November 14, 2009
Israel/Palestine Workshop at the Wilmar Center

Saturday, November 14
3:00 pm – 5:00 pm
Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center
953 Jenifer Street, Madison [Map]

A workshop by the Madison Area Peace Coalition Israel/Palestine Task Force on how to talk about the conflict.

We will be viewing and discussing a DVD of the workshop presented by American-Jewish peace activist Anna Baltzer across the U.S. in the past year.

We will also be providing copies of Q & A handouts from the workshop. For more information, contact dvdwilliams51(at)tds.net.

Lee Brown: The U.S. should stop blindly supporting Israel

Editorial, Cap Times, November 6, 2009

Dear Editor:

In Cairo on June 4, President Obama promised “to work aggressively to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that she has not been able to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to meet face-to-face.

Perhaps, when all else fails, the United States should commit itself to upholding the rule of law.

Since 1972 the U.S. has used its veto 41 times to shield Israel from criticism by the United Nations Security Council. These resolutions concerned military attacks, rights of Palestinian people to self-determination, airstrikes that killed civilians, and violation of human rights in occupied territories — major infractions of international law. Yet the U.S. veto is so predictable Israel has assumed it had permission to ignore recognized standards of behavior.

There is no better time than now for the U.S. to announce it will not use its veto power to defend Israeli crimes.

Lee Brown
Madison

Israel accused of rationing water to Palestinians

Patrick Moser, Agence France Presse, Oct 27, 2009

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Amnesty International on Tuesday accused Israel of denying Palestinians adequate access to water while allowing Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank almost unlimited supplies.

Israel, the human rights group said, restricts availability of water in the Palestinian territories “by maintaining total control over the shared resources and pursuing discriminatory policies.”

“Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies,” Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera said in a report.

Israel consumes four times more water than Palestinians, who use an average of 70 litres (16 gallons) a day per person, according to the report entitled: “Troubled waters – Palestinians denied fair access to water.”

Amnesty said the “inequality” is even more pronounced in some areas of the West Bank where settlements use up to 20 times more water per capita than neighbouring Palestinian communities which survive on barely 20 litres (5.28 gallons) of water per capita a day.

“Swimming pools, well-watered lawns and large irrigated farms in Israeli settlements in the OPT (occupied Palestinian territory) stand in stark contrast next to Palestinian villages whose inhabitants struggle even to meet their domestic water needs.”

Israel insists it shares common water resources with Palestinians in a fair manner, saying the Palestinians have access to twice as much water as the 23.6 million cubic metres (833 million cubic feet) they are allocated annually under a mutual agreement.

“Israel has fulfilled all its obligations,” the foreign ministry said in response to the Amnesty report.

The Palestinians on the other hand, it said, “have significantly violated their commitments” by drilling 250 wells without authorisation and failing to build sewage plants.

The Amnesty report pointed out that Palestinians are not allowed to drill new wells or rehabilitate old ones without permits from the Israeli authorities, which are often impossible to secure.

In addition, many roads in the West Bank are closed or restricted to Palestinian traffic which forces water tankers to make long detours to supply communities not connected to the water network.

The report said between 180,000 and 200,000 Palestinians in West Bank rural communities have no access to running water, while taps in other areas often run dry.

In the Gaza Strip, the 22-day military offensive which Israel launched on December 27 damaged water reservoirs, wells, sewage networks and pumping stations.

Further aggravating an already dire situation, Israel and Egypt have sealed off the impoverished territory to all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas movement seized control in June 2007, severely hampering the upkeep of basic infrastructure. Related article: Palestinian farmers struggle with water crisis

The sewage system has been particularly hard-hit, as Israel does not allow pipes to be imported for fear they could be used by Palestinian militants to build rockets.

“The coastal aquifer, Gaza’s sole fresh water resource, is polluted by the infiltration of raw sewage from cesspits and sewage collection ponds and by the infiltration of sea water (itself also contaminated by raw sewage discharged daily into the sea near the coast) and has been degraded by over-extraction,” Amnesty said.

UN experts say the underground water supplies upon which Gaza’s 1.5 million population depend are in danger of collapse.

