When our daughter Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in the Gaza strip on March 16 2003, an immediate impulse was to get her words out to the world. She had been working in Rafah with a nonviolent resistance organisation, the International Solidarity Movement, trying to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes and wells. Her emails home had had a powerful impact on our family, making us think about the situation in the Middle East in ways we had never done before. Without a direct connection to Israel and Palestine, we had not understood the devastating nature of the Palestinians’ situation. Coming from the US, our allegiance and empathy had always been with the people of Israel.
After Rachel died we realised that her words were having a similar effect on others whose lives were being changed, as ours have been - not just by Rachel’s death, but by the window her writing provided on the Palestinian experience and by her call to action.
Earlier this year, when a play created entirely from Rachel’s emails and journals first opened in London, we saw in a very immediate way the impact that Rachel’s words can have on others. Theatre can reach people in a different and deeper place than reading a news article or listening to a speech: there is an emotional aspect that for some people can be more long-lasting and motivating.
Theatre humanises; all art humanises. It takes us away from the merely logical and rational. In the Israel-Palestine conflict there is often a very logical calculus of death and war - and you must step out of the constructs of that logic in order to construct a logic for peace.
The play, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, is not just about how Rachel died, even if that is why she is known and remembered. It also illuminates her humanity, tracing her evolution from typical teenage self-exploration through to her search for a political voice. The play includes some of her writing that might be considered uncomplimentary to us, and even to her. Far better that, though, than being a symbol of one dimension.
It is disconcerting, but also comforting, to watch an actor who looks much like Rachel - Megan Dodds - play our daughter on stage. In the opening scene, when Rachel awakens in her messy bedroom, the resemblance is almost too much. But Megan lives Rachel’s words in ways that are sometimes familiar but also sometimes surprising, so that we learn from her what Rachel may have been thinking. At several points in the play, Megan enacts receiving emails from us - real emails that we actually sent to Rachel. We had never before imagined our daughter’s reactions to receiving our messages until we saw them on stage.
Rachel was a real human being. Sometimes, when people idealise her, we feel vulnerable for her. Knowing the complete human being, would they feel the same? Through My Name is Rachel Corrie, people can know a more complete Rachel.
Clearly, our daughter has become a positive symbol for people. Her story and her words seem to motivate others to do something, not just sit and talk about the world’s situation in their living rooms and feel unhappy. The weekend after Rachel was killed, we discussed with old friends what we should do. We needed to find a response. In some ways we may have been more fortunate than other parents who have lost children, for the response in our situation was apparent. With her efforts to educate and to build permanent connections with Palestinians in Rafah, Rachel provided us with a path.
In an email from Rachel to her friend Todd, she tells him 10 times over that he must come to Gaza. “Come here!”, she repeats over and over. That is what Rachel would have wanted us to do, too: to try to carry on what she started.
We recently spent time in the US with members of the family who were behind the wall of the home Rachel stood to protect. For a month we ate, played and travelled with 15-month-old Sama. What future does she have, living in what now amounts to a mass prison in Gaza?
The recent disengagement may provide some relief for Gazans at the most obvious level. But it is hard not to contrast the media coverage afforded to the Israeli settlers’ leaving, with that given to the many Palestinian families who have lost their homes to demolition in Gaza. What has been happening in the West Bank under cover of the disengagement - the building of the wall and the expansion of settlements - is also very worrying.
And when the Israeli prime minister’s close aide Dov Weisglass said that the real intent of the Gaza disengagement was to place the peace process in formaldehyde, we have to take him at his word. We must keep insisting on a peace process and work towards a viable Palestinian state that will benefit Palestinians, Israelis and the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, we are still asking our government for a US-led investigation into Rachel’s killing. The US state department is on record saying that the report of the Israeli military police does not reflect an investigation that was “thorough, credible and transparent”, despite that being promised to President Bush by Ariel Sharon. In March we initiated a lawsuit against the Israel Defence Force and the government of Israel, to seek justice for Rachel and also information. We still would like to know what happened on March 16 2003, and why the international eyewitness reports differ so radically from the statements of the soldiers involved.
Unfortunately, the Israeli parliament, counter to international law, has passed retroactive legislation making it impossible for most Palestinians and others to file suit against the IDF for injury that occurred in the occupied territories after September 2000.
In the US we have taken legal action against Caterpillar Inc, which manufactured the D-9R bulldozer which killed Rachel. Under existing US law, corporations can be, and are being, held responsible when they knowingly continue to provide goods and services that are used in a pattern of human-rights violations.
The month before she was killed, Rachel wrote the following in an email to us: “I look forward to seeing more and more people willing to resist the direction the world is moving in, a direction where our personal experiences are irrelevant, that we are defective, that our communities are not important, that we are powerless, that our future is determined, and that the highest level of humanity is expressed through what we choose to buy at the mall.” Action has already flowed from her words.
“My Name Is Rachel Corrie” is at the Royal Court Theatre in London from October 11 to 29. Box office telephone: 020-7565-5000. This article was first published under the title “Rachel was bulldozed to death, but her words are a spur to action” on 8 October 2005, in The Guardian.