Documentary review: Rachel directed by Simone Bitton

Rachel Corrie, an American activist with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), was killed on 16 March 2003 non-violently defending Palestinian homes from Israeli demolition. She was 23-years old. Although her death was overshadowed at the time by the invasion of Iraq, the publication of her journals, an Alan Rickman directed play and a Billy Bragg song have all subsequently brought attention to Corrie’s principled idealism and courage.
Rachel, a sombre documentary directed by Simone Bitton, focuses almost exclusively on the events immediately surrounding Corrie’s death. Arriving in Gaza in January 2003, along with other ISM activists Corrie lived with Palestinian families in Rafah whose houses were threatened by demolition. As she noted in her diary “I am here because I recognise that as a citizen of the United States I have some responsibility for what is happening here.”
Bitton, who has served in the Israeli Defence Force herself and identifies as Moroccan, Israeli and French, interviews seven of Corrie’s ISM colleagues, as well as an Israeli military spokeswoman and the head of military police investigations. During one shocking interview, a former Israeli soldier who served near Rafah explains that he was ordered to fire hourly at Palestinian houses to scare the inhabitants. “As a civilian, I’m a gentle person”, the soldier explains after admitting to shooting a woman and child.
Particularly frightening is footage of the ISM activists blocking a bulldozer from advancing with tear gas being fired at them. A clarification: the term ‘bulldozer’ is an inadequate label for what Palestinians face every day. Rather, the D9 Caterpillar – made in the United States – is a 65-ton armoured vehicle that wouldn’t look out of place in the futuristic battle scenes from the Terminator movies. It was attempting to block one of these behemoths that Rachel was crushed to death.
With no soundtrack or narration and almost forensic in its presentation, Rachel is an austere reconstruction of the events of 16 March 2003. It’s a deeply moving film but by focussing on the immediate events leading to her death, I can’t help but think Bitton misses the more inspiring story of Corrie’s larger life. Becoming more politically aware and active after 9/11, like Malcolm X it is the personal and political journey she undertakes that makes her life so fallible, humane and interesting. A journey that led her to conclude the following on 27 February 2003: “I think it is a good idea for us all to drop everything and devote our lives to making this stop. I don’t think it’s an extremist thing to do anymore. I still really want to dance around to Pat Benatar and have boyfriends and make comics for my co-workers. But I also want this to stop.”
*Ian Sinclair is a freelance writer based in London, UK. [email protected]or!/IanJSinclair

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