Researchers have found levels of nitrates in Gaza rising as high as 331 milligrams per litre, well above World Health Organisation guidelines for a maximum of 50.

High nitrate concentrations in ground water have been linked to a form of potentially fatal anaemia among newborns known as “blue baby syndrome.”

Israel Supreme Court: Open 'apartheid' road to Palestinians

Ilene R. Prusher, The Christian Science Monitor, Oct 23, 2009

Jerusalem – In the first ruling of its kind, Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the Israeli army on Thursday to allow Palestinians to travel on a West Bank road they had been banned from using.

The case, filed by the Association for Human Rights Israel (ACRI) on behalf of 22 Palestinian villages in the area south of Hebron, is being hailed by human rights activists as a victory in their battle against segregated roads in the occupied West Bank. While most West Bank roads are open to both Israelis and Palestinians, a few major ones are closed to Palestinian traffic, leading critics to decry them as “apartheid” roads.

A spokeswoman for ACRI said that it was the first time that the Supreme Court had ever ruled on road closures imposed by the IDF (Israel Defense Forces). Following the outbreak of violence in the second intifada in September 2000, the IDF closed roads in many areas in what it said was a move to protect Israeli citizens, including both Jewish settlers and passing Israeli motorists. Approximately 10 of these roads remain closed, ACRI says.

“The Supreme Court never made a decision before relating to a particular place where Palestinians are banned from driving on a road just for being Palestinians,” said Nirit Moskovich of ACRI. The group is disappointed, however, that the Supreme Court did not seize the opportunity to make a ruling on segregated roads in general, she added.

“In our petition, we put great emphasis on the fact that the entire notion of prohibiting public resources to people based on their ethnic or national identity is forbidden and should be outlawed,” Ms. Moskovich said. “But the Supreme Court did not refer to that at all in their decision. It was based on the circumstances of that particular case.”

The 29 members of the Jadallah family in the village of Beit Awa were a compelling example of the hardships caused by the policy. They live adjacent to the road in question, Road 354, which they haven’t been allowed to use since 2001. That left the only route to and from the family homes over treacherous, unpaved mountain roads. Older family members found it impossible to travel at all.

“It is hard to downplay the damage caused to the local residents, as clearly demonstrated by the petitioners,” the Supreme Court justices said in their ruling.

Israel’s Supreme Court is one of the country’s more liberal-minded institutions, and has often made rulings that are at odds with other spheres of power in the Israeli establishment. Ten years ago, ACRI, The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, and HaMoked: the Center for the Defense of the Individual, won a Supreme Court ruling that prohibits the use of torture by Israel’s security services. The groups complain that the anti-torture ruling is regularly violated.

Thursday’s ruling is likely to provide additional pressure for the high court to decide on Road 443, a larger and well-trafficked road also closed to Palestinians.

“Today’s ruling is particularly relevant as it may influence future court decisions on the legality of this separation regime, such as the notorious case of Route 443. ACRI submitted a petition against the segregation of this road and is awaiting a ruling,” Attorney Limor Yehuda said in a release.

“As such, it is alarming that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish refers to the notion of proportionality in the present ruling and avoids confronting the principle at stake: the legality of Israel’s policy of segregation and discrimination in the West Bank.”

The army said in its petition that the closure order was issued to protect residents in the West Bank settlement of Negohot and other settlement outposts, where about 200 Israelis live. The court gave the IDF three months to find another solution.

November 14, 2009
Seven Jewish Children at the Wilmar Center

Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza
Written by Caryl Churchill & directed by Andy Somers

Saturday, November 14
Madison Socialist Potluck
Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center
953 Jenifer Street, Madison
    Potluck supper 5:30 pm (bring a dish to pass)
    Announcements 6:30 pm
    Play and discussion following

Seven Jewish Children is Caryl Churchill’s response to the situation in Gaza in January 2009.

The performance is FREE. Donations are being accepted for the organization Medical Aid for Palestinians. All the actors are members of the Prairie Unitarian Social Action Committee, including director Andy Somers.

