Rachel Corrie, a 23-year-old American peace activist, was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer on March 16, 2003, while trying to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Gaza Strip. Israeli military police concluded that her death was accidental, though eyewitnesses claimed she was murdered. Simone Bitton, an Israeli filmmaker living in France, examined the conflicting accounts of Corrie’s death in her documentary Rachel. Becky Garrison, author of The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail and Rising from the Ashes, spoke with Bitton at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival in April, where the film had its North American premiere.
Becky Garrison: What drew you to this story?
Simone Bitton: I am an Israeli citizen, though I live in France now. This story has special significance for us because it was the first time a foreign peace activist protecting Palestinians was killed by the Israeli army. Somehow a red line had been crossed.
On a more personal level, I was moved by the story of this young girl. I’m 53 years old, and I’m at the age when one starts mourning one’s youth and evaluating one’s own present and past commitments. I had been a peace activist since I was young, and I have a deep feeling that my generation has failed. We didn’t achieve anything. The Occupation is more terrible than it used to be.
Corrie’s death received little press, but she still received more coverage than the Palestinian who died the same day.
In general, in the Middle East and a lot of places, the value of life is not the same for the media and the public. The lives of Palestinians aren’t worth much in comparison with the lives of Americans and Israelis. Although I made a film about an American citizen and not the anonymous Palestinian victim, my choice to focus on the American should be questioned in the film. And I think it is.