Controversial ‘Rachel Corrie’ play ignites debate over freedom of speech

David Hadari demands J’lem Municipality cease funding theater hosting play, Barkat defends ‘freedom of expression’ in capital.

July 4, 2013 01:29
4 minute read.
Rachel Corrie

Rachel Corrie. (photo credit: Reuters)

A one-woman play scheduled to debut next week about Rachel Corrie, the young American pro-Palestinian activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, has resulted in calls from an area politician to cease funding the theater hosting it, and concerns over freedom of speech.

The play, My Name is Rachel Corrie, is based on the 23- year-old’s diaries and emails written shortly before her death while protesting against Israel, and is slated to be performed at Jerusalem’s Khan Theater.

“We should not be lending a hand to problematic plays that harm Jerusalem and the State of Israel in the name of ‘art,’” said Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari (Bayit Yehudi) earlier this week.

Hadari went on to call Corrie an “Israeli hater” and subsequently demanded that the Jerusalem Municipality cease funding the Khan Theater.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat defended the theater’s right to host the play, despite its objectionable content, noting Israel’s unrivaled “freedom of expression” in the region.

“The Jerusalem Municipality and the [Culture and Sport Ministry] do not support specific plays but rather cultural institutions according to defined criteria,” the statement read. “Even if the municipality and mayor don’t agree with the specific content that presents soldiers in a negative light, we are prevented by law from interfering in the freedom of expression.”

Meretz city councilman Dr. Meir Margalit, who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, compared Hadari’s attempt to silence the play with intellectual “violence.”

“Hadari’s position is a position of violence,” he said by phone Wednesday. “It belongs to the kind of people who feel they must shut up the other side by force. This is the classical side of the settler [mentality] and shows that they are afraid to hear different positions – to hear the truth.”

Margalit went on to note the troubling confluence of last week’s government-mandated cancellation of an east Jerusalem children’s puppet festival because of sponsorship by the Palestinian Authority and Hadari’s call to prevent the Corrie play.

“There is a symbolic connection between these two reactions,” he said. “When a country cannot support criticism and intellectually different approaches, this is a sign that we are in a very bad situation – that something is wrong in our society.”

“There are people who, when they hear the word ‘culture,’ they become nervous,” he added.

Corrie, of Olympia, Washington, was a member of the pro- Palestinian International Solidarity Movement (ISM), who came to Israel during the height of the bloody second intifada to protest the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israeli government.

She was crushed to death on March 16, 2003, by an armored IDF bulldozer in Rafah, near the Gaza Strip while protesting an IDF home demolition.

The death resulted in international calls for an investigation, which her family deemed a homicide. Corrie’s family filed a civil suit against the Defense Ministry seven years ago, claiming that the IDF either deliberately killed their daughter or was guilty of “gross negligence.”

However, in 2012, a Haifa District Court judge invoked the “combatant activities” exception, which states that a country’s armed forces cannot be held liable for civil damages for physical or economic harm to civilians in an area defined as a “war zone.”

In a 62-page decision, Judge Oded Gershon noted that IDF forces were attacked hours earlier in the same area where Corrie was killed.

Gershon said in his judgment that Corrie could have avoided the dangerous situation, but called her death “an unfortunate mistake.”

He went on accuse the ISM of indirectly assisting terrorists in certain cases.

Furthermore, the Supreme Court concurred that the Rafah area was a war zone during the second intifada when the incident occurred, even if combat was not occurring at every moment.

My Name is Rachel Corrie has previously been shown in Israel, but only in Arabic. Next week’s performance will be presented entirely in Hebrew.

Its director, Ari Remez, said he is not surprised by the controversy.

“We expected to get this kind of response,” he told The Washington Post. “It’s a shame that this response is coming not from those who have seen the play, but from those who think that putting on this play is anti- Israel or anti-Semitic.

“In the theater we try to create a debate,” he continued.

“Some of the ideas you agree with and others you might not agree with, but the goal is for people to come and listen.”

The play has not been without controversy since its debut in London in 2005. It has been widely criticized for its anti-Israel narrative, and one off-Broadway theater rescinded on hosting it after deeming the content too politically charged.

Related Content

August 31, 2014
Rioting resumes throughout east Jerusalem Saturday night


Cookie Settings