Monday, April 13, 2009

A Nonviolent Stand

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a production of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie at the university where I work. It's a one-woman show based on the title character's journals and emails.

In case you've forgotten, or in case you never knew, Rachel Corrie was an undergraduate from Olympia, WA. At the age of 23, Rachel joined the International Solidarity Movement, an organization that advocates nonviolently for Palestinians in the occupied territories, and went to Rafah, in the Gaza Strip, where she lived with a Palestinian family. She taught English to the children, but mostly she was there as an international observer. And what she observed disturbed her. Rachel came to love the family she was staying with very much. On March 16, 2003, Rachel was run over by a bulldozer operated by the Israeli military near the family's house and was killed.

Since then, Rachel has been used for political purposes. She has been worshiped as a martyr and vilified as a terrorist supporter. The first New York production of the play had to be canceled after, among other things, demands were made that this vignette of an activist's brief life be balanced by stories of persons who lost their lives to terrorism. Even at the production I attended, a faculty member was asked to "contextualize" the play before we saw it...why? If members of the audience have chosen either to remain comatose or to listen to only one side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, is a formal "contextualization" really going to broaden their understanding? I can do my own contextualization, thank you. I think that Rachel's words should be allowed to speak for themselves.

I saw a young woman who could not help but see that there was a bigger world out there beyond Olympia and who struggled to understand if there was a place for her in that big world and, if so, just what that was. The young college student's diary entries ring true. Even though it's now so long ago, I still remember.

Sure, she was attracted to guys, but she refused to let having or not having a boyfriend define who she was. She wanted to do more with her free time than shop at the malls. She read and actually tried to apply the philosophies and ideas of the authors to her everyday life. I remember that too ...

She took a stand that many disagree with, and she knew that. Everyday I see so many young people afraid to take a stand, afraid to get involved or even to express a strong opinion, afraid of displeasing the powers-that-be. We teach them not to take chances, lest they imperil their possibility of getting good grades and eventually a good job. As Rachel reads messages from her parents, I hear the fear in their voices. They had a daughter who dared to do much more than simply disagree with a professor or a boss. As a parent, I can't even begin to imagine how they feared for her safety, yet they let her make her own decisions. Maybe Rachel was right. Maybe she was wrong. But she certainly did not live life on the sidelines.

Nor did she pick up a gun.

Had she lived, would all those brave ideals have faded? Would she have become a rebel-turned-CEO like Jane Fonda, or would her activism have continued to evolve?

Rachel dared to be an active element in an absurd world. For that alone, I count her brave.

2 comments:

  1. Two things bother me in this text as if the choice was between black and white.

    First for me she is neither a martyr nor a terrorist supporter.
    And next can we say that for young american women the choice is simply between going to live with a palestinian family in the middle of a terrible war or staying home doing shopping in the malls with eventually a boyfriend???

    And I am sorry to say, but whats the purpose of going to live with a palestinian family if she did not speak a word of arabic and did not know the culture of hatred which is taught from the kindergarden to the children?

    I would have much more respect if she had tried to find jewish, christian and muslim families of Israel/Palestine who try to think that they have a common futuure together. She just went to join one side and ignored the other one who has dreamed in vain for 60 years of peace and is constantly demonized by the western media. I happen to have a lot of relatives living in Israel and most of them just dream of a normal life and are desperate. They told me: we have tried all the kinds of way but they refuse our very existence.

    She could have gone to Darfur, Kurdistan or Congo if she had real sympathy for suffering of human beings, but no, the martyr of our disgusting time is the palestinian people. The only noble humanitarian cause of our time is the poor palestinian, the other suffering, beaten people can go to hell!

    And its so complex for a naive, generous young american woman to understand the Middle east with the game of Iran competing with deeply divided arab countries, and more or less fanatic movements like fatah, islamic djihad, hezbollah, hamas etc.

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  2. And next can we say that for young american women the choice is simply between going to live with a palestinian family in the middle of a terrible war or staying home doing shopping in the malls with eventually a boyfriend???

    I'm not sure I said that. Yes, she could have done lots of things. I gather from your reaction that you think she did not do the right thing, and that's OK -- you're entitled to your opinion.


    The only noble humanitarian cause of our time is the poor palestinian, the other suffering, beaten people can go to hell!

    I think you're extrapolating a bit. I didn't say that, and I'm not sure it's fair to say that this was Rachel's feeling either, "that everyone else could go to hell."

    She just went to join one side and ignored the other one

    She was unarmed and lived with an unarmed family -- a family that was not under suspicion of smuggling arms either. She did not pick up a gun and go fight Israelis.

    who has dreamed in vain for 60 years of peace and is constantly demonized by the western media.
    I disagree that Israel is "constantly demonized" in the U.S. press. Maybe in the European press, but not here. On the contrary, you have to go out of your way to get other points of view here.

    I happen to have a lot of relatives living in Israel and most of them just dream of a normal life and are desperate. They told me: we have tried all the kinds of way but they refuse our very existence.I am truly sorry that their existence is so difficult. I'm not sure that they would blame an unarmed family that was not under suspicion of smuggling arms either.
    She just went to join one side and ignored the other one

    Well, she was 23 years old....Sometimes it's hard for a young person to see all sides.

    This is just my reaction from having seen the play.

    I knew you wouldn't like this post, but thanks for stopping by.

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