“Rachel” — A Documentary

by Ralph Stone on July 29, 2009

I saw and recommend “Rachel,” a documentary shown on Saturday at the Jewish Film Festival. It will be shown again at the Roda Theatre in Berkeley on August 4th. The documentary is about a 2003 incident where Rachel Corrie, a 22- year old peace activist from Washington State, attempted to stop a bulldozer operated by the Israeli military from demolishing homes and other buildings in Gaza. Rachel was struck and killed. Some witnesses claimed she was struck deliberately, but an Israeli inquiry found her death to be an accident. The film depicts the circumstances surrounding her death.

The documentary is not just about Corrie’s death. It is also about activists who fight injustice without hope of winning, but do so without despair.

The film is also about the ongoing conflict in Gaza, which stretches back to the creation of Israel in 1947. Then, the United Nations partitioned the land, allotting the Jews 55 percent of Palestine. The

Arabs did not agree to this partition. In the 1948 “war of independence” (called the “El Naqua,” the catastrophe, by the Arabs), Israel ended up with 78 percent of the area of Palestine. This war displaced 750,000 Palestinians, and over 450 Arab villages were erased.

In the war of 1967, the remaining Palestinian territory was captured by Israel. Out of this captured land, Israel created the West Bank and the Gaza Strip by chopping up the land into isolated enclaves surrounded by Jewish settlements and Israeli occupation forces. The Palestinians lost 78 percent of their land to Israel and are left with 22 percent.

Recently, Israel has erected a wall or fence, which cuts deep into Palestinian territory, joining large Jewish settlement blocks to Israel, further confining the Palestinians to isolated enclaves. Israel continues to establish new settlements (called outposts), demolishing homes and uprooting plantations in the process. And recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected President Obama’s demand for a freeze on West Bank Jewish settlement construction.

Since Israel instituted a strict closure policy in 2000, the Palestinian economy has been on a downward trend. Fuel, electricity and materials to maintain water and sanitation are under Israeli control. The lack of investment in public infrastructure and private enterprises is eroding the limited remaining Palestinian economic base. The economic blockade has devastated the Gaza private sector and driven almost all industrial producers out of business. Over half the households in Gaza live below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is about 25 percent in the West Bank and about 45.3 percent in Gaza.

Most of the 1.5 million Gazans could not exit into Israel or Egypt. Is it any wonder that the Palestinians believe that Israel’s ultimate goal is to take over the entire country and to drive out the non-Jewish population?

I commend the Jewish Film Festival for showing the film. Unfortunately, some within the Jewish community see a “new anti-Semitism” when criticism of Israel is depicted in films like “Rachel.” I like to think that “Rachel” will spark a healthy debate within the Jewish Community about the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Certainly, the audience at the Castro Theatre on Saturday enthusiastically welcomed the film.

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