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Seattle Post Intelligencer: Corrie personified Northwest idealism

Activist Corrie personified Northwest idealism
by Joe Copeland, 28 April 2007

Rachel Corrie’s beautiful life and sad story echo with the Northwest: idealism, independence and adventure. It’s fitting the inspiring play, “My Name is Rachel Corrie,” will be back in Seattle after a weekend trip to her hometown, Olympia.

As to how much of America gets to see the play, it’s tempting to ask who cares? But that would be to give into censoring theaters, or convincing them that the play isn’t adequately balanced. As if plays ever were balanced. The standard ought to be whether they are engaging, true to their subject and have a worthy subject.

For all the dissuasion (recently, a Florida theater cut and ran), this play meets the mark, especially on the subject: Rachel Corrie — the real person. She also happened to engage in political activism that ended with her death.

Yes, the play is set partly in Palestine — the real place, even if its statehood is contested and strangled. And, like a lot of activists in Israel and elsewhere, Corrie had views about Palestinian suffering, particularly and most appropriately on what her government’s expenditures support.

When she was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she sought to stop the destruction of homes, Corrie was working with a non-violent campaign, the International Solidarity Movement. Aren’t Americans always hearing how Palestinians ought to engage in non-violent protest? All sorts of accusations have been made, ranging from an allegation that ISM was in ideological cahoots with terrorism to the idea that Corrie was plain naïve to put herself anywhere near a seemingly intractable conflict. Well, excuse her, and excuse Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

Maguire, who earned her 1976 prize for opposing violence in Northern Ireland, says she was in a non-violent protest outside Ramallah earlier this month when Israeli forces intervened. She had just given a speech on non-violence, in which she singled out Corrie for praise. In an account distributed by the Institute for Public Accuracy (consumer advisory: IPA is leftist), Maguire said she was “invited to participate in a nonviolent demonstration with some of the Palestinian members of parliament and Israeli peace activists and local villagers and international visitors.

“We walked along to try to walk up toward the separation wall, and it was a totally non-violent protest. And we were viciously attacked by the Israeli military. They threw gas canisters into the peace walkers, and they also fired rubber-covered steel bullets.

“As I tried to move back and help a French lady, I was shot in the leg with a rubber-covered steel bullet … I was stunned by it, and then later on, after having some treatment by the ambulance medics, I went back down to the front line with the peace activists, and we were again showered with gas. I was overcome and had a severe nosebleed and had to be taken by stretcher to the ambulance and treated. …

“These were over 25 unarmed peace people who had been viciously attacked by the Israeli military. And it was a completely peaceful protest. It was absolutely unbelievable. I never in all my years of activism witnessed anything so vicious as from the Israeli military.”

Maybe Maguire, too, is naïve. But it’s interesting that an activist with a certain standing and experience found herself feeling so shocked by governmental force, much like Corrie. Perhaps we will hear more about Maguire’s experiences, including some news balancing. We can only wish that, someday, an older Rachel Corrie might have shared her similarly matured, experienced views on any number of issues.

When I contacted Maguire by e-mail, she sent a copy of her speech. “It is the Rachels of this world,” she said, “who remind us that we are responsible for each other and we are interconnected in a mysteriously spiritual and beautiful way.”

Was Corrie necessarily right about how she viewed an intractable conflict in which Palestinians (like Americans) have plenty of cause for regret about their leadership at times? I wouldn’t say so. Was she a victim of overaggressive or reckless actions? We may eventually know, as her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, are admirably pursuing answers.

More than anything, the Seattle Rep’s brave presentation tells us this: From an early age, when Rachel Corrie spoke against hunger in a good speech caught on a video shown at the end of the play, she was meeting the world with compassion, intelligence and spirit that her region can always value. With any luck, the play’s use of her writings will only be a step toward further exploration of a remarkable young woman.

Joe Copeland is an editorial writer and member of the P-I Editorial Board. E-mail: joecopeland@seattlepi.com.