Judging a book by its cover: The diaries of Rachel Corrie in Jerusalem

I believe it is the government’s duty to fund criticism – No matter how hard it might be to hear.

July 11, 2013 21:40
2 minute read.
SIVANE KRETCHNER in ‘My Name Is Rachel Corrie.’

Rachel Corrie, play, actress370. (photo credit: Sivan Tzadok)

It was the juxtaposition of the State of Israel’s emblem and the iconic photo of Rachel Corrie standing in front of an IDF bulldozer on the day of her death in Gaza in 2003 that started the whole mess.

Last week, posters advertising the performance of My Name Is Rachel Corrie were billed in Jerusalem and immediately stirred up a public debate on the so-called “limits of free speech” and public funding of art.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor David Hadari demanded that funding be stopped to the Khan Theater for hosting the show, although he admitted that he had never read the script.

So what is the logic behind delegitimizing the play? This is what I managed to gather from reading the rationales of Hadari and his supporters: Enemies of Israel are by definition anti-Semitic. The IDF kills only enemies.

Rachel Corrie was killed by the IDF.

Ergo, Rachel Corrie was an enemy and anti- Semitic; therefore, a play in which an actress portrays her is subversive and should be suppressed.

One might think, given the amount of invective and fury aimed at the play, that my motivation to direct the piece in the first place was to expose a dark side of Israeli society. But the truth is quite the opposite. When Sivane Kretchner invited me to direct her in a one-woman play based on Corrie’s diaries, I asked her two questions.

The first was why she wanted to do this. Sivane answered naively: “I think these are important things that should be said and heard.”

My second question was: “Are you prepared to be slandered and smeared? Do you know what you’re getting into?” She was.

Both of her replies convinced me that she was perfectly cast for the role. Kretchner and I hoped to do what theater has always done: make the audience ask themselves questions and re-think their own lives.

Theater is about dialogue, and in the case of a monodrama it is between a character and its audience. But it seems that dialogue is just not what people are looking for at the moment.

Forming an opinion of a play you have never seen or read is a mystery to me. The discomfort caused by the very mention of Rachel Corrie’s name reveals a sad truth – a huge part of the Israeli public is not prepared to try and understand the motives of those who oppose its government’s policies.

It seems that some idealistic youths from the Western world now prefer to resist the separation barrier in Bil’in rather than volunteer on a kibbutz, as in bygone days.

What can we make of that? It is of course much easier to demonize Corrie instead of confronting a simple truth: It is impossible for an impartial outsider to view the Israeli- Palestinian conflict as balanced.

I believe it is the government’s duty to fund criticism – No matter how hard it might be to hear – just as it is the the artist’s to slap the hand that feeds him. It might also do the government some good: First, by enhancing its democratic foundation – and just possibly by getting some good ideas.

The writer is a theater director from Haifa.

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