Next Saturday, March 16th, will mark the tenth anniversary of the death in Gaza, of Rachel Corrie. Rachel, then a senior at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, had gone to Gaza at the beginning of 2003, to fulfill aspects of her senior thesis. While there, she became active in efforts by the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), to protect Palestinians from outrages of the Israeli occupation forces.
She was killed by an Israeli Army D-9 armored bulldozer, with two people aboard in the cockpit, one there to drive, the other, to observe. During the same time period, Israeli forces in Gaza shot and mortally wounded Tom Hurndall, a British photographer, also working with the ISM (April 11th), and mutilated Brian Avery (April 5th), another American ISM activist, in Jenin in the West Bank. This time period coincided with the American invasion of Iraq – March 19th to May 1st.
A notable aspect of Rachel Corrie’s legacy is the sheer volume of art her life and sacrifice evoked. Between March 19th 2003 and April 24th 2004, I collected over 160 poems written in the young woman’s honor, and posted on the web, in the English language. I used two of them in my 2003-2004 cantata, The Skies Are Weeping. California composer, Paul Crabtree composed another cantata about Corrie, American Persephone.
Corrie’s journals and emails from Gaza became the basis of the most widely viewed and highly regarded work of art about Corrie, My Name is Rachel Corrie. Written by Katharine Viner and Alan Rickman, the play premiered in London on April 5, 2005, in a highly evocative solo performance by actress Megan Dodds. Premiered in a very small theatre, it was revived in the 2005 fall London theatre season in a larger venue, and proceeded to win many awards.
The first attempt to produce My Name is Rachel Corrie in the USA, at the New York Theatre Workshop resulted in a cancellation, when the NYTW caved to threats from militant Zionist expansionists. (Incidentally – the article about the cancellation in The Nation, by writer Philip Weiss, and the pushback that writer got in the publishing world for having written so sympathetically about Corrie, and critically about the NYTW, was one of the epiphanies Weiss underwent that led him into new directions, now expressed most fully at his web site, Mondoweiss).
The play has gone on to be performed on every continent save Antarctica, in many languages.
The play was derived from Corrie’s written material with cooperation of the slain activist’s family. Some of Corrie’s writings had been posted on the web soon after her death. Some soon became the basis of poems or lyrics. For instance, the concluding lyric in The Skies are Weeping is my editing (with the Corrie family’s approval) of one of her last emails home:
Feel sick to my stomach a lot
from being doted on all the time,
by people who are facing doom.
You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers
I have bad nightmares about tanks and bulldozers
outside our house
and you and me inside.
Tanks and bulldozers destroyed 25 greenhouses
the livelihoods for 300 people.
Then the bulldozers come and take out
people’s vegetable farms and gardens.
This happens every day.
I think that I should at least mention that
I am also discovering a degree of strength
and of basic ability for humans to remain human
in the direst of circumstances.
I think the word is dignity.
I wish you could meet these people.
Maybe, hopefully, someday
Here, American author and poet Alice Walker, reads from Corrie’s writing in such a way as to bring out the poetry in it:
Here is the concluding monologue from My Name is Rachel Corrie, in a 2008 performance of the work in Mississauga, Ontario. The actress is Alexandra Bell:
And here is Rachel Corrie, herself, expressing her hope, in an elementary school oral presentation:
Now might be a good time to find out more about the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice. You might consider donating to them, as I have.