Jewish World Review April 26, 2005 / 17 Nissan, 5765
Who would have the integrity -- and moxie -- to produce this play?
By Tom Gross
The Royal Court Theatre, one of London most prestigious venues, is staging a play glorifying a young American radical who was killed after jumping in front of a moving Israeli army bulldozer that was attempting to demolish a structure suspected of concealing tunnels used for smuggling weapons. But what about the real victims of the Intifada? Does anyone remember them?
"My Name is Rachel Thaler" is not the title of a play that is likely to be produced anytime soon in London. Thaler, aged 16, was blown up at a pizzeria in an Israeli shopping mall. She died after an 11-day struggle for life following the February 16, 2002 attack, when a suicide bomber approached a crowd of teenagers and blew himself up.
She was a British citizen, born in London, where her grandparents still live. Yet I doubt that anyone at London's Royal Court Theatre or most people in the British media, have heard of her. "Not a single British journalist has ever interviewed me or mentioned her death," her mother Ginette told me last week.
Thaler's parents donated her organs for transplant (helping to save the life of a young Russian man), and grieved quietly. After the accidental killing of Rachel Corrie, by contrast, her parents embarked on a major publicity campaign. They traveled to Ramallah to accept a plaque from Yasser Arafat on behalf of their daughter. They circulated her emails and diary-entries to a world media eager to publicize them.
Among those who published extracts from them in 2003 was the influential British leftist daily The Guardian. This in turn inspired a new play, "My Name is Rachel Corrie," which opened this month at the Royal Court Theatre, one of London most prestigious venues. (The New York Times recently described it as "the most important theatre in Europe.")
Partly because of the efforts of Corrie and her fellow activists in the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the Israeli army was unable to stop the flow of weapons through these tunnels. Those weapons were later used to kill Israeli children in the town of Sderot in southern Israel, and elsewhere.
"Corrie was always a progressive with a conscience . . . she went to work with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza," wrote Michael Billington in The Guardian last week, without a shred of explanation as to what the ISM actually is. The ISM is routinely described as a "peace group" in the western media. Few make any mention of the ISM's meeting with the British suicide bombers Omar Khan Sharif and Assif Muhammad Hanif, who a few days later blew up Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv pub, killing three and injuring dozens -- including British citizens. Or of the ISM's sheltering in its office of Shadi Sukia, a leading member of Islamic Jihad. Or of the fact that in its mission statement, the ISM said "armed struggle" is a Palestinian "right." "'Israel' is an illegal entity that should not exist," wrote Flo Rosovski, the ISM "media co-ordinator," clarifying the ISM's idea of peace.
So British reviewers are left to tell the British public that the play is a "true-life tragedy" in which Corrie's "unselfish goodness shines through" (Evening Standard).
"Corrie was murdered after joining a non-violent Palestinian resistance organization," writes Emma Gosnell in the Sunday Telegraph. ("Murdered" is a term that even Corrie's staunchest defenders have hesitated to use up to now.)
Not surprisingly, the play has also been praised on Al Jazeera's website and in the Beirut Daily Star.
In one of the most astonishing comments, Michael Billington, the Guardian's critic, writes of the play: "The danger of right-on propaganda is avoided."
It is ironic to reflect that there have been some real victims of the Intifada called Rachel -- and it is hard to believe that these critics have ever heard of them. All these other Rachels died within a few months of Corrie, but -- unlike her -- in circumstances that weren't disputed. They were deliberately murdered: Rachel Levy (17, blown up in a grocery store), Rachel Levi (19, shot while waiting for the bus), Rachel Gavish (killed with her husband, son and father while at home celebrating a Passover meal), Rachel Charhi (blown up while sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe, leaving three young children), Rachel Shabo (murdered with her three sons aged 5, 13 and 16 while at home).
Rachel Corrie's death was undoubtedly tragic. But ultimately this play isn't really about Corrie, but about fomenting hatred of Israel. The production is now sold out and there is talk of it being staged in America. The Royal Court is also rushing out a printed edition of the play to give to schools ("Jewish World Review," April 26, 2005).