Death in Gaza: My Name Is Rachel Corrie Comes to S.F.

The controversial play humanizes pro-Palestinian activist while defusing criticism with humor.

From the time she was a little girl, Rachel Corrie would carry a notebook to jot down what she was thinking. After she was killed at age 23 by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, her parents, Cindy and Craig Corrie, released her writings — diaries, emails, and letters — so people could get an idea what their daughter, a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement in Gaza, had witnessed there.

Editors at The Guardian contacted the Corries to ask about publishing some of their daughter’s writing, which they said humanized the people of Gaza more than anything else they had read. Alan Rickman, the late actor and director whose partner worked at The Guardian, read them and thought they would make wonderful theater, and he became interested in making a play out of the writings. He edited them into a one-woman show, My Name Is Rachel Corrie, with Katherine Viner, at the time a features editor at The Guardian, and now the editor-in-chief.

The Corries say they never really had misgivings about the play, at San Francisco’s Magic Theatre, through May 14.

“We never signed anything, so they had no legal right to use it, but the people crafting it were so incredibly interested and kind to us,” Craig said. “I remember saying to Alan, ‘We were a bereaved family, and no matter what you did, we might not have liked it. You were kind of working without a net.’ He sort of laughed and said, ‘If it doesn’t have risk, it’s not worth doing.’”

Both of Corrie’s parents like the play, which they have seen in different countries, in many languages. They think it shows their daughter as a real person — one who loved Salvador Dalí’s art and Pat Benatar’s music.  Also it’s surprisingly funny, they say, which serves to humanize both their daughter and the people of Gaza.

When their daughter first told them that she was planning to go to Gaza, her parents did fear for her safety. Her father thought maybe she should consider working in a soup kitchen and her mother thought going to India, where they had some family connections, might be a good idea.

Her father, a Vietnam War vet, said although he was concerned about what could happen to Rachel in Gaza, she was an adult and could make her own decisions.

“You can’t ask a child to be less than they could be,” he said.

Rachel sent her parents articles and things to read to inform them about what she was doing and to reassure them, Cindy said. She was engaged in anti-war activism and protested the Iraq War before she left for Gaza.

“September 11 was a big event in her life, and she was trying to look at why that happened. She was looking at the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a piece of that, and she felt this was something she could do,” Cindy said. “She had a need to engage and look for meaningful things to do with her life. From when she was a small child, she looked at the world as her community.”

How Rachel died and what she was doing have been, not surprisingly, controversial. The International Solidarity Movement claimed the bulldozer driver ran her over deliberately. The Israeli Defense Forces said it was an accident, and she was killed by falling debris. The play has been controversial as well, and a New York production in 2006 was postponed, leading to charges of censorship.

It’s the people who haven’t seen the play who are offended by it, Craig thinks.

“In New York, someone was leafleting in front of the theater and I had been given 35 tickets or something and someone couldn’t make it. I asked the person leafleting if they had seen the play, and they said no. I said, ‘Well, you’re in luck, I have a free ticket,’ but they didn’t want to go,” he said. “I was at the theater in Olympia and a man came up to me and said, ‘I’m Jewish and I thought it would be very anti-Semitic, but I did a U-turn in the middle of the play, and it changed me.”

The play shows Rachel as a person trying to figure things out and questioning herself, Craig says.  He and his wife say they are appreciative of Rickman and Viner for having written it.

“I am always so grateful we have Rachel’s writings and words and we can know her so much better. I’ve heard them over and over, and I just let them wash over me each time I see a production,” Cindy said. “The play is true to Rachel. It’s her words and thinking and presents a pretty full picture of her.”

My Name is Rachel Corrie, through May 14, at the Magic Theatre, 2 Marina Blvd., Bldg D, Fort Mason Center, $25-$50, 415-441-8822 or

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