“Rachel” is a documentary piecing together the nuances and injustices of the death of an American activist in Palestine named Rachel Corrie. Twenty-four year-old Rachel was on a trip to Palestine as a trained activist with a group of other activists in their twenties. At this time in the early two-thousands, the tension in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was gaining a new wave of intensity with the beginning of the Second Intifada. Rachel and her team were helping Palestinian civilians whose homes were most in danger of being destroyed by Israeli occupation. In an attempt to prevent the destruction of one such house, Rachel stood in front of a bulldozer to obstruct their moving forward; however, the driver of the bulldozer claimed to not see her– though the eye-witnesses to the case speculate otherwise– and ran her over; in a matter of seconds, her body was mangled beneath a mound of dirt and crushed by the metal. Rachel died. Though there seems to be evidence that there was criminal intent by the driver of the bulldozer, the case gained a momentary spark of media attention, only to die down with the injustice of Rachel’s death never to receive due legal attention. This documentary is an exploration of the testimonies of the activists who she travelled with, Israeli soldiers, and many others who were knew her or were related to her death.
The simple, straightforward style of the documentary makes it easy to follow all the intricacies of the evidence presented: testimonies of colleagues and family members, on-site videos and photographs, Rachel’s diary entries. By the end of the film, I felt fully educated about the facts of Rachel’s death– and the thing about the documentary is that it doesn’t ever once say outright that what happened to Rachel unfair or unjust. It just keeps building evidence, slowly but surely, until you’re painfully aware of all the wrong that was done to her. The driver of the bulldozer claimed that he couldn’t see her over the mound of dirt while her team says the mound was hardly a few feet tall; the US embassy failed to send an American to oversee her autopsy even though her parents requested it, probably because the US didn’t want to entangle itself politically; the general of the Israeli forces claimed that there was not enough eyewitness testimony or video evidence, only two opposing viewpoints, which seemed essentially inconclusive. No real legal action could be taken to prove that the driver of the bulldozer had criminal intent.
The documentary works to show that there was a system of injustice present that lead to Rachel’s death. The documentary illuminates the cracks of legality and excuses that Rachel slipped between. The documentary itself works as a bulwark against injustice. The film is modest in its cinematography and aesthetics, but it is large in its meaning and purpose. Rachel was one American activist whose life and injustice has been filmed and commemorated, but it’s a powerful reminder that there are people suffering from crises around the world who won’t get any attention. But there is a small line of hope, perhaps– as we keep talking about these injustices, as long as we make art and conversation about it– we can create a bulwark against it.
I’ll end this post with a beautiful letter that Rachel wrote during her time in Palestine: “You can always hear the tanks and bulldozers passing by, but all of these people are genuinely cheerful with each other, and with me. When I am with Palestinian friends I tend to be somewhat less horrified than when I am trying to act in a role of human rights observer, documenter, or direct-action resistor. They are a good example of how to be in it for the long haul. I know that the situation gets to them (and may ultimately get them) on all kinds of levels, but I am nevertheless amazed at their strength in being able to defend such a large degree of their humanity – laughter, generosity, family time – against the incredible horror occurring in their lives and against the constant presence of death. I felt much better after this morning. I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable. I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and the basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances – which I also haven’t seen before. I think the word is dignity. I wish you could meet these people. Maybe, hopefully, someday you will.”
(You can find more of her letters and diary entries here: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2008/mar/02/shopping.extract. I would seriously recommend checking them out– they’re gorgeously written and she’s so wise.)