Sunday, July 18, 2010

In memoriam : Rachel Corrie

In Avignon for the yearly theater festival, one of the world's finest, I jumped at the chance to see Simone Bitton's documentary investigating the death of Rachel Corrie (in 2005,7 ?), a young American woman from Olympia, Washington who died at 23, in Gaza, in... troubling circumstances, shall we say...
Utopia, the independant movie theater made a political statement by deprogramming the light, Israelian comedy that was originally scheduled, to make room for the film of ANOTHER Israeli film maker. Because Simone Bitton is French AND Israeli...
This extremely SYMBOLIC gesture was greeted with the outrage that such gestures often meet. Little does it matter that Mme Bitton's film was thinly distributed in France when it came out, even in the art et essai circles it was intended for (yes, well, we don't really expect the hot buttered popcorn multiplex movie theaters to show it, now, do we ? The ones who are ONLY interested in making as many $$$$, sorry €€€€ as possible by spewing out blockbuster entertainment in one long continuous BUBBLE ? Too RISKY for them.). That this film was shown in TWO movie theaters, in Avignon, and Toulouse. No, because the business as usual accusations of antisemitism were thrown around in a heavy handed, self righteous manner. It is too bad that SOME people have not yet understood the tremendous disservice they do their OWN cause by attempting to block access to information, while making an amalgame of attacks against the Jewish people, and criticism of the state of Israel's obsession with security, and the unfortunate consequences of this policy.
Mme Bitton took INFINITE precautions in her film, though, which is structured like an inquest.
We get the official Tsahel report of the incident first, from the mouth of an army spokeswoman. According to the official report, Rachel was in an empty area that was being bulldozed as a matter of routine. She somehow managed to be crushed to death in this EMPTY area, in an accident. As irony would have it, the NAME of this area is... the axe of Philadelphia (my God, those words, can you hear them, they are incredible... I happen to know what "Philadelphia" means, because I once lived in the U.S. city of that name. It means... the city of BROTHERLY LOVE. The gods are weeping, you know...)
The Tsahel spokeswoman does NOT say that Tsahel was engaged in destroying all construction, any fields within a radius of 800 meters of the wall that Israel is busy building around its country to protect itself from terrorist activity. And that wall was built.. right smack dab in the middle of the houses and fields of Palestinian people (like you and me...).
Rachel volunteered to join an international, humanitarian peace organization whose members were recruited to serve as human shields AGAINST this destruction. Along with others who are interviewed in this film, and give THEIR eye witness accounts, she received training to deal with the potential dangers involved.
She was totally aware of the risk of her action. And felt... called upon to DO something, to ENGAGE herself in a way to protest against what was happening, the uprooting, and destruction of the homes of people who, in the short time she was IN Gaza, became her... friends.
Mme Bitton, in the course of her film gives a voice to ALL of the protagonists in Rachel's story : the Palestinians who Rachel got to know, and care for, the Israeli man charged with the official investigation into Rachel's death, the Tsahel soldiers, even... the bulldozer drivers.
What emerges is... not the TRUTH, but an extremely complex look at the context in which Rachel was killed. Was she intentionally mowed down ? Murdered ?
The film does not attempt to make a judgment on this question.
By giving a voice to EVERYONE in this story, we hear ALL sides. Including the young Tsahel soldier who admits that the Palestinians are nameless and faceless for him, and that Tsahel regularly takes potshots in the direction of the Palestinian homes. Palestinian children are regularly killed by sniper fire, and we SEE the houses riddled with bullets. (How can "the enemy" be anything BUT nameless and faceless for us ??)
And we get a feeling for how INDIVIDUALS get caught up in larger circumstances that are beyond their control, swept into a maelstrom that our ancestors used to call... destiny.
Rachel. The bulldozer driver ? Who knows ? Who can say ?
Perhaps most importantly, Mme Bitton gives Rachel HER voice in this drama, by having her parents and friends read aloud Rachel's letters and diary.
It seems to me that... Rachel went to Palestine with a desire that, in a very short time, matured into a TOTALLY (for you, Toby...) selfless act of giving HERSELF.
Sacrifice. I am VERY leery of sacrifice, as I have stated elsewhere on this blog. As a DAILY way of doing things, it is deadly. But in exceptional cases, like Rachel's, it CAN and DOES open doors, and get the ball rolling.
Let's look at it this way : Rachel's sacrifice gives ANOTHER meaning to the word... "American". A meaning that is not saturated in the well greased, smooth, American government support of the state of Israel.
In Palestine, Rachel is a... martyr for the Palestinian people, and her name is tagged on the crumbling walls that have managed to escape the bulldozers thus far. They say that she has... Palestinian blood..
Martyr ? Saint ? Terrorist ??
It depends on your point of view, now, doesn't it ??


Toby said...

City of Brotherly Love, how beautifully ironic.

"At night I hear the blood in my veins,
just as black and whispery as the rain
On the streets of Philadelphia."

Always loved that song.

A line from Mulan that I used to rebel against (internally):

"I will die doing what's right."

What is more important; inheriting the earth, or keeping your soul/dignity/honour? If we give up our honour, we die. We've forgotten that, because we think money is value. I fear a time is coming when we are all going to have to choose between honour and 'safety'. Whether we like it or not, sacrifice is headed our way.

When we steep ourselves so far in blood there seems no way back, we must justify the decisions we made that put us on the path of hate. In part, we dehumanize the Other. Undoing that is close to impossible, but there is so much to be undone. The Middle East is a cauldron of knotted hatreds and rage of such complexity I try not to deal with it in my thoughts. I am of no help there and dwelling on it does neither me nor anyone else any good. Suffering on suffering on suffering. I choose not to fight that battle, but stand silently at the side of those who try to end the dehumanization. Dehumanization is one of humanity's biggest enemies.

Debra said...

I don't know what I think about honour, Toby.
THAT is the subject of the great drama of the French classical period, in Corneille and Racine.
See "Le Cid" for a tortured, complex exploration of where duty is and how far it goes. The play was the origin of the expression "cornélien", in French, which means choosing between Scylla and Charybdis.
Bad deal, I fear.
Rachel Corrie sacrificed herself for what she believed in, and particularly for the flesh and blood people whose homes were being destroyed.
She didn't immolate herself on the altar of... "democracy", for example.
Like Jesus Christ sacrificed HIMSELF in order that the band of relatively clueless men around him (if the women had been there, things might have happened differently...) would escape Roman clutches (in part, in part...).
Dying to save flesh and blood people is not the same thing as "pro patria mori". Not at all...