George S. Hishmeh
Arabic Media Internet Network (Opinion)
October 23, 2007 - 2:31pm

She is described as "the most talked about playwright in America today" but because she had cast her dice in support of the Palestinians her play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, is the target of vicious attacks by pro-Israeli elements in the country.

Corrie did not actually write the play. She couldn't because she was crushed to death in March 2003 while blocking a 60-tonne Israeli-driven Caterpillar bulldozer that was planning to demolish a Palestinian home she was protecting in Rafah in the Gaza Strip.

The bulldozer passed over her body twice and the Israeli authorities unabashedly claimed that her death was an "accident". Her colleagues in the International Solidarity Movement witnessed the incident and were able to retrieve her badly damaged body. The State Department has said that the investigation was neither transparent nor credible.

British actor/director Alan Rickman and journalist Katherine Viner (of The Guardian) composed the 90-minute monologue from Corrie's letters home, e-mails and journal entries while living in the Gaza Strip with a Palestinian family.

The play was a hit when it first opened in London two years ago. But when the New York Theatre Workshop "indefinitely postpon(ed)" its first American production last year, "presumably worried about a hot potato that might offend Jewish theatregoers because its title character is pro-Palestinian," the action attracted national, if not international, attention.

Several prominent Jewish writers, including Harold Pinter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, said in a letter in The New York Times that they were "dismayed" by the theatre's decision.

"We believe this is an important play, particularly, perhaps, for an American audience that too rarely has an opportunity to see and judge for itself the material it contends with."

Although the play appeared later at another New York theatre, it still encountered strident Jewish opposition elsewhere including Miami and Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and in Toronto, Canada as well.

What has also upset Jewish audiences has been the fact that Corrie's experiences in Palestine reminded people of Anne Frank - sometimes she has been described as the Palestinian "Anne Frank" - a German-Jewish teenager who went into hiding during the Second World War with her family in an annex of rooms above her father's office in Amsterdam.

Her diary covering those 25 months before her death in a concentration camp was first published in 1947 and has been translated into 67 languages.

Since the play has yet to come to Washington, D.C., my wife and I along with two other couples had to drive nearly two hours to Shepherdstown to see the play at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival held on the campus of Shepherd University.

Here, too, it turned out that the Jewish director of the festival, H. Alan Young, attempted to disrupt the festival in protest over the Corrie play. The 27-member board was so split over the play that they had to hire a mediator. But at the end of their meeting, the board, with one dissent, decided to go ahead with the play.

Despite all these futile interruptions, the play has recently finished a successful run at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in Corrie's home state. And the July 6-29 festival in Shepherdstown was equally very well attended.

Many in the audience were teary eyed and the actress, Anne Marie Nest, could not be better especially when she recited Corrie's heart-breaking lines:

"If any of us had our lives and welfare completely strangled and lived with children in a shrinking place where we knew that soldiers and tanks and bulldozers could come for us at any moment, with no means of economic survival and our houses demolished; if they came and destroyed all the greenhouses that we'd been cultivating for the last however long do you not think, in a similar situation, most people would defend themselves as best (as) they could?"

Rachel's parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, joined by four Palestinian families, are suing the Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar, which manufactured the bulldozer, for aiding and abetting human rights violations - the destruction of civilian homes. The case is under appeal a present.

In an interview, Craig Corrie said the play has been translated into several languages but not Arabic. They are also about to complete their book about their 23-year-old daughter, which will be published Norton's sometime in February.

The least Arabs could do in gratitude for this wonderful family and their amazing daughter, who tragically lost her life in Gaza, is to have an Arabic translation of the upcoming book and the play that is beginning to rock the theatre world in the US and support the Rachel Corrie Foundation as well.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017