A New Film About Rachel Corrie -- It's Not Extremism to Say This Should Stop

Rachel – a film documentary directed by Simone Bitton, shown at the Tribeca Film Festival

 This is a somber movie indeed, and timely as the United    Nations attempts an  investigation of the Israeli attack on  Gaza.  Rachel re-examines the death of Rachel Corrie,  crushed by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza in 2003.  The    director, Simone Bitton, describes it as “the examination of    an examination”,  with much of the film focusing on re-  visualizing what happened, interviewing  witnesses, and on  the Israeli investigation of Rachel’s death.  The counterpoint  is Rachel’s fellow International Solidarity Movement activists  reading  excerpts from her diary.

Bitton carefully lays out the topography of the event – Israel’s demolition of more than 1600 homes in the “Philadelphi corridor” along the Rafah border fence, and vividly illustrates what it was like for non-violent internationals to stand up to the Israeli army’s  monster  bulldozers and to their indiscriminate small weapons and tank fire.  She interviews the Palestinians whose homes Rachel died defending, and the doctor who received her body in the emergency room, as well as the internationals who saw the event.

The on-site filming makes it clear how difficult it would have been for a bulldozer driver not to have seen Rachel, and her comment in an AOL interview is illuminating, “Even now, I can't say if the driver killed Rachel intentionally. But what I learned is if he indeed didn't see her, it’s because nobody expected him to pay real attention to her. He was there on a destruction mission, and he had to continue because his commanders didn't give the order to stop destroying so as to avoid killing somebody. What I learned is that it was obvious that continuing to ‘work’ while the activists are there could mean that somebody will be killed.

Bitton was able to persuade Israelis involved in the investigation – the IDF spokeswoman, the doctor who autopsied Rachel’s body, the military investigator who was returned inconclusive results to his probe of her death, and, most chillingly, an Israeli soldier who was assigned to the same outpost from which Rachel was attacked.

All these interviews are a vivid illustration of Hannah Arendt’s concept of the banality of evil.  In her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt used the Holocaust and the trial of Eichmann to illustrate the idea that great historical evils are not the work of fanatics or sociopaths, but are carried out by very ordinary, unquestioning people who see their small role in carrying out the purposes of the state as “normal” and “necessary”, and who would not hesitate to repeat their behavior even once they were aware of the consequences.   Arendt’s thesis, of course, is not limited to the Holocaust, but applies equally to many other horrors:  slavery and racism, the dropping of the atomic bomb, and, in this case, the brutal occupation of Palestine.

The doctor who conducted the autopsy with no American observer did so admitting that he acted against the wishes of Rachel’s parents, the military investigator acknowledges that he did not have the means or power actually to conduct an investigation, but he provided a report nonetheless, and the soldier describes the everyday brutality of the occupation – random firing at homes, civilian deaths, large scale demolitions – as something every soldier regards as routine and would do again.

Against this background Rachel’s words, read from her diary, are both brave and compelling.  Indeed, as she said, “This has to stop. I think it is a good idea for al of us to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop.  I don’t think its an extremist thing to do anymore. “

By the way, according the U.S. State Department, the Israeli government has never made a “thorough, credible, and transparent” investigation of Rachel’s death.

Hat tip: Rachel Corrie Foundation for the picture.

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