's been a huge outcry about the existence of the play, but not much about what the message of the play is. It's very frustrating: how do you discuss all the stuff in the play with people who are outraged about the play but who haven't seen it? And then how do I not fight with them, trying to bring them to my perspective of the play, instead of just letting the play speak for itself.
The criticism I've heard after the play is that it doesn't tell the whole story, it doesn't tell the story of the suicide bombings. We have friends who've lost family members in suicide bombings. We have a friend whose son was kidnapped and killed by Hamas. And he's worked since then to end the occupation. And I say a piece of art doesn't have to tell the whole story.
It's all from Rachel's viewpoint, it's what Rachel saw, it's what Rachel ought to have been talking about.
On claims that the home that Rachel was defending belonged to terrorists:
CINDY: There are people in this room besides us who have spent time with the family that lived in that home. Craig and I went to that house while it was still standing, in 2003. We met all those family members. There were two brothers who lived in the house: a pharmacist and an accountant. They had five young children. Some of them came to the United States in 2005 and travelled with Craig and I and spoke around the country.
This was one of many families in Rafah, whose homes were destroyed. According to Human Rights watch, between 2000 and 2004 at least 1600 homes were destroyed in Rafah. That's one tenth of the homes in the city. Human Rights Watch says most of those demolitions happen in the absence of military necessity.
On the claim that Rachel was accidentally run over by the Israeli Defence Forces bulldozer:
CINDY: Two days after Rachel was killed, Prime Minister Sharon promised President Bush a thorough, credible, transparent investigation, with a report to the U.S. government. We learned in May of 2003 that the investigation was complete that no charges would be brought and that the Israeli government refused to release the report.
Our government is on record as saying the investigation was not credible, thorough or transparent. So when I hear in the media that this was just unequivocally an accident, when even the U.S. government says the investigation has not been adequate, I think that is a troubling distortion.
Adrienne Wong, who plays Rachel in neworld's production, on what it's like, as a relative newcomer to the issue, to land in the middle of so contentious a piece of political art:
ADRIENNE: I remember when I was doing an interview and the journalist asked me if I realized what we were doing by putting on this play. And that's when I took a deep breath and I said, "We have a position." That was for me a transformative moment.
Nothing can bring Rachel back. But what I can't stop thinking about is that there are other people who don't have plays, who don't have foundations and whose parents are not touring the world talking about them. Those are the people that I can in some way kind of imagine or grasp through doing this play and through Rachel's words. And those are the people who I will never know, that I feel it's so important to know, because people are disappearing.
And that makes me sad.
On all the people killed in the occupation who don't get international produced plays created from their writing:
CRAIG: There's a booklet that we brought with us from the organization Remember These Children, which we link to on the Rachel Corrie Foundation website. The booklet lists the names of each child, Israeli or Palestinian, under the age of 18, killed since September 2000. It's very moving to read about those children. We had a memorial service for Rachel at Evergreen State College about a week after she was killed. Cindy had the pages of that booklet blown up into big posters. When we came out for the service, we saw a number of people from the community who were up at the front, running their fingers over the names of those children.
CINDY: I come back to the fact that Rachel wanted to be a witness. One reason that I think it's legitimate bringing forth Rachel's view of the Palestinian side of the situation is that, like Palestinians used to be invisible to me, I think that's the case generally throughout the United States. Some people who feel threatened by what's in that booklet criticize Remember These Children. It's because the numbers of children killed are about nine to one. Many more Palestinian children than Israeli children are killed. There are deaths on both sides, but they all need to be remembered. And I feel a tremendous impatience. We need to stop what's happening there. And we need to find a just solution. That's why we continue to do the work. If Rachel is a vehicle for that continuing to happen, then I think that's important.
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*The paragraph marked with and asterisk, above, was modified on Feb. 12, 2008 at 4 p.m.