For more info contact marysomers44[at]charter.net

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied: the Goldstone Report


Decision an Insult to the Victims

Al Mezan Center For Human Rights, 3 October 2009

A Joint Press Release from Adalah * Addameer * Aldameer * Al Haq * Al Mezan * Badil * Civic Coalition for Jerusalem * DCI-Palestine * ENSAN Centre * Independent Commission for Human Rights * Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Centre * Palestinian Centre for Human Rights * Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies * Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counselling *

Yesterday, 2 October 2009, the Palestinian leadership – under heavy international pressure lead by the United States – deferred the draft proposal at the Human Rights Council endorsing all the recommendations of the UN Fact Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report). This deferral denies the Palestinian peoples’ right to an effective judicial remedy and the equal protection of the law. It represents the triumph of politics over human rights. It is an insult to all victims and a rejection of their rights.

The crimes documented in the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission represent the most serious violations of international law; Justice Goldstone concluded that there was evidence to indicate that crimes against humanity may have been committed in the Gaza Strip. Violations of international law continue to this day, inter alia, through the continuing Israeli-imposed illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip. The findings of the Mission confirmed earlier investigations conducted by independent Palestinian, Israeli and international organisations.

The injustice that has now been brought upon Palestinians has been brought upon everyone on this globe. International human rights and humanitarian law are not subject to discrimination, they are not dependent on nationality, religion, or political affiliation. International human rights and humanitarian law apply universally to all human beings.

The rule of law is intended to protect individuals, to guarantee their fundamental rights. Yet, if the rule of law is to be respected it must be enforced. World history, and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land has shown us that as long as impunity persists, the law will continue to be violated; innocent civilians will continue to suffer the horrific consequences.

Justice delayed is justice denied. All victims have a legitimate right to an effective judicial remedy, and the equal protection of the law. These rights are universal: they are not subject to political considerations. In the nine months since Operation Cast Lead, no effective judicial investigations have been conducted into the conflict. Impunity prevails. In such situations, international law demands recourse to international judicial mechanisms. Victims’ rights must be upheld. Those responsible must be held to account.

The belief that accountability and the rule of law can be brushed aside in the pursuit of peace is misguided. History has taught us time and time again, that sustainable peace can only be built on human rights, on justice, and the rule of law. For many years in Palestine international law, and the rule of law, has been sacrificed in the name of politics, and cast aside in favour of the peace process. This approach has been tried, and it has failed: the occupation has been solidified, illegal settlements have continued to expand, the right to self determination has been denied; innocent civilians suffer the horrific consequences. It is now time to pursue justice, and a peace built on a foundation of human rights, dignity, and the rule of law. In Justice Goldstone’s words, there is no peace without justice.

As human rights organizations we strongly condemn the Palestinian leaderships’ decision to defer the proposal endorsing all the recommendations of the Fact Finding Mission, and the pressure exerted by certain members of the international community. Such pressure is in conflict with States’ international obligations, and is an insult to the Palestinian people.

As human rights organizations concerned with rights and justice, we declare that we will double our efforts to seek justice for the victims of the violations of human rights and international law in oPt [Occupied Palestinian Territory] without delay.

July 18, 2009
Madison Children’s Museum Benefit Sale

Madison Children’s Museum Warehouse
8830 N. Greenview Drive, Middleton [Map]
7:00 AM to 4:00 PM

A new Fair Trade Crafts sale has been added outdoors to the Madison Children’s Museum Annual Benefit Sale of American Girl Returns & Seconds. The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and other local groups will be participating.



Annual Benefit Sale of American Girl Returns & Seconds

See what’s new this year!

Tickets for the 2009 sale are SOLD OUT! MCM members can shop without a ticket starting at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 18. At 3 p.m. the general public can enter the warehouse with free tickets. These free tickets will be issued at the MCM information tent beginning at 10 a.m. on the day of the sale.

Thank you for your interest and support of this important fundraiser for Madison Children’s Museum and American Girl’s Fund for Children. We want loyal supporters like you to be aware of important changes that will be made in 2009.

  • This year we will condense the sale into a one-day event on Saturday, July 18, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Shoppers will see a change in inventory offered at this year’s sale due to new federal safety requirements for children’s products. Because of these new, more stringent laws, our 2009 sale inventory is now limited to only American Girl’s popular dolls and books. In the future, it is possible more categories of product may become eligible.
  • As in past years, timed tickets will be required for entry to the sale from 7 a.m.-1 p.m. Tickets for the 2009 sale are SOLD OUT.
  • At 2:30 p.m., members of Madison Children’s Museum will be allowed to enter the warehouse without a ticket.
  • At 3:00 p.m., the genereal public will be allowed to enter the warehouse without a ticket.
  • To receive email updates about our Annual Benefit Sale, including ticket information and price list, when they are available, click here.
  • If you currently receive our email updates, we strongly encourage you not to opt out as it will result in permanently removing you from all of our email communications.

Thank you for your patience and ongoing support while we continue to determine the details of this year’s sale. Please check back regularly for updates. If you have immediate questions, please contact Marianne Madar, our sale manager, at mmadar@madisonchildrensmuseum.org. We appreciate your patience.

Please do not contact American Girl regarding this sale. American Girl is not responsible for the condition of the merchandise or the management of the sale.

July 19, 2009
Palestine Program at Prairie Unitarian: "When Breathing is Defiance"

Stories from Occupied Palestine
Prairie Meeting House
2010 Whenona Drive, Madison [Map]
10:00 AM

As part of the Sunday service at 10 am on July 19 there will be a presentation on Palestine organized by the Social Action Committee of the Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society.

The presenters will be Nathan Beck and Sol Thea Kelley-Jones, solidarity workers and human rights activists who have worked on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories of the West Bank.

President Obama has said that “the only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.” The Prairie program will report on current developments in Palestine, followed by a discussion of how a two state solution could be achieved.

From President Obama’s statement in Cairo, Egypt:

    “America’s strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied. Obama further stated “that it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people – Muslims and Christians – have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own.”

June 5 – 11, 2009
Film: The Lemon Tree

FOR ONE WEEK ONLY! The Lemon Tree | Shajarat limon | Etz halimon
(Israel-France-Germany). Based on true stories behind the ‘separation wall’.

Sundance Cinemas Madison
(NR) Screening Room; Arabic, Hebrew, English dialogue; Subtitled
Fri: (1:25), (4:40), 7:10
Sat: (4:40), 7:10
Sun – Thu: (1:25), (4:40), 7:10

Salma Zidane refuses to let the Israeli military destroy her lemon grove.

Wisdom and sadness in a universal tale of fighting the odds

Ray Bennett, The Hollywood Reporter, May 30, 2009

BERLIN — Taking its cue from the old song, the fruit of Eran Riklis' wise and poignant film "Lemon Tree" is as unpalatable as the age-old and relentless friction between Israel and the West Bank.

It's a simple tale of a Palestinian woman who refuses to allow her lemon grove to be destroyed by the Israeli military, which claims that it might harbor terrorists. Its universal story of a stubborn individual who resists powerful forces and the two lonely women who connect as a result will resonate with grown-up audiences everywhere.

Hiam Abbass, who appeared in Riklis' 2004 picture "The Syrian Bride," stars as Salma Zidane, the sorrowful owner of a small lemon grove full of trees planted by her late father. Her husband died 10 years earlier and her children have grown and moved out.

Riklis and co-writer Suha Arraf take time to establish Salma's relationship to the lemon trees as she tends them lovingly, sleeps in the shade of their branches, hears the fruit fall one by one, jars pickled lemons and makes very tasty lemonade.

Trouble comes along fast, however, when Israel's new defense minister, Israel Navon (Doron Tavory), who makes political capital with bold statements about defending his nation from terrorists, moves into a house on the West Bank border right next to Salma's lemon grove.

Barbed wire fences are swiftly erected along with a watchtower manned with machine-guns. Deciding that it's not enough, the Secret Service declares the lemon grove to be an immediate and deadly threat and orders the trees to be hacked down.

Determined to protect her family heritage not to mention her only source of income, Salma seeks the help of a lawyer, Ziad Doud (Ali Suliman), from a nearby refugee camp to represent her, and their case goes all the way to the Supreme Court.

