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NYT Rachel Corrie Play Theatre Review Critiqued

RE: Too Hot To Handle, Too Hot Not Too Handle

New York Times Review by Edward Rothstein

Edward Rothstein hints that the New York Theater Workshop was naïve in not understanding that the play was politically charged, an obvious, but valid point.

Oddly, however, Rothstein then seems to turn around and blame the playwrites Alan Rickman and Katharine Viner, suggesting that they disguised the political content of the play. Rothstein suggests that the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" is "disingenuous" and that the playwrites "elided phrases" "to camouflage Corrie's radicalism and broaden the play's appeal".

But here Rothstein himself is guilty of camouflaging the truth, or at least of naiveté. The primary example Rothstein cites of the play's supposed "disingenuousness" is Rothstein's assertion that in the play "there is no hint about why such demolitions" of Palestinian homes in Rafah were taking place. Rothstein then explains that "dozens of tunnels leading from Egypt under the border into homes in Gaza were being used to smuggle guns, rocket launchers and explosives to wield against Israel."

Thus, Rothstein leaves open the possibility that Rachel Corrie herself may have been killed while preventing the demolition of a home hiding an arms smuggling tunnel, and that the Israeli military's wholesale demolition of thousands of homes in Rafah was aimed only at destroying arms smuggling tunnels and preventing terrorism.

Rothstein is wrong on both these crucial points. Rachel Corrie died defending the home of a Palestinian family who she knew well - Palestinian pharmacist, Khaled, Nasrallah, his wife and children. There was no tunnel in the Nasrallah home, and the Israeli army never asserted that there was a tunnel in the Nasrallah home. Nonetheless, the Nasrallah home, like thousands of others, was eventually demolished by the Israeli army. The international organizations Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (LINK, LINK), and the respected Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem ( have all documented that homes in Rafah were bulldozed as part of an Israeli government policy of systematically demolishing entire Palestinian neighborhoods, irregardless of any relationship to arms smuggling, in clear violation of international law.

In their October 2004 report Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip (, Human Rights Watch noted that:

"Sixteen thousand people - more than ten percent of Rafah's population - have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time... The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law. In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity...

Under international law, the IDF has the right to close smuggling tunnels, to respond to attacks on its forces, and to take preventive measures to avoid further attacks. But such measures are strictly regulated by the provisions of international humanitarian law, which balance the interests of the Occupying Power against those of the civilian population. In the case of Rafah, it is difficult to reconcile the IDF's stated rationales with the widespread destruction that has taken place. On the contrary, the manner and pattern of destruction appears to be consistent with the plan to clear Palestinians from the border area, irrespective of specific threats....

The IDF has failed to explain why non-destructive means for detecting and neutralizing tunnels employed in places like the Mexico-United States border and the Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) cannot be used along the Rafah border. Moreover, it has at times dealt with tunnels in a puzzlingly ineffective manner that is inconsistent with the supposed gravity of this longstanding threat...

Rothstein attempts to discredit Rachel and the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" by mentioning her "radicalism", Rachel's "more contentious view", and her views that seem "naïve". He further confuses the issue by directly comparing the conflict over staging the play in New York City to the conflicts over "Andres Serrano's photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine to the Danish cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad." Thus Rachel and the play, already "disingenuous" and "radical" are made sacrilegious and even obscene to some readers. Despite all Rothstein's efforts at distraction, the simple truth is that Rachel was an idealistic woman who used nonviolence to support international law.

Finally, Rothstein implies that Hamas' recent victory in the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council somehow should have some bearing on whether or not the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" should be staged in New York City ("and when the election of Hamas provided proof that all was not simple, perhaps that was when the play became more clearly understood"). It is a significant stretch to understand how the election victory of Hamas in 2006 should influence the cancellation of a play in the US about an American woman who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer almost three years earlier. Indeed, if anything the random, brutal deaths of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians, and a few foreigners like Rachel Corrie, at the hands of the Israeli military from 2000 - 2006, help to explain the dissatisfaction and anger that contributed to Hamas' election victory in 2006.


Please READ and WRITE!!

In his March 6, 2005 New York Times article "Too Hot to Handle, Too Hot Not to Handle" (see New York Times cultural critic Edward Rothstein comments on the New York Theatre Workshop's "postponement" of the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie", about American activist Rachel Corrie who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to prevent the demolition of Palestinian homes in Rafah in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003.


Write to the New York Times at and to the Times' Public Editor Byron Calame at Suggestions when writing to them

1) You appreciate that The New York Times is following the important story of the postponement of the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" in New York City. However, the New York Times needs to get central facts right.

2) Contrary to Edward Rothstein's innuendo, Rachel Corrie was killed while defending the home of a Palestinian family that had no relationship to arms smuggling or terrorism.

3) Despite Rothstein's attempt to defend the Israeli government's policy of large-scale home demolition in Rafah, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Israeli organization B'Tselem have all documented that Israel's large-scale home demolition in Rafah violated international law and could not be justified as a defense against arms smuggling.

4) Rothstein attempts to discredit Rachel Corrie as "naïve" and "radical." Rachel was killed while using nonviolence to stand against a clear injustice and widely recognized violation of international law. If using nonviolence to support international law made Rachel "radical " and "naïve", then the world needs more naïve, radical people.

5) Hamas' victory in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in 2006 should not be twisted to serve as a rationale for "postponing" a play about an American activist killed in Rafah in 2003.


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