An open letter to Rachel Corrie as the screening of the film that bears her name, honors her life, and condemns her death faces shameless criticism and censorship.

Dear Rachel,

The day you were crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, was a stormy day in Tel Aviv.

March 16, 2003 — to be exact.

I was seated at my computer editing a collection of reports by Amira Hass filed from Ramallah (reporting from ramallah). It was the first compilation of writings by this Jewish Israeli Ha’aretz journalist to be published since she left Gaza for the West Bank. Come afternoon, I was to head from Tel Aviv to Ramallah, where I intended to meet up with my friend and colleague, filmmaker Simone Bitton. Simone was working on a series of daily video diaries (Ramallah DailY). It was raining so hard, I wondered if I had it in me to schlep across Qalandia checkpoint. It never dawned upon me whether I had it in me to face a D9 house-demolishing bulldozer in Rafah.

I went online to check the forecast, to see if the storm was going to let up, and I saw the newsflash announcing your crushing; anonymous, faceless, nameless. I remember the words American, peace-activist, female. I didn’t know yet that, like me, your name was Rachel. Nor did I know that you too were a “Greener.” I just knew that some folks in the states might mistakenly worry at first glance that the said woman was me. I dropped my mother a line to assure her I was fine. And off to Ramallah I went.

Simone was in a production frenzy but I remember we exchanged a few words about it: “Did you hear?” “I heard.” Finally the rain subsided, and posters bearing your likeness sprang up like mushrooms. Ramallah was covered in them: a blond, blue-eyed, “girl-next-door,” sweatshirt-wearing martyr. People were deeply moved. Someone other than they, someone who “didn’t really have to,” had put their life on the line. And since we all know that in the deranged Western economy of imagined human worth one blond, blue-eyed, sweatshirt-wearing life is worth 100 if not 1,000 brown-haired, brown-eyed, not sweatshirt-wearing lives, your death was like a massacre.

Two months later I found myself, coincidentally, at Evergreen College, in your hometown of Olympia, WA, where I had not set foot since I graduated 10 years prior. I was 33 and you were 23. Although a decade apart, we both chose Israel/Palestine as the site for our independent study (I during the first Intifada, you during the second Intifada). As it turns out, we shared some teachers too. When they invited me to screen my film 500 Dunam on the Moon, about the occupation and depopulation of a Palestinian village and its transformation into a Jewish artists’ colony, I dedicated the screening to you and added Simone Bitton’s film The Bombing (which addresses the common, yes common, mourning of Palestinian suicide-bombers’ families and Israeli victims’ families) to the bill in honor of your parents, who were in the audience. In the discussion that followed, I was asked the usual question: “What hope do you have and/or solution do you see, for the situation in the Middle East?” (as if the “Middle East” were the situation). “To be honest,” I said, “right now, I have none and/or see none.” Not my usual answer, and an utterly useless one at that. Cindy Corrie got up, practically from sitting shiva so to speak, and proceeded to rock the house with her optimism. I was impressed, but also ashamed. Who was I to feel hopeless, when your mourning mother didn’t? One might have thought, the Corries need to give your death meaning right now, otherwise, how could they possibly live with it? But six years later, Cindy Corrie is still willing to rock the house. That is, if the house will let her.

This is where our paths diverge, yet nevertheless cross. I am a Berkeley girl, born and raised. As far back as I can remember, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was a place that year in and year out fed the Jew in me, the leftist in me, and the filmmaker in me. It is where I had the honor of screening my first two documentaries, 500 Dunam on the Moon and Ashkenaz, where Simone Bitton screened political films in the past (Mahmoud Darwish: As the Land is the Language and Wall) and where countless other American and Israeli Jewish filmmakers have taken the State of Israel to task, at least cinematically. And herein lies the problem, I fear. Had you been Rachel Koret, rather than Rachel Corrie, things would look quite different. You would have had the proverbial “right,” in mainstream Jewish eyes, to criticize, to protest, even to die. And your mother’s campaign against Caterpillar, i.e. her activist kaddish, would be tolerated if not sanctioned. But you were not Rachel Koret or Korn or Cohen. Just Corrie. A shayna punim shiksa who had no business telling D9 bulldozers, even if they are “Made in the USA,” what to do. Certainly not bulldozers nicknamed “Dubi” which is Hebrew for teddy-bear.

[This is where I’d like to go on a tangent praising the Jewish ISMers who traveled to Palestine at the expense of “Birthright Israel,” but I won’t…]

And while the SFJFF is standing by you, or at least the film bearing your name, as well as its maker Simone Bitton, and your mother (your maker) Cindy Corrie — large and powerful segments of the Jewish community apparently aren’t. And all I can think is: how dare they. Like me, they never stood up to a house-demolishing bulldozer. Unlike me, they probably never even sat down in front of this film.

The day the film RACHEL will screen at the SFJFF, will be a stormy day in San Francisco.

July 25, 2009 — to be exact.

I am still seated at my computer in Tel Aviv. I can no longer say that it never dawned upon me whether I have it in me to face a D9 house-demolishing bulldozer in Rafah, or anywhere else. I believe I don’t. I believe most of us don’t. Love Israel/Palestine or leave it, like Simone Bitton’s politics or not, the film RACHEL deserves to be seen and Cindy Corrie deserves to be heard because, if nothing else, Rachel was an exceptional “girl-next-door.” Chances are, had an occupying army come to bulldoze your home, she’d have defended it too.

Rachel Leah Jones

Rachel Leah Jones is a director/producer born in Berkeley, California and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel.