/ 15 March 2008

Rachel Corrie play debuts in Israel

A play about the United States activist Rachel Corrie, who was killed at the age of 23 by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza, will be performed for the first time in Israel on Sunday, on the fifth anniversary of her death.

The single-actor play My Name Is Rachel Corrie will be performed in Arabic in Haifa, northern Israel, before touring the country and the occupied West Bank.

The play is based on Corrie’s diaries and emails edited by the actor Alan Rickman and the Guardian journalist Katharine Viner. It has been translated into Arabic and adapted by the director Riad Masarwi and the actor Lana Zreik, who most recently appeared in the film Lemon Tree, which won the audience award at last month’s Berlin Film Festival.

Born in Olympia, Washington, Corrie left a liberal, comfortable life in the US to act as a human shield in the Gaza Strip at a time of intense conflict between the Israeli military and the Palestinians. She wrote about the extraordinary situation she found herself in and the challenges she embraced. She told a reporter: ”I feel like I’m witnessing the systematic destruction of a people’s ability to survive.”

On the day she died, Corrie, dressed in a fluorescent orange vest, was trying to stop the demolition of the home of a Palestinian in Rafah. She was crushed under a military bulldozer and died shortly afterwards.

A month later, the military said an investigation found that Israeli troops were not to blame and accused her and the activist group she was with, the International Solidarity Movement, of ”illegal, irresponsible and dangerous” behaviour.

Last September, a US federal appeals court ruled that her parents, Craig and Cindy, and four Palestinian families who lost relatives in similar incidents could not sue Caterpillar, the firm that supplied bulldozers to the Israeli military.

Masarwi and Zreik, who are Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, spent more than two months translating My Name Is Rachel Corrie into Arabic before they began working on the production.

”We tried to focus more on the human point of view that Rachel tried to talk about,” said Zreik. ”She could have been in Bosnia or Rwanda or any other place, but it was fate that brought her here.

”This will be unique because it is a different Rachel Corrie, it is a Palestinian interpretation. I think her family and the creators, and the public themselves, will feel the difference. It won’t be like a production in London or New York because we are so connected to the events here.”

The play will be performed before mixed audiences of Palestinians and Jewish Israelis and may at a future stage have Hebrew subtitles.

Masarwi, who sought out the rights to bring the play to that audience, said the greatest challenge was drawing drama and action from the words of her diaries.

”What made Rachel, an American girl, come to Gaza and die here? Why? That is the question,” he said. ”And at the same time the audience must ask themselves: What are they doing now? Not only what are they doing for the Palestinians, but what are they doing in their lives?” — guardian.co.uk Â