As someone says in the film, happy endings are only for Hollywood movies, and Riklis sustains a kind but unsentimental tone as the story develops several threads. Among these are a slow-burning love interest between the widow and her counsel, and the revelation that all is not well in the defense minister's household.

His wife, Mira (Rona Lipaz-Michael), misses their grown children as well as her frequently absent husband. As her loneliness grows, she begins to identify with the plight of her neighbor even though they remain virtual strangers.

The cast is uniformly fine, but Abbass and Lipaz-Michael shine as two women who bond in the fear that the best of their lives is over and neither of them is happy with what the future holds. It's not a gloomy film, but in his parable of the tiny differences than can separate nations, Riklis suggests there's no great reason for optimism.

Running time — 106 minutes
No MPAA rating

April 23-24, 2009
Palestinian Poet Mahmoud Darwish

Thursday, April 23th
7:00 to 9:30 PM
107 Psychology Building
UW-Madison

Dr. Najat Rahman will give a lecture about the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the significance of his poetry. The lecture will be followed by a question and answer session.

Friday, April 24th
7:30 to midnight
On Wisconsin Room, Red Gym
UW-Madison

This is a cultural night that will include UW-Madison poets reciting their work as American poets interacting with Darwish for the first time, a lecture by Dr. Rahman, Arabic music, poetry recitation in Arabic and English, and a fantastic art exhibit from Palestine. Free food reception included.

Gaza Benefit Dinner, Goodman Atwood Community Center

Goodman Atwood Community Center
149 Waubesa Street
6:00 – 8:00 pm

Sponsored by Madison East High School Students for Justice in Palestine.

A vegetarian Middle Eastern dinner will be served at 6 pm, simultaneously with a cooking demonstration by Chef Sabi Attiyeh – baklava and dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) – followed by a presentation with slides by Lora Gordon, activist recently returned from two months in Rafah and Gaza. Entertainment will be provided by East High School jazz quartet.

Funds raised will go to the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) for Gaza relief. Tickets: $15 in advance, for reservations contact Bill at kursk1 at tds.net.

Supported by MRSCP; for more information call (608) 238-1227.

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.

Until she visited the U.S. late in production to meet Corrie’s family, friends and classmates in Olympia, Wash., Bitton was unaware that Corrie embodied an ideological divide in American discourse about the Middle East. When I asked her about the flag-burning photo, she didn’t seem to understand that many Americans view that act as tantamount to treason. (Other nations do not tend to view their flags with the same quasi-religious fervor.)

Herself a former Israeli peace activist, Bitton is clearly sympathetic to Corrie and her Western activist friends, who conducted a nonviolent and arguably foolhardy campaign of resistance, at immense personal risk, against Israeli demolition projects in the no man’s land along the Gaza-Egypt border. Suffice it to say this movie will not make her many friends among the Likudnik Israeli right, or in the “Israel lobby” of the American establishment. But while it makes no pretense of neutrality, “Rachel” is not first or foremost pursuing a political agenda. Like Bitton’s previous film, “Wall” — about the construction of the barrier fence between Israel and the autonomous West Bank — it finds human surprises and philosophical depth within a symbol of that intractable conflict.

Bitton makes no effort at political calculus, at resolving questions of who is most to blame in the Palestinian dilemma, or whether the Israeli occupation’s crimes are worse than those of Hamas or Hezbollah. She also does not claim to have answered the question of exactly how and why Corrie died, and at this point all possibility of certainty seems to have vanished. Maybe the bulldozer driver snapped and ran her over on purpose; maybe he really didn’t see her; maybe he was trying to frighten her and went too far. In asking various of Corrie’s friends to read excerpts from her letters, Bitton tries to redeem a real young woman — who was undeniably idealistic but also surprisingly eloquent and thoughtful — from the warring stereotypes of peacenik angel and anti-Semitic Hamas agent.

During our conversation in a Manhattan hotel lobby, Bitton scolded me for asking too many questions about Corrie’s political significance. “Let’s talk about cinema,” she said. For American viewers of “Rachel,” though, there will be no escaping the political connotations of Corrie’s death. Because of where she died and how she died, the American-made girl flattened by an American-made bulldozer became a powerful counter-symbolic reminder of America’s moral, financial and material sponsorship of the Israeli occupation regime. Whether or not you think that regime is itself justified, it remains a primary reason why our country is loathed and mistrusted throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

I just want to get your story straight, Simone. You were born in Morocco?

Yes. Chronologically, I am Moroccan, Israeli, French. That is the story of my life, so I have the three citizenships, cultures. I am all three.

The fact that you can speak both Arabic and Hebrew has played a large role in your filmmaking, right? You can cross that divide pretty easily.

Yes, of course. It has played a role in my life.

What drew you to make a film about Rachel Corrie?

Many things, but of course it was not the internal U.S. controversy. I am from there, you know, and it’s a story from there. Rachel Corrie’s story is important in the Middle East, but it’s not as known as it is here. There, it was just a little item in the news the day she was killed, because people get killed every day, so many Palestinians and so many Israelis. You know, we live with death. So it’s not like for the Americans. She’s the only American citizen who was killed in the Palestinian territories.

Still, I was very moved by the story because it was the first time that somebody who came to protect the Palestinians was killed. It was the whole notion of protection, of nonviolent resistance. It was a red line which has been crossed. It was very frightening. More personally, I would say, just as a human being and as a filmmaker: She was 23 years old, and I am 53 years old, and I am somehow mourning my own youth. Not my own commitments, but when you are 53, you don’t translate your commitment in the same way. It was a way for me to maybe think about youth and commitment.

Before we turned the camera on, you said that you couldn’t really comment on the controversy about Rachel Corrie in the United States, and I understand that. But one of the allegations that has come up both in the U.S. and Israel is the idea that the group that she was involved with had a pro-Palestinian agenda and was passively or actively encouraging terrorism. What would you say to that?

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.

What specifically was Rachel Corrie’s group doing in the Gaza Strip?

They were there, as far as I know, to be with Palestinian families, to live with them, to help them, to express their solidarity. Rachel herself had a vague project of promoting the idea of twin cities between her home city [Olympia, Wash.] and Rafah, in Palestine. But when they found themselves there, the Israeli army started demolishing civilian houses, one after the other, because they were aiming to create a no man’s land along the border with Egypt. So they started trying to protect these people from having their lives destroyed. They slept in these houses and called out by megaphone to the soldiers that they were there, hoping that this will stop the soldiers from shooting. Actually it did, many times. They were trying to prevent the bulldozers from demolishing the homes of just, you know, normal, completely innocent and very poor families.

It has also been suggested that Rachel was an idealistic and naive person who found herself in a situation she didn’t fully understand. Or that her group, the International Solidarity Movement, was being manipulated by Hamas or other players in the conflict, to cover a more sinister agenda.

You know, for sure they were not manipulated by anybody. They were very lucid and independent young people. They — what other insults do you have? Really, the word “manipulated” is so horrible because it shows… It’s very insulting towards them. You know, you have to be a very weak personality to be manipulated. They knew what they were doing, and they knew why they were there. They were politically conscious.

Now, you said “idealistic” and “naive” as if there were a dash between the two words. I don’t agree with this, you know? I think she had ideas, she had values. She had moral values, she had social values, she had political values. If somebody has no ideals when he’s 20 years old, when will he have values? So it’s a compliment to be idealistic, for a young person, but when you say “naive” that puts it upside down. I don’t agree with that.

Moving on to the subject of Rachel’s death, you interview a representative of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces and…

Several of them.

Several of them, yes, about what happened. What is the official position, more or less, about what happened that day?

It’s not more or less. The official position is clearly that Rachel’s death was an accident because the bulldozer drivers didn’t see her. Sometimes they go as far as saying that she hid behind a pile of dirt so that she didn’t want to be seen. Sometimes they go as far as that, but mostly what is disturbing in the Israeli official version is that the bulldozers were not destroying houses that day. So, OK, if they were not destroying houses, what was she doing there in front of a bulldozer?

Now, there were other people who saw the episode, some international observers from many different countries and some Palestinian witnesses. And what they say they saw is quite different.

Well, there were contradictions in the versions, and this is why it was interesting for me. It was a challenge because I like complexity, you know. And our situation is very complex. There are contradictions between the versions and so I wanted to investigate. Believe me or not, but really, I didn’t know. The only thing I knew is that obviously I cannot take for granted the results of any inquiry made by the army, because this is not independent. The army is clearly accused of being responsible for these deaths, so it’s impossible that the inquiry will be made by the army. It needs an independent eye, and there was no court; there was no independent investigation whatsoever.

Mine is independent, OK, but I have no juridical value, you know? So this film is an independent investigation into the death of Rachel Corrie, but it turned out also to be an inquiry into the investigation itself, into the inquiry process of the Israeli army. Now, for example, the Israeli army says they are investigating possible violations of human rights during the bombings in Gaza in January. All the time the Israeli army investigates the killing of civilians, and in 99.9 of these cases, there is no independent investigation, and nobody’s punished, you know?

Not that it is the only army in the world that kills civilians. I’m not naive — it’s not. But maybe it is the one who kills civilians and it is so easy for the Western world to accept it and to swallow it. Maybe it is the only one where there are so many lies and hypocrisy around it, you know? It is not the army who kills the most civilians in the world, but maybe it is the army for which it is so easy to lie about it and to still be presented as democratic — this is a problem. The hypocrisy about it, you know? As an Israeli I would prefer them to be less hypocritical. If they continue to kill, at least I would like them to stop lying.

Has your film been seen in Israel yet?

Not yet, but it will be. In Israel, when you are a Jew you can say what you want. When you are a Jew. That part is very important.

Well, I know you want to stay out of American politics, but it has sometimes been said that it’s easier for Jews in Israel to criticize Israeli policy than it is for Jews in the United States.

I don’t live here, and I don’t have much experience with American media. But I think it’s really time for the Americans, especially the Jews among them, to stop being intimidated by this pressure, from the Israeli lobby or whoever it is. They should say what they really feel. A lot of people are talking in our name who are not entitled to talk in our name. I am not alone at all. Thousands, or tens of thousands, of Israelis are against this occupation, and are against the killing of civilians and the demolition of civilian houses. I worked very hard on my film, and all the facts that I bring in are double-checked and triple-checked. I’m very rigorous in my work, so I will not let anybody say that I am a propagandist or a pro-Palestinian. I’m pro-justice and for my people too, first of all.

Is it important for Israelis to explore the story of Rachel Corrie because she represents a larger problem, or is there something special about her case that makes it different?

You know, you are asking me questions which are so general and so political, and I am just a filmmaker, I’m just a storyteller. I don’t know what is important for the collective, you know, I know what moves me from inside, what touches me. Here’s a story that does something to my heart, to my emotions, so I just want to share it with other people.

OK, well, here’s something specific: There’s this scene in the film where you show us the surveillance video you got from the Israeli military, which should show us Rachel’s death. But then, at the key moment, the camera is pointing somewhere else. It’s like this frustrating microcosm of your whole film.

I knew that in the Palestinian territories there are military cameras everywhere, the whole territory is controlled by camera. There must be huge operation rooms in military headquarters with screens, you know. Even in the old city of Jerusalem, there is one camera after the other, there is no dead angle. So I knew for sure that the Philadelphi corridor and all Rafah [the road and city where Corrie was killed] were filmed all the time by these military cameras.

So obviously there should have been a recording of the mission during which Rachel was killed. I tried to obtain it, and it was very difficult, but in the end I got a tape from the Israeli military and I remember the young soldier who gave me the tape telling me, “Oh, I had to work all night to get it ready for you.” I don’t know exactly what they did, but what is for sure is that we see a little bit of the mission scene before [Corrie’s death], and we see after, but we don’t see it happen. When I go very slowly, image by image, I can see that it has been cut. Also there are conversations between the soldiers on this tape, and these cameras have no sync. Obviously the sound comes from another machine; somebody had put it together.

If we were in a court, this videotape wouldn’t have any value. But I’m in a film, and in a film it has great value. It’s one hour into the film and we’ve been talking about these bulldozers, this group of young people, this house which was standing and now has been destroyed, and here it is — here’s the place, here’s the house, here are the bulldozers. It’s very, very strong emotionally and cinematographically, and I chose to have it in the film with commentary by one of the young activists. He recognizes himself in this very bad-quality image because he was wearing a white T-shirt and there’s a white spot of somebody running in the frame. It’s a very strong situation, to recognize yourself on the image of a military video camera, when you were not aware you were being filmed.

Another thing you try to do is convey some sense of the personality of a person you cannot interview, because she is dead.

Well, she helped me, she made my life easy because she was writing. She cannot talk to me anymore, but she wrote, and she wrote quite beautifully. In her letters, in her e-mails, you can see in a few weeks that she was there, her political consciousness was fed by the meeting with reality. She’s asking herself the right questions, I think. She writes very beautifully about the Egyptian kids, the Egyptian soldiers who call out to her [across the border fence], and the international kids with banners, describing herself and her friends, and the Israeli kids in the tanks. I like that in her. It took her very little time to understand the complexity of what a war is. You have the responsibility of the systems, of the armies, of the politicians, but at the end it is just kids sent one against another, to kill and to be killed. And I like the way she writes this.

Late in the film, you include an interview with someone who’s not directly related to the story of Rachel Corrie, a young Israeli peace activist you meet in Tel Aviv. He has some remarkable things to say, and I wondered if that was close to an authorial statement or a directorial statement from you?

Yeah, maybe. Sometimes things come together in a magic way. He is related to the case because Rachel’s friends came to his house when Rachel’s body was brought to Tel Aviv. This was the place where they knew that they would be welcome. And her bag, with her journal in it, was brought there. And then I met this young Israeli peace activist who told me his own story. He’s doing these kinds of actions also. Not in Gaza, because they are not allowed to enter Gaza, but in the West Bank. Young Israeli activists, and some of them are not so young, who demonstrate together with Palestinians against the war, and many of them get wounded and are put in prison for that.

He told me beautiful things about commitment, which resonated with me. I was a peace activist when I was their age, you know. I was demonstrating against occupation when I was 25 years old, and our generation failed completely, because the situation is much more horrible now than it was. More settlements, more killings. So we failed. And now it’s on their shoulders, all this mess that we couldn’t solve.

I have the feeling that they are more lucid than we were, because we believed that we would solve it, you know. We were naive enough to think that it would be enough for a few thousand Israelis to stand up and say, “Hey, we don’t want this occupation, we want peace, we want the Palestinians to have their own state.” They are not so naive. They know that even if half the Israeli population is against the occupation, the occupation goes on and gets tougher and tougher. And the Israeli governments are more and more extremist and more and more right-wing. It’s really a catastrophe. So this young generation knows all this. They are more lucid, and still they are struggling without much hope, which I find really remarkable.

He says to you that it’s important to resist something that you know is wrong even if you know you will not succeed.

Yes, yes, and it’s a lesson, it’s a lesson. You asked me before about naiveté. What does it mean, naiveté? Does it mean that if you are not sure that you will succeed that you will not fight for freedom? Is that naiveté? If so, maybe we should hope that more people will be naive in this world.

April 15, 2009
Anna Baltzer: Life in Occupied Palestine

Stories & Photos

Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, will present her slides, stories, & book Witness in Palestine, recounting first-hand experiences with the conflict while living with Palestinians in the West Bank.

First United Methodist Church
203 Wisconsin Avenue, Madison
7:00 pm Wednesday, April 15

Free and open to the public. Booksigning to follow talk.

Co-sponsors: American Jews for a Just Peace/Madison, Justice for Palestine, Madison
Friends Meeting, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, Pilgrims of Ibillin, Playgrounds for
Palestine-Madison, Rainbow Bookstore Cooperative, and Yahara Friends Meeting

For more info: www.annainthemiddleeast.com; call 238-1227 or e-mail
rafahsistercity(at)yahoo.com