Seven years after 23-year-old American Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli military bulldozer while trying to block the demolition of a Palestinian home in the Gaza Strip town of Rafah, a civil trial against the Israeli defense ministry has finally begun. Corrie’s parents, Cindy and Craig, filed suit five years ago. According to their family lawyer, they will argue that Corrie’s death was either an intentional act or one of gross negligence by the Israeli military.
Each year since, during March, the month of Corrie’s death, there have been events honoring her, including a ceremony in the West Bank city of Ramallah to name a street in her honor. There has been a stage play based on her journal entries and emails, My Name is Rachel Corrie; a memorial book of her writings, Let Me Stand Alone; a non-profit organization founded in her name, The Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice; and the documentary film Rachel.
While remembering Corrie, we are reminded of the tricky situation that global activists from the U.S. face. The presence of U.S. citizens in situations of conflict often elicits needed attention, but also runs the risk of turning the spotlight away from those most victimized.
Corrie herself wrote, “I think we need to use some of our privilege as internationals to get those voices [of local people] heard directly in the U.S., rather than through the filter of well-meaning internationals such as myself.” She may not have wanted to use the privilege of her white skin and U.S. citizenship to overshadow the lives of women in Gaza, but nonetheless, after her death, no streets, films or plays are named after them.
A similar example can be found in the extraordinary documentary film about South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, A Long Night’s Journey into Day. The two U.S. feminist filmmakers, Deborah Hoffman and Frances Reid, deliberately began with the brutal murder of 26-year-old Stanford student/activist Amy Beihl in 1993.
Her case was the only of more than 2,000 heard by the commission that involved a U.S. woman, but the filmmakers knew that a large part of the film’s audience would be U.S-based and white; her presence, although not representative, would make people pay attention to the issue.
Part of the legacy that Rachel Corrie and Amy Beihl leave is the knowledge that feminists need to be strategic and deliberate in their use of white bodies as representative victims. We honor these courageous young women, but always alongside those whose names will never make it to the stage.
Becky Thompson co-authored this blog, which is crossblogged here.
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