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November 16, 2006

Talking back to Rachel Corrie's parents

I wrote three weeks ago about the one-woman show "My name is Rachel Corrie", which is playing in NYC through the end of the year, and the ad hoc group which has been leafleting every performance.

After Jewish friends stimulated him to find out more about her case, the original producer James Nicola wanted speakers and talkbacks after the play to provide some context for Corrie's words. The London producers vociferously opposed this idea, accusing him of censoring the play because of pressure from the Jewish community, which has become the conventional wisdom.

Ironically, the current production has featured a talkback every Tuesday, with guests ranging from anti-Zionist playwright Tony Kushner to the producer Alan Rickman. So they are doing exactly what Nikola was criticized for insisting on. However, none of the talkbacks include anyone remotely critical of Corrie or her supporters. The play is a hagiography, the audience (for the most part) are true believers, and the talkbacks are a lovefest. My guess is that the Nikola was planning to mix it up a bit more, and that is what Rickman and Viner were afraid of.

I saw "My Name is Rachel Corrie" two weeks ago, and I wrote a review which I am going to post in the next few days. (Short version: it is both banal and infuriating.) Right now I want to report on the "talkback" I attended Tuesday night, featuring Rachel's parents and a Palestinian and Israeli with Combatants for Peace.

I was invited by one of the pro-Israel leafletters, who had permission from Rickman to attend. (But anyone who has seen the play can attend a talkback, and not just the night you saw the play. Save your stub, and come back the next Tuesday at 9:45 PM, and you'll get in.) My companion and I strategized at dinner what questions we were going to ask if we got called on. He had served in the IDF and wanted to address IDF "refusenik" Yonatan Shapira.*** I formulated a few questions which could take off from several topics to reframe the discussion.

I recorded the talkback, so you can hear what Mr and Mrs Corrie and Combatants for Peace say in their appearances to campus and church and activist groups around the country. You can hear ABC News anchor Dan Harris obsequiously moderate. You can hear my question (the only critical question of the entire evening) to Sulaiman Khatib the Palestinian ex-Fatah fighter,** and his (non) response. You can hear sotto voce the guy sitting next to me whisper "Did he answer your question?" I shook my head and he whispered, "It didn't sound like it to me." You can hear Mr Corrie say and ex-IDF captain Shapira repeat that "the Palestinians are in a bad way" and "we have to protect them" and that our responsibility as Americans is to encourage "international pressure." (Shapira is an excellent poster boy for this kind of thing - he is totally cute the way many IDF guys are, and very earnest.) You can hear the beautiful young Palestinian-American woman in the audience express grateful surprise that the Corries had heard of the "Naqba." (As if this kind of audience hadn't been lectured endlessly about the Naqba.)

Intro and speeches.
Gushing non-question and responses.
My question and (non) responses.
More audience response.
Standard Naqba victim speech.

corries.jpg Mr and Mrs Corrie are just about the WASPiest WASPs you ever saw. They are very polite and well-groomed and caring. They are the American Gothic of the appeasement movement. They sincerely believe that they are - as Mr Corrie said - fighting for "the human rights of Israelis as well as Palestinians" by sadly tut-tutting over anything Israel does to kill terrorists or keep them from killing Israelis. **** Perhaps you have seen videos of really nutty moonbats like Ward Churchill or Noam Chomsky. Folks, what I saw Tuesday night is the soft sell, and it's way more scary.

After the panel, Mrs Corrie tried her soft-sell on me. Her default setting is "motherly." It's endearing but I can see why Rachel says in the play that she feels smothered by her. Cindy Corrie could mother Mike Tyson if she had to, but I am small and soft-spoken so I am an easy target. I had been sitting in the front row, and as I got up to leave Mrs Corrie came over to me and knelt down on the stage, so I came over and she grasped my hands and looked into my face and told me how much she appreciated my question and how hard it is for Israelis and how much she feels for them and we all want peace blah blah blah.

