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Rachel Corrie was the 23-year-old peace activist run over and killed by an Israeli military bulldozer in 2003 (an American-made Caterpillar D9, to be exact). A new film about the events surrounding her death, "Rachel", premiered in April at the Tribeca Film Festival to generally favorable response.

However, its inclusion in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this week has caused an uproar, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, both because of the questions the film raises, and because Rachel’s mother was invited to speak in the absence of the film’s French-Israeli director, Simone Bitton.

I followed the story closely when the incident occurred in 2003,  and have been aware of various attempts to make a film about it. I have not yet seen "Rachel", but look forward to its general release, particularly since it provides new information about what happened. The Chron states that--

Whether Corrie naively put herself in harm's way in support of terrorists or was intentionally killed by the Israeli military is the nexus of the controversy.

This strikes me as the wrong way to frame the issue. Bitton has already said in interviews that the operator of the bulldozer did not intentionally kill Corrie. Likewise, the notion that Corrie was naïve about the conflict, or in league with terrorists has little merit. What Bitton has previously stated is that--

In this situation, continuing to destroy houses while there are civilian activists in front of you, somebody was going to be killed. The fact that the orders were to continue no matter what, it was like saying, "If somebody is killed, somebody is killed." Nobody cares.

Two Jewish organizations that support the festival, Koret and Taube, accused both Jewish Voices for Peace and the pacifist Quakers of being "two virulently anti-Israel, anti-Semitic" groups associated with "groups that aid and abet terror against the Jewish state", after they had been asked by the festival to promote the film among their members.

Peter Stein, the executive director of the festival, observed with regard to what has been referred to as the debate about "The New Anti-Semitism"--

The furor is much larger than this one film or this one speaker. It reveals a rift in our community that we all need to help understand and hopefully heal.

I’m sometimes mystified by the labeling of criticism of Israel’s government as anti-Semitic. When someone attributes some negative quality to Jewish people in general, that’s another matter. It gets really confusing when Israelis or American Jews are accusing each other of being anti-semities. I assume it’s akin to a Republican accusing me of being a traitor because I opposed the War in Iraq, but I’d consider that view a fringe right-wing position, rather than a mainstream one. DKos is largely dedicated to the critique of the U.S. Government, but I would hardly call it "anti-American".  

In any case, I look forward to the film because I admire women (and men) like Rachel Corrie, Sitara Achikzai and Julia Hill, who have the courage to put their bodies on the line for what they believe in. When they succeed, they're considered heroes, when they don't, they're often vilified.

Originally posted to Ray Blake on Sat Jul 25, 2009 at 03:47 PM PDT.

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Was the SF Jewish Film Festival out of line for including "Rachel" in its program?

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