'My name is Rachel Corrie': Palestinian resistance takes centre stage

'My name is Rachel Corrie': Palestinian resistance takes centre stage
Comment: Plays such as 'My name is Rachel Corrie' form an essential part of the Palestinian resistance. They will not be silenced, writes Malia Bouattia.
6 min read
09 Nov, 2017
Rachel Corrie tries to stop an Israeli bulldozer from destroying Palestinian land - 2003[Getty]
The renowned play 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' recently finished its run at the Young Vic Theatre in London.

This powerful production, based on the words of Corrie herself and edited by Guardian editor Katharine Viner and the late Alan Rickman, tells the story of the US activist who, at the age of 23 was crushed to death in Rafah, in the southern Gaza strip by a bulldozer operated by an Israeli soldier.

Through her diaries and emails, dating back to when she was just 12-years old, audiences are invited into her world and walked through her personal and political journey.

They are confronted with her account of the blockade and the systematic oppression endured by the Palestinian people, from hundreds of homes being destroyed in the name of "security" to the checkpoints which make free movement an impossible desire for so many.

As a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) she died while attempting to protect the home of a local Palestinian pharmacist, Samir Nasrallah, and his family.

It is no surprise in the current political climate that the play became the source of huge controversy. Following its initial staging in 2005 at The Royal Court Theatre in London, it was due to be shown at the New York Theatre Workshop. Unfortunately, considerable pressure from pro-Israeli movements led to its "indefinite postponement".

In response, the play was officially withdrawn by Viner and Rickman in condemnation of censorship. The Love Actually and Harry Potter star stated: "I can only guess at the pressures of funding an independent theatre company in New York, but calling this production 'postponed' does not disguise the fact that it has been cancelled."

Over a decade later, similar pressure was visible as theatregoers at each showing were met with propaganda leaflets claiming her death was nothing to do with her coming into contact with Israeli soldiers

Over a decade later, similar pressure was visible as theatregoers at each showing were met with propaganda leaflets claiming her death was nothing to do with her coming into contact with Israeli soldiers.

To make matters worse, the leaflets mimicked the theatre's design, giving a stronger sense of authenticity and effectively duping people into thinking they were reading official material.

In many ways, given the scale of recent concerted effort to undermine pro-Palestine activity, it is a surprise that the play was able to complete its full run in London. Many pro-Israel newspapers expressed their opposition to the performance, claiming "the other side of the story" was not being told.

It is difficult not to be shocked by the utter disregard for Corrie's tragic death, one that has shaken so many around the world and left a family devastated.

The obsession with silencing this story almost 15-years on from the event, only shows the levels of dehumanisation exercised by all those complicit in the Occupation. In the end, all that seems to count in the minds of those lobbyists, is a war of interpretation and public opinion.

Corrie, the Palestinian inhabitants of the destroyed houses, and numerous other unaccounted for victims have not only paid the ultimate price in their struggle for justice and liberation, it is the very memory of their existence which is now targeted.

Graffiti in Gaza memorialising Rachel Corrie 2003 [Getty]
Graffiti in Gaza memorialising Rachel Corrie 2003 [Getty]

Storytelling has always served as a powerful form of oral history, a way to keep the events, the tragedies, the victories and the truth alive in the collective memory of a society and a people. This is particularly true for the downtrodden and the oppressed, and for resistance movements and liberation struggles.

Far away from official institutions and mass media, these groups rely on different, popular, methods to continue to tell their histories and remind the world of their past. Palestinians, who face the constant threat of being written out of history, of having their very existence negated, know this only too well.

The level of opposition to the story of a young white American woman, who previously lived a relatively privileged life in the US, and had no personal connection to this struggle, serves to unveil the dark reality of Israel's ongoing colonial practices and the importance of the international stage in opposition to Israel's policies.

When the play was originally "postponed" a decade ago, the Oscar-winning British actress Vanessa Redgrave spoke out in interviews, and described its significance in Democracy Now!

She stated that "to cancel a play, and it wasn't really a play, to cancel a voice, because it was her voice, is an act of such catastrophic cowardice, because we are living in times when people are quite fearful enough about speaking out, for losing their career or, you know, whatever, and I think it's - people in the theatre, in film, radio, television, dance, music, we have to do what we must do." 

These words hold much significance today, as global attempts at censorship through official policies and state violence continue. 

Given the scale of recent concerted effort to undermine pro-Palestine activity, it is a surprise that the play was able to complete its full run in London

In the run up to the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration earlier this month, public figures such as UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn faced fierce criticism. Pro-Israeli officials and organisations condemned his choice to boycott the official celebration and his refusal to normalise the presence of Israeli politicians complicit in the dispossession of the Palestinian people.

Even the UK's mission to the UN faced calls for an official apology, after one of its members' - very limited - criticism of the ongoing failure of the international community to live up to the "unfinished business" of the Balfour declaration – that is the rights of the Palestinian people.

These attempts at silencing solidarity and intimidating officials will not, however, clean the Israeli slate in relation to its continued violations of international law and the stripping of Palestinians' basic human rights.

That the leader of the largest political party in the UK has not given in to pressure and has been elected with a long standing history of solidarity with Palestinians, shows that while push back has been considerable and aggressive, there is also widespread sense in British society that Israel's actions are unacceptable and that Palestinians deserve liberty and justice.

The task of turning that into action, and building the movement on the ground is the biggest challenge that faces us all.

It is this struggle that Rachel Corrie dedicated her short adult life to, and is one that resonates with millions across the world who are equally horrified at the ongoing violence, murder and dispossession that makes up the daily life of Palestinians.


Malia Bouattia is an activist, the former President of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.