I took advantage of the opportunity to revisit my question, so I looked into her face and said I felt for her loss (which is true) and knew she wanted peace (true) and asked her if she really thought the Palestinians didn't bear any responsibility for their situation. Her response was about as rambling and disconnected as Mr Khatib's; any Palestinian responsibility acknowledged must be immediately matched and overmatched by Israeli responsibility. Palestinians have first dibs on compassion and understanding. (They have compassion for the Israelis as victims too, but in the way that you have compassion for a sinner in order to bring him to Jesus. They just don't see the Palestinians as sinners.) She did manage to say that the Kassem rockets were "illegal," adding that they had only killed 10 people. I made the obvious point that if you randomly bomb civilian areas, the purpose is to make it impossible for people to conduct their lives. We have all already had this inane conversation about Lebanon, give me a break. (I didn't say that, I got the impression it would be rude to disturb the loving motherly Corrie ambience.)

It was all pretty sick-making. Give me a blatant hater any day.

At one point in the panel she talks about the fact that Palestinians can't visit Rachel's Tomb because of the "military installation" around it "which you can only get to from a settlement." I could write an entire essay on the many levels of irony in this remark; in fact, someone who wanted to write a real play about Rachel Corrie instead of a polemic could have a field day with this symbolism. Here's the outline version:
1) Kever Rochel is ostensibly where Jacob buried his wife after she died in childbirth. It is very near Jerusalem, in the heart of Biblical Israel. It has been a pilgrimage site for Jews for centuries.
2) Jews have been repeatedly attacked there by Arabs, and other ancient Jewish holy sites have been vandalized, like Joseph's tomb and the Jericho synagogue whose mosaic floor is the image for my banner. Therefore military protection is necessary but Israelis don't like it either..
3) Cindy's daughter Rachel briefly mentions (in the play) that her name means "sheep," but although she is a very imaginative self-absorbed girl and writes reams of poetry and typical flowery teenage self-reflection, she apparently has no interest in exploring the history and associations of her name.
4) "Rachel" more specifically in Hebrew means "ewe," which has connotations of protectiveness and motherhood exemplified by the biblical Rachel, rather than blind obediance. Barren women go to her tomb to pray for children.
5) Rachel Corrie goes to the land of the Jews, people of the Bible, and seemingly has no curiosity about her connection to her name and that people. Does she know it's a Biblical name? Does anyone tell her that her namesake has a tomb just outside Jerusalem?
6) Rachel Corrie is killed trying to protect a people by someone using a bulldozer to protect his people from the people Rachel is protecting.
7) Her mother, three years later, in a panel in NYC (another land of the Jews) notices the irony of her daughter having the same name as some tomb, where once again, Jews are making Palestinian lives difficult for no good reason.
1) and 2) and 7) Everything has to revolve around Rachel Corrie and Palestinian victimization. Even this ancient and embattled Jewish site cannot be allowed to have its own independent reality or historical weight, in her eyes. The barrier and bulletproof buses aren't evidence of Arab oppression of Jews, they are examples of yet more Israeli oppression of Arabs. The narcissism of politicized grief.

As for the whole series of ironies, I would love to see Tony Kushner take this on.

Better yet, I'd like to see David Mamet take this on. (If you know David Mamet, please send him this URL.)

I was kind of numb by that point, but when Mrs Corrie grasped my hand I asked her, after she had punted my question about Palestinian responsibility, did she understand why there was a military installation and wall at Kever Rochel? She didn't get the question. I said Jews have been going there on pilgrimage for centuries and they are getting attacked. She said "Well, it's on Palestinian land!" I was struck dumb by this overload of cognitive dissonance, and right then a woman came up to me and asked me if I got my question answered (meaning the one I had asked the panel). I said not really, and she said it's a shame, it was such a good question. I said, yeah, well.... Then she went up and talked to Mrs Corrie, and it didn't sound like she was getting any satisfaction either.

