TV cameras are focused center stage, still photographers are at the ready. The audience has come to the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, waiting patiently for US president Barack Obama to take his place at the podium and have his say.
A few minutes after the start of his speech, there is an unexpected ruckus at the back of the auditorium. Someone yells in the president's direction. Security hurry to usher him out, but the questions linger after he has gone. He said: "On your way here, did you see the fence, or the killer of Rachel Corrie?"
Rachel Corrie and an Israeli bulldozer (Photo: Jacque Boqoin)
Ten years have passed since the day that the young American human rights activist was run over by a military bulldoze at the Philadelphia Route on the border with Gaza. Time has gone by, and the Middle East reality has moved on, but the legacy of Rachel Corrie is still alive.
This week sees the opening of the Teatronoto Festival for monodramas. One of the highlights is the production of "My Name is Rachel," a play that follows the events that led Corrie, a 24-year-old- American woman from Washington, to her death under the bulldozer, on the border with Gaza.
The play, which was written by the British actor Alan Rickman together with the Guardian newspaper's deputy editor Katharine Viner, brings up questions that were left open even after an Israeli court called her death "an accident which caused itself."
The play, first presented at the Edinburgh Festival, was taken up by the Royal Court Theatre in London, and has been shown in dozens of countries. The Israeli premiere took place five years ago with a production of the Al Midan Theater, but this will be the first time that it will be presented in Hebrew.
Sivan Krechner as Rachel Corrie (Photo: Merav Yudilovitch)
"This appeared to us to be an excellent opportunity to examine the event through the lens of time," said Ari Remez, the director of the play in which the actress Sivan Krechner plays Corrie.
"Israel is not in Gaza anymore, and the security reasoning behind using the bulldozers has been forgotten, but the words she used in her diaries, emails and messages to describe what she saw, paint a reality that is still alive," he adds.
Rachel Corrie (Photo: Gettyimages)
To this day, there is still controversy swirling around the death of Rachel Corrie. A few days ago, Knesset Member Orit Struk approached Culture Minister Limor Livnat and demanded that she pull the ministry's support for the festival. At the same time Struk requested that the government's legal advisor open an investigation against the creators of the festival for rebellion and incitement.
Festival management responded that they are not worried, and the Ministry of Culture emphasized that it does not have the authority to get involved in the festival's content.
MK Orit Struk (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Remez is not surprised by Struk's attempted sanctions. "We live in a reality that is fit for the writings of George Orwell, thus, nothing surprises me anymore," he said. "This is a reality in which an MK, who is identified as a 'human rights activist' on Wikipedia, sees in this play a call to incitement, violence and rebellion. It is unreal, but it doesn’t surprise me."
Remez said that he never had a particular interest in taking political materials and presenting them through theater, which is already in and of itself seen as a political act.
But the story of Corrie, he said, touched him in a way that other political events had not. "It may sound silly but, here is a young woman who is standing with a megaphone in front of a bulldozer and walking forward without stopping. It is an accurate illustration of the burning need I have to scream, 'Stop for a moment and think about what the hell is going on here.'"
The play is based on texts left behind by Corrie: Voice mails, travel journals, e-mails. "The world knows Rachel Corrie," said Remez, but the situation in Israel is different.
"Maybe it is because we are trapped in this media-presented reality where we create for ourselves what we want to believe. She is becoming farther off for us. This is enough of a reason that we should do this play," he said.
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