An Interview with Simone Bitton on Her New Movie Rachel

Simone Bitton
Still image from Rachel; inset: Simone Bitton

I think they had a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I don’t think that having a pro-Palestinian agenda means having an anti-Israeli agenda. Actually, as an Israeli, I have a pro-Palestinian agenda, and I think that when life will be normal and reasonable for Palestinians, it will be much better for Israelis too.

I don’t think it’s an insult to say that somebody has a pro-Palestinian agenda. If it means that somebody is committed to more justice for the Palestinians, who have been oppressed, bombed, caged, occupied, it’s very good to have a pro-Palestinian agenda. It’s not only good, it’s absolutely needed if you don’t want the Middle East to explode in the face of the world, more than it has exploded already.

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon, May 3, 2009

Interview with Simone Bitton

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Simone Bitton’s documentary “Rachel,” which premiered this week at the Tribeca Film Festival, is what’s not in it. Bitton, a Moroccan-born Jewish filmmaker who spent many years in Israel and now lives in France, conducts a philosophical and cinematic inquiry into the death of Rachel Corrie, the 23-year-old American activist who was killed under ambiguous circumstances in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip in March 2003. But the political firestorm that followed Corrie’s death, which saw her beatified as a martyr for peace by some on the left and demonized as a terrorist enabler by some on the right, is virtually absent from the film.

We do not see the infamous photograph of the keffiyeh-clad Corrie burning an “American flag” — not a real flag, but a crude children’s drawing of one — at a demonstration about a month before her death. Nor do we see the torrent of exaggerated and often shocking verbal abuse to which Corrie was subjected, postmortem, on right-wing bulletin boards and Web sites. Corrie, who suffered massive internal injuries when she was either crushed by a bulldozer or buried under construction debris, was routinely dubbed “Saint Pancake” in such venues, or described as “terrorist-loving swine.” (That’s without getting into the grotesque sexual fantasies and elaborate conspiracy theories.)

Bitton approaches Corrie’s death from an Israeli point of view, which means she sees it quite differently from the way Americans do. For her, it’s partly a forensic puzzle — an episode of “CSI: Gaza” without a clear resolution — and as a philosophical challenge to the military and political status quo. It’s important to understand that within Israel, Corrie’s encounter with a military bulldozer (an enormous armored machine called the Caterpillar D9, built in the United States to Israeli specifications) and the subsequent investigation were a relatively minor news blip, not the full-on media frenzy we enjoyed.

While it’s unusual for a Westerner to die in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Corrie was neither the first nor the last, and no individual death can make much impression amid the constantly clicking body count on all sides. In the film, one of Corrie’s friends recalls that the Gaza hospital mortuary had to move her body out to make room for someone else, a Palestinian man who had reportedly left his house to smoke a cigarette and was shot by an Israeli sniper.

After an internal inquiry, the Israeli military announced that Corrie’s death was a tragic accident, and that the bulldozer driver who ran her over (or maybe buried her beneath a mound of dirt) never saw her or heard her. Corrie’s fellow activists and Palestinian onlookers continued to insist that she was plainly visible, standing on a raised berm of earth in a bright orange vest, and that the driver killed her deliberately. The whole thing floated away on a cloud of irresolution — another not-quite-explained killing in the occupied territories — and other stories took over the Israeli front pages.

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Local Radio on Gaza and Palestine

Forward Forum, WTDY 1070 AM, 7-9 pm
A taped interview with a young Madison activist about her recent experiences in the West Bank and the “other wall” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Third World View, WORT 89.9 FM, 5-6 pm
The oldest news show at WORT, Third World View covers issues relating to the “Third World” from a critical perspective. Third World View newscasts include a half-hour round-up of the week’s international news, followed by a 20-30 minute feature. Third World View airs every Sunday.

Salamat, WORT 89.9 FM, 6-6:30 pm
WORT’s Arab-American show, Salamat seeks to create bridges of communication and understanding of Arabs in general and Arab-Americans in particular. Salamat airs every Sunday.

January 1 and 2, 2009
WORT Programs on Gaza

“A Public Affair”, WORT 89.9 FM, Thursday, January 1, 2009 at noon, call in 256-2001
Why the Israeli assault on Gaza? Why now? What are the Israeli motivations? What are the broader, deeper contexts for this massive act of aggression against a largely defenseless people? These and other questions will be the focus of a conversation with host Allen Ruff and special guest Jennifer Loewenstein, Palestine Human Rights activist, co-founder of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and Lecturer on the Contemporary Middle East, the Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, the UW-Madison.

“A Public Affair”, WORT 89.9 FM, Friday, January 2, 2009 at noon, call in 256-2001
Judith Siers-Poisson hosts a show on the crisis in Gaza. Guests: Ewa Jasiewicz and Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement on the Israeli attack — in international waters — on the boat Dignity. Dignity was loaded with 3-4 tons of emergency medical relief supplies, doctors, and international observers including former U.S. Congresswoman and recent presidential candidate for the Green Party, Cynthia McKinney. Jasiewicz is in Gaza, Berlin in the U.S. Also, a representative of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

December 28, 2008
Take Action to End Israeli Attacks on Gaza – Radio Show Sunday

Our friends in Rafah and elsewhere in Gaza report massive casualties from Israeli air strikes. Hospitals are overflowing with more than 200 dead and over 500 wounded (so far). So-called “Hamas compounds” included a civil police training school where scores of young men desperate for a salary to support families were assembled for a graduation ceremony. Bombs hit at school let-out time so children were in the streets in large numbers.

Many expected that no Israeli attack would be launched just hours after Israel, as widely reported in the western media, had finally allowed the delivery of a small amount of humanitarian aid to the starving population of Gaza. Widespread property damage is making life in the cold and dark of Gaza even more miserable than it was, if such a thing can even be imagined. And as I write this, it is reported that new missile attacks are targeting a mosque and various social welfare agencies located in densely crowded neighborhoods.

And the U.S. media continues to promote the myth of Israeli “retaliation” when in reality it was Israel that broke the truce several weeks ago.

If you need more information on today’s events in Gaza, click here: Gaza City hospital a gruesome scene; families pick through body parts to identify loved ones:

    (27 Dec) Death shrouds the hallways of Gaza City’s Ash-Shefa medical compound Saturday, its smell creeping in from all corners. Amputated bodies are strewn throughout hallways because morgues in the city can no longer accommodate the dead. In one corner a man stands with his seven year old son in a cardboard box because the hospital ran out of sheets to cover the dead with. This is how he will carry him home and bury him. Another man stands dazed, in shock after watching his son Mohammed killed during his graduation ceremony at the de facto police headquarters. The father of one of Mohammed’s classmates stood next to his son as he was decapitated. The man is still screaming.

and here, Gaza-based foreigners witness catastrophic violence:

    (27 Dec) In front of our house we found the bodies of two little girls under a car, completely burnt. They were coming home from school. This is more than just collective punishment. We are being treated like laboratory animals.

See also this from Ali Abunimah at The Electronic Intifada:
Gaza Massacres must spur us to action.

If you are ready to do something, read on.

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