We all straggled out into the vestibule where my fellow infiltrator was engaged in an energetic conversation with his fellow IDF vet Yonatan.**** I stood around holding my coat and waiting for them to finish, and Mrs Corrie swooped down on me again and gave me a hug and looked into my eyes. I guess that meant there could only be truth and peace between us if we looked deeply into each other's eyes. So I looked deeply back into her eyes and said, "Mrs Corrie, don't you experience any cognitive dissonance in talking about a place which has been a Jewish pilgrimage site for centuries, that is supposed to be the tomb of one of the Biblical matriarchs, in the heart of Jewish Biblical country, and telling me 'it's on Palestinian land?" And she said "But it is Palestinian land! According to International Law! You know, they had all those resolutions at the UN and even the US agrees that it's Palestinian land . . . ."

Nope, no cognitive dissonance there . . . .

I went over to Sulaiman Khatib and shook his hand and told him that I hope that one day Palestine is a prosperous happy peaceful country (and I do), and that I hope he and his people pick better leaders. He winced a bit and smiled tiredly. I am sure I'm not the first person who's told him that.


Sulaiman Khatib belonged to the Fatah movement, and was arrested when he was fourteen years old spending ten years and five months in Israeli prisons. Sulaiman was the founder of the Abu Asukkar Center for Peace and Dialogue in Ramallah (which is currently known as the Jerusalem Center for Democracy and Dialogue). In 2005, Sulaiman, along with other ex-Palestinian fighters, and ex-Israeli soldiers founded Combatants for Peace.
Yonatan Shapira is former Captain in the Israeli Air Force Reserves. In 2003 Yonatan initiated a group of Israeli Air Force pilots who refused to fly attack missions on Palestinian territories.

*** A sample of Shapira's thinking:

AMY GOODMAN: What was [Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz]'s response to the issues you raised privately?

YONATAN SHAPIRA: You know, he was sitting in front of me next to his desk. Under his hand was the newspaper from the last day, and the pictures of all the Israelis, both Palestinians and Jewish, who died in a terror attack in Haifa. It was back in October 2003. And he told me that he's trying to protect these people from dying, and I’m just cooperating with the enemy. So I asked him if he can think how come that this young lawyer, who was this suicide bomber in this attack, decided to sacrifice his life and to kill innocent people. How does he think that, you know, people, civilians, become suicide bombers? “Don't you think that maybe we have to think, maybe we created this crazy jail, while people don't have any other reason, and they just don't have reason to live, so they become suicide bombers?” And he said, "You know what? I don't want to talk about this stuff," so what can I tell?

AMY GOODMAN: And the rationale of the Israeli government in Lebanon, that Hezbollah has been raining down missiles in northern Israel and that they have to protect the Israeli people and protect them for all time by routing out Hezbollah?

YONATAN SHAPIRA: You know, it's insanity, and it's a lie because my government now is refusing to cease fire. How can you in one hand cry about missiles that are attacking yourself, you, your family in Haifa, in Afula, in Kiryat Shmona, and at the same time refuse to cease fire? The same aspiration, the same idea that you can just kill and annihilate all of Hezbollah is the same logic of Nasrallah, that will kill all Israel or this kind of nonsense.

Oh brother. Maybe Shapira can't tell why Halutz didn't "want to talk about this stuff," but I can. It's the same way I felt trying to talk to Mrs Corrie after the play.

**** Mr and Mrs Corrie meeting with Yassir Arafat.

Judith | 11/16/06 at 07:46 AM | Categories: - Useful idiots

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Judith Weiss, of Kesher Talk, has posted an account of her experiences at one of the talkback sessions held after the NYC production of My Name is Rachel Corrie. Not much common ground there. Nor in the debate on free [Read More]

Tracked on November 17, 2006 06:20 AM


A sad death.

Paul | November 16, 2006 08:08